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Sam Finnegan: From Minnesota to Macedonia

Written by Greg Breining

Last year, Samuel Finnegan, a senior in mechanical engineering, signed up for May session “Mechatronics in Switzerland” Global Technical Seminar. “When I signed up for that class I decided I wanted to stay in Europe longer than three weeks,” he said. So he applied for a summer internship through IAESTE United States, an international organization promoting intercultural exchange between students in STEM fields across the globe.

He got an offer—from Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.

Yes, Macedonia, a country barely a tenth the size of Minnesota with only two million people.

“Honestly, I didn’t really know anything about Macedonia. I knew it was in the Balkans. I knew Alexander the Great ruled it at one time, and that it used to be part of Yugoslavia. So I thought, why not be adventurous?” Finnegan said.

“Instead of flying back to the United States with the rest of the group, I flew to Macedonia," Finnegan said.

There he teamed up with a Macedonian post doc who was impact testing industrial materials. Finnegan’s job was to use SolidWorks, a computer-aided design and engineering program to model objects and machines in three dimensions. The SolidWorks representation was a step in the complex math analysis of the impact testing.

His roommates were Polish and Swiss, and he worked with people from Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, and Norway. Finnegan considered himself the fortunate one as, “there were interns from all over the world and English turned out to be the common language. Yet, they weren't all fluent in English,” he said.

What fascinated him most was the workplace milieu. It was much more relaxed than the internship he had in the United States the year before. “In Macedonia the whole feel is a lot more laid back,” Finnegan said. “There were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Every night you go to a bar, you go to a cafe. That’s the standard. It’s more about the people. You always go to coffee. I went to coffee many times with my boss. I think the most valuable lesson learned was how important it is to cultivate personal relationships.”

Even though Macedonia may not be on anyone’s list of global high-tech centers, Finnegan said the internship was a “good decision.”

A senior now, he anticipates looking for a job in advanced manufacturing. He figures employers will look for employees willing to “go out of their comfort zone.”

“I was planning to have an internship that summer. Being able to do it abroad, I was able to check off two things from my to-do list, and now I won’t have to delay my graduation at all,” Finnegan said.