On Chalmers, Journeys, and the Importance of Mobility: Avancez!

​The direct translation of Avancez is to move or step forward – literally to advance. I found it strange that a French motto should represent a Swedish university like Chalmers – strange enough to warrant some further investigation...
Picture of the King Gustaf-Adolf's Square at the centre of the city of Gothenburg.

Chalmers takes its motto (and name, for that matter) directly from its prestigious founder, William Chalmers. Mr. Chalmers, a native Gothenburger who was born in the 18th century, certainly lived out the family motto – he was very well traveled and gained much of his education and business experience abroad. Elected to the Royal Society for Science and Knowledge in Gothenburg at only 26 years old, later a director and supercargoer at the East India Trading Company in 1783 and an instrumental force in completion of the Trollhätte Canal, he was not one to sit still for long. However, he had a vision that was bigger than his own personal journey and advancement - he believed that everyone should have the chance to move forward to their chosen destination, to “avancer”, regardless of their starting point. Today his legacy lives on at Chalmers University, where students from all over the world have the opportunity to grow and advance their lives, regardless of their background.

I believe the motto is still very relevant today - not just at Chalmers itself, but in the way each of us lives our lives. “Moving Forward” is an inherent part of our human journey. In fact, the very term journey implies that mobility is a fundamental part of who we are and how we progress through life. To be human is to be ever-moving, ever-changing.

Nowhere has this been more apparent to me than in my time at Chalmers as an international master’s Picture of a tram in the city of Gothenburg. Trams are a part of the public transport network in Gothenburg. student, where I have the chance to be more mobile than ever been before. Although mobility in Gothenburg is often talked about in terms of the extensive public transport network, or in how bicycle and pedestrian-friendly the city is (as described here by Amanda), for me mobility is more than a means of transport - it’s a culture. It’s being able to wake up early and walk to the closest hill to watch the sunrise. It’s about going to your favorite cafe and striding boldly through the night with no fear of the darkness. It’s being able to accept a spontaneous invite to visit your friend across town, armed only with a pair of sneakers and a scooter. For a young woman from South Africa, where travelling alone is considered dangerous, mobility has been both liberation and empowerment, both agency and freedom.

One of the more unexpected side-effects of mobility is perspective. Like taking a step back to get a better focus on the photo, traveling allows us to look at life through a new lens. A clear example of this is the paradigm shift most international students experience when moving to Sweden in the form of culture shock. However, I’d like to argue that this effect is more subtle and far-reaching when we are allowed to be mobile in our daily lives. Our perspectives are changed most profoundly not by the places we visit, but by the people we meet there. For example: for the first time, I can walk through a city where street musicians play freely – and have the courage to talk to them. I can approach both the chef and CEO as they pass each other on the tram, or strike up a conversation with a nun waiting with me in line at the local Solidarity fridge. Each of these interactions has changed how I see the world in some small but fundamental way.

However, the most profound thing that I have gained through my mobility at Chalmers is friendship. I am reminded of the adage: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In this wild ride of a journey we call life, we need to go together. On an international scale, the mobility facilitated by Chalmers has given me the chance to share my journey with friends from all over the world. On a local scale, I have also met people from all walks of life, enriching not only my academic outlook but also my personal growth.
This pandemic has forced me to re-evaluate the role of many things in my life, but none more so than my mobility. I am grateful that I was able to step forward to Chalmers, and that I have the opportunity here to keep advancing every day. And, through the hardship, nothing has given me more solace than the chance to go for a walk in the woods - to breathe for a bit and be reminded that, in the end, this is just one more speed bump on the road we’re all moving on. Every day when I look out over the campus from my window, I am reminded of William Chalmers’ legacy, and of all the opportunities waiting for us if we can just keep moving forward.


Picture of Student Ambassador and Author - Teanette

Author: Teanette

Page manager Published: Fri 12 Feb 2021.