This semester I had the opportunity to present my study abroad experiences at the annual Global Engagement Day at the University of Oklahoma. In this blog post I’ll summarize the information included in my talk.
The main points I went over were as follows:
- Why I chose to study where I did
- How I prepared for my trips
- Some highlights of my time abroad
- What I learned about myself
- Advice for other students planning to study abroad
One the primary reasons I chose to study abroad in Taiwan and Germany is that I speak Mandarin Chinese and German fluently. Additionally, Taiwan is well known as a major manufacturer of electronics that are distributed on a global scale. Germany on the other hand has earned a reputation for high standards in engineering practices.
In terms of preparation for my trips abroad, a major conclusion from my research was that cash is king for the locations where I was planning to study abroad. I also spent a significant amount of time going through the process of pre-equating my engineering courses so that I would not be too behind on my engineering coursework when I got back to OU. I asked several people for advice, including my sister who had previously studied abroad in college and a missionary who had lived in China for several years.
The major highlight of my time at the National Taiwan University of Taiwan was my involvement in a university group called International Companions for Learning. Through the program I had the opportunity to lead weekly Skype session for a Taiwanese elementary school where I taught the students about American culture. The university even paid for a free trip to the actual location of the school towards the end of the semester! My time in Germany was filled with travel on the weekends when I didn’t have lectures to attend. I was able to visit a new almost every two weeks! In Europe traveling to a different country is equivalent to traveling to a different state in the United States. A cool part of my experience in Germany was that I stayed with a local host family for my last two weeks. My host parents were extremely friendly and taught me many things about Germany that I would have otherwise never have had the opportunity to learn.
I learned many things about myself during and after studying abroad. One was that all of my strengths and weaknesses I have while at have at home in the US are significantly magnified while abroad. A good example of this is being introverted, so if you tend to avoid parties on the weekends, you probably won’t go out of your way to party while abroad. Of course, this might be different for other students abroad, but this was my personal experience. I also learned that I really find myself to be more fulfilled when I enjoy the journey or process of something rather than staying focused only on my goals. A good example of this is my spontaneous trip I took to Geneva in Switzerland. I originally had not planned to visit the city, but the flights back to Germany were cheapest from there. It turned out to be my favorite city of all out of the ones I visited in Europe. Finally, I have learned that no matter what my future career is, I want it to have a significant international component.
In terms of advice to students who are thinking about or planning to study abroad, my primary advice is to plan thoroughly but not obsessively. On the one hand, you don’t want to be in a stressful situation you could have planned for, but on the other hand, there is a certain value to just wandering around for the sake of adventure. Obsessive planning leads to disappointment when plans quickly change. Also, it is important to have fun outside of classes, which may or may not be a hard things depending on what kind of student you are. Make sure to have a support network back home, because contrary to what you might hear from others, studying abroad does not only consist of positive moments (even though that might be a common portrayal). Last piece of advice is specific for those studying abroad in Europe: Make sure to check all modes of transportation. At least for Germany, train tickets are often more expensive (sometime significantly more expensive) than flying by plane (you might have heard of Ryanair and the likes). Flixbus is a great options if you don’t mind taking longer to get to your destination.
That’s it for this blog post! I’ll be posting quite a few more blogs soon detailing what I’ve been up to during the past semester.