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

No comments:

Post a Comment