Program and Location:
Poland: Global STEM Semester; Poznan, Poland, and China: Engineering, STS and International Relations at Zhejiang University; Hangzhou, China
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I chose to study abroad because traveling has always captivated my attention (which I suppose is a pretty common reason), but I also believe that having international experience is important for a successful career because our world is becoming increasingly more interconnected all the time. As a student, I think that we can learn a lot from other countries and cultures.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I am better at adapting to new situations and places than I previously thought, and I am very independent. However, I learned that I don’t know much about the world; even after studying abroad twice there’s still so much I don’t understand. Many people say they feel “cultured” or “worldly” after studying abroad, but in reality it’s like reading the introduction to a long and complex book as far as becoming truly knowledgeable on international relations goes.
What was one of your favorite parts of your program?
It’s very hard to pick just one favorite part from both of my programs, both were filled with amazing experiences. One of my favorite parts from my program in China was a trip to the Huangshan Mountains, which were used as inspiration for the floating “Hallelujah Mountains” in the movie ‘Avatar’. One event that had a great impact on me from my program in Poland was a group trip to southern Poland in which we visited the Tatra Mountains, Kraków, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I think going to Auschwitz or any concentration camp is something that everyone should do if given the chance.
What advice do you have to future study abroad students?
Don’t be afraid of places/situations that aren’t familiar. From my experience the main reason why people don’t want to study abroad is that they don’t want to go somewhere that is unknown, but it just takes a little time to get used to a new place. Also, don’t be afraid to get lost. Sometimes you end up finding the coolest places when you’re lost.
How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
During my study abroad in China, my Solid Mechanics class was able to participate in a design project with the Wujiang Caterpillar Plant (also in collaboration with Chinese students at Zhejiang University). This international hands-on experience definitely helped me get some perspective on what working in the engineering field is like. Both of my experiences abroad helped me become more confident in myself and my abilities to succeed not only academically but socially and professionally as well.
Would you do it again?
I would definitely do both of my study abroad programs again, without a doubt. I would study abroad a third time too, if given the opportunity.
In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?
My identity didn’t have a huge impact on my experience abroad while in China; as a Chinese-American I was part of the majority for once. I was adopted from China as an infant and therefore I don’t know much Chinese, so it was interesting to see people’s reactions when they realized I couldn’t speak Chinese, even though I look Chinese. For the majority of my Poland study abroad my identity wasn’t an issue either, at least not until the very end. During the last weeks of my time in Poland the president of the Nationalist Movement Party (a far-right political party in Poland) happened to be visiting Poznan. I received an email saying that I could be a target of harassment if I passed through a certain area where the nationalists were gathering because I don’t have a “typical European physical appearance”. I had never been to the part of town where the gathering was occurring and wasn’t planning on going out that night anyway, but it was the only time out of the entire semester that I felt slightly alarmed. I didn’t let this deter me from having a positive experience or studying abroad a second time, but it made me realize how important it is to be informed about the politics and current events of the area when traveling in other countries.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
I would tell anyone studying abroad of any identity to stay knowledgeable about what’s going on in the country that you’re in, no matter where you are. I also identity as a low-income student as well, and would suggest the Gilman Scholarship to anyone else searching for funds to study abroad.
Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?
I found support from the friends I made while participating in the program. The group I studied abroad with in Poland became very close, as did the group I went with to China. Being able discuss issues with the people around me was helpful in my overall experiences.