Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Study Abroad: Go for it!

Life as an engineering student has many characteristics: early morning labs, late nights working on problem sets, watching the sunrise from the lounge. One of the most well-known aspects of the educational endeavors of an engineering student is the rigid structure of the curriculum. This makes for tight-knit majors and bonding experiences, and it is often used to excuse engineers from taking say, language courses.  

People still find ways to have abroad experiences though; they just need to be a bit more innovative in their approach. I know people who have gone to Africa with Engineers Without Borders, backpacked through Nepal in the name of research, and taken a gap year from Penn to study and work in Germany.

Why do people go to such lengths to find ways to go abroad? Because it is so, so worth it.

I can only attest to my own experience, but I will say this I have never heard a negative account of an abroad experience whether it be academic, research, or industry-related.

My personal abroad experience occurred last summer in Ulsan, South Korea. I did research at a University, which in itself is no more spectacular than how many Penn students spend their summers. But in the U.S. I would not have been able to learn innovative communications skills to overcome language barriers or feel the full effects of a rainy season.

I would never have had the chance to witness the workings of a young university (the oldest class were juniors); to see tall uniform glass building and comparing them with the multicolored brick buildings of Penn the product of decades of building and rebuilding. It was a different setting, a university with mostly associate and assistant professors; faculty and students alike, all beginners. It was a completely different environment, one I will most likely never be able to experience again.

Academics aside, the cultural education I received abroad was just as amazing. I rode on a high speed rail to Seoul to see old palaces, street markets and a Cat Café (a café with cats, everywhere). I sat cross-legged on the floor at a meal for four with the table covered in at least 20 dishes. I introduced the concept of care packages to stressed lab mates studying for finals and was in turn introduced to the tradition of writing farewell messages anonymously on rolled up sheets of paper.

College years are when we are the most mobile, with fewer things to tie us down. The ten weeks I spent in Korea will be forever preserved in my mind. So when it comes time of year to start thinking about what to do this summer, take full advantage of abroad opportunities. It really is worth it.

Questions for Melissa?  Contact her at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Advice for Incoming Freshman on Extracurriculars

Here at Penn, there are countless organizations – student run or not – that students can sign up for.  At, you can view over 200 organizations for students ranging from Recreational Sports to Cultural Student Associations to groups addressing Political Issues.  If you have an extracurricular activity or hobby from your high school years that you really want to continue, chances are you’ll find an already thriving organization for that specific activity that is eagerly searching for new members.  And if you come here and aren’t able to find exactly what you’re searching for? This is the perfect chance to look into starting up a group of your own!  As long as you adhere to these guidelines ( when forming it, you’re golden!  Or maybe you weren’t really involved in anything in high school.  Well, why not try something new?

I remember walking up Locust Walk in the first week of school during the Activities Fair.  It’s exhilarating, astounding, and perhaps a tad overwhelming.  Lined along the entire walk are tables with representatives from every group on campus.  People are handing out flyers for auditions, playing music from their last recorded CD, dancing for their groups, or giving catchy spiels detailing exciting features of their groups.  Now, the tradition as a freshman is to just sign up for anything and everything that might seem remotely interesting.   I highly encourage this.  Sure, your email inbox will be filled with emails from every one of those organizations but that’s how you figure out which one you want to be a part of.  My only word of advice: actually try to narrow it down to a number that is manageable with your workload.  Enjoy your exploration but don’t spread yourself too thin, especially in your first year at college.  And while finding fun things to do in your free time that will enrich your time at Penn is very important, so is your actual education. (Surprising, I know…)

Let me tell you something about my own experiences.  This past weekend, I participated in my final show as a member of my a cappella group, Quaker Notes.  It was filled with speeches and videos about the other three seniors and myself, as well as former members returning to watch the show and remarking on how well they remember when they were seniors and I was just a freshman.  It’s amazing how much this group has become a huge part of my time at Penn.  The girls I met through it (it’s an all-female group) were people that I might have never met otherwise because they ranged from Nursing to English to Business students.  And twice a week, we got together to celebrate the love of music we all share regardless of what our majors are.  And outside of that time, we got together anyways to chat about our lives, homework sets, musical problems, and everything else we could think of.  Also in Quaker Notes, I had the opportunity to be music director, a position equal to presidency but dealing with ensuring the musical quality of the group rather than our public presence.  This leadership position is an experience that I can truly draw on that will help me as a leader in the future.

Singing isn’t something that I will do professionally in life.  But I got the chance to perform twice a year for my friends and family and explore my talent which may never happen again.  I never took voice lessons and I only took choir for a few years.  However, I had an interest in singing when I got to Penn, I auditioned, and I became a part of a group of extraordinary women with whom I shared experiences that I won’t forget.

Use the opportunities you have readily available to you at Penn.  Try something new, something different because you don’t know how much it may add to your life.  So, good luck with your many choices and welcome to Penn.

Questions for Kathleen? e-mail her at