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Photo of front of KEA with students walking up the stairs

Esteban Gonzalez Participates in Denmark Exchange Program

Apparel Technical Design student Esteban Gonzalez recently participated in the FIDM exchange student program in Denmark at Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (KEA), an international design school. He said he's always wanted to study abroad. “Since I was young, It’s been my dream to explore the world. I believed that growing up in a poor economic class meant it was never an option until I had a stubborn change of perspective: if privileged students can do it, why can't I?” He worked with FIDM International Director Sarah Repetto to make it happen. As a grant student, he faced a challenge, since his financial aid is essential to him being able to stay in school, but the funding didn’t line up with the way classes are set up in his chosen destination of Denmark. 

He didn’t back down, and kept pushing forward. While speaking to different department heads about his situation, he learned that it had been years since a student on financial aid had participated in the exchange program, and that inspired him. “I emailed the chairperson of my department about how unfortunate it is for students who have a similar background to me and depend on financial aid can't experience the great things FIDM had to offer due to our economic class.”

With the help of Repetto and other key FIDM staff, the financial aid issues were sorted out. We checked in with Esteban to learn more. 

How long were you in Denmark? What was the experience like? What classes did you take? I was in Denmark for six months. It was an amazing experience. I was mostly excited to live in a dorm there. It was $900. I made a lot of jokes about how I had to move to a different country in order to find a livable housing situation. My dorm was in the city center of Copenhagen, across from an old castle and a huge garden park! Many social events took place at the park or in the dorms. The city was just beautiful. There was so much to explore. I love to bike and sightsee, so I rented a bike, and rode 15 miles to a meadow that had a castle and hundreds of deer scattered in the plains. It was a sight to see for miles and miles. I met many people from across the world and developed long-lasting friendships with people in different disciplines. It was awesome to hear about their fields, but most of all I enjoyed spending many nights and fun times with them. 
The classes were great. It was split into business and tech design. In the business program, we had CEOs of companies come teach seminars and give advice around the weekly objective, which was insightful. One company that really stood out to me was Toogoodtogo. It is a service that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have surplus unsold food. It’s sustainable and makes efforts to eliminate food waste at a discounted rate. The classes got very scientific. I wasn't prepared for the level of research for the class. We learned that seaweed is hypothesized to be the next form of sustainable fashion textile. Algae has a lot of properties that can benefit the industry, but our groups were tasked to focus on one benefit and work with bioengineers from the University of Copenhagen to see what is possible with our designs. The ideation process was tough because we needed to think of something that is not possible but has the ability to be executed in the future as technology develops. This class tied in with an international competition where students push the boundaries of what organic materials can be within design. I think FIDM should develop a scientific class to tie in with the biodesign challenge to explore a new kind of creativity within the school. Finalists get the opportunity to work with scientists and researchers to develop their ideas. My group’s idea was a little farfetched but others had great ideas and will be attending the competition. I hope they will be successful in making their ideas come to life!
A week before I left I got an amazing job opportunity as a technical designer/ production at a children's wear company focusing on sustainability so when I was not in class I was in the fashion room developing product samples and tying it in with my classes essentially killing two birds with one stone. My job funded the adventures I had in Copenhagen. I visited Berlin, Germany, Prague, Czechia, and Stockholm, Sweden, which is something I never thought I’d do, let alone within half a year! There is so much that happened that makes me very happy and will think about throughout my life. 

Tell us about the application process: After the financial problem/opportunity was sorted out, I worked on my entrance project. Nothing was going to get in the way of this experience. Finally, I was accepted. 
My next step was getting my student visa, which was a little confusing. I took a bus from Los Angeles to San Francisco twice for my application. At my first appointment, I forgot a receipt for my case number even though it was what I registered with for the appointment, so I needed to bring it with me to complete the process. It took three months to fully process and acquire the visa. At that time, it was one month until the session in Denmark started, but I was able to live in Denmark as a tourist for 90 days, so I was able to keep moving forward with the process. I received my visa the week my 90 days was up, which was great timing!
What's something you learned while there that will always stick with you? I think learning that I shouldn’t count myself out just because I’m a student with financial aid. It’s important for other students in my position to know that they should ask questions and push for help at our institute. Also, It was really helpful to get a job in my field to cover fun expenses. I recommend looking for employment before you go to work remotely. And, most importantly, I will miss the amazing sandwiches at 7-Eleven. It was the hub to go to after a night out on the weekends (which included Thursday nights). 

Anything else you’d like to share? I am overall thankful for everyone who helped me in that quarter to make this a possibility.

Categories:  Apparel Technical Design Student