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Study Abroad

Your ESE Department Contact:

Staci Kaplan
Undergraduate Program Coordinator
Office: Room 203 Moore


Study Abroad Testimonials

Alex Goldman
Major: Systems Science & Engineering (SSE), Class of 2016
Minor(s): Mathematics
Activities at Penn: ESE Students Advisory Board (ESAB), Undergraduate Abroad Liaison for ESE, Hexagon Senior Honor Society, Benjamin Franklin Society, OAX, Jewish Heritage Program
General interests: traveling, yoga, running, finding yummy restaurants

Read Alex's Story

Where did you go abroad?
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zurich) in Zurich, Switzerland

Why did you choose your specific program?
Ever since I began my freshman year at Penn, I knew that I wanted to take a semester abroad. I’m very lucky to have been able to travel around the world with my family growing up, so I set a few restrictions for myself about where I could go abroad. I wanted to either learn a new language or improve my ability to speak Spanish, so I didn’t want to study in a country that only spoke English. Additionally, I wanted to study anywhere that I hadn’t visited already so that I could experience a new culture while abroad. Once I eliminated all programs that didn’t fit my requirements, I was only left with a small handful of options. I love being outdoors and doing adventure sports, so I decided that Switzerland would be a great place for me to enjoy both of those things.

What were your favorite parts of the experience, both academic and otherwise?
I had so many things I loved about my semester abroad, but I’ll limit it to three things. First of all, most of the courses taught in English at ETH were Master’s level courses. While this seemed a bit daunting at first, it was actually really interesting because it allowed me to take courses that delved into real-world business applications of engineering concepts. Additionally, the students in my Master’s courses were all a couple years older than me and had so many awesome experiences both in academia and professional life. Secondly, I loved my housing situation in Zurich. From August to January, I lived in a student hostel right outside of the city with 150 other exchange students from around the world. It was a really great way to branch out from the Penn bubble and meet students with all sorts of backgrounds. Finally, the ease of traveling throughout Europe was absolutely incredible. With friends from Penn studying all over the continent, I could easily visit them or travel with new friends from ETH. I planned my class schedule and managed my workload so that I was able to travel almost every weekend. These trips filled with gorgeous sights, delicious food, and fun filled adventures were by far the highlight of my semester.

If you could tell a prospective abroad student one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be nervous about starting the application process. I know that it may seem a bit complicated, but I promise you that it’s worth the effort. Completing an application for one abroad program (or two…) will take a few hours of your time, but even if you aren’t 100% sold on abroad, it’s great to at least give yourself the option to go. My semester abroad was the most influential of my four years at Penn, and I can guarantee that the little frustration I had with the application cannot possibly compare to the happiness that my semester abroad brought me.

Alan Aquino
Major: Computer Engineering (CMPE)
Minor(s): Japanese
Activities at Penn: Science and Technology Wing (STWing), Information Technology Advisor (ITA)

General interests: Brewing coffee, reading, cooking, photography

Read Alan's Story

Where did you go abroad?
Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS) in Kyoto, Japan

Why did you choose your specific program?
My Japanese teacher at Penn was from Kyoto, and she always made [the city] out to be an incredibly charming place. Combined with the EALC* department's Introduction to Japanese Civilization course and a fortuitous visit to Japan over spring break of my junior year, I quickly had my heart set on Kyoto. I also chose KCJS because of the option to study abroad for a whole year rather than a single semester. Because of senior design, my options were a whole year or no year at all . As an engineering student, I did not receive any engineering credits for my work at KCJS. I chose to study in Japan for my minor and my own personal interest in the Japanese language and culture.

What were your favorite parts of the experience, both academic and otherwise?
Overall, I felt that I was putting in less credit-hours per week than my equivalent 5.0 or 5.5 credit semesters back at Penn. That's not to say that the work wasn't any less challenging, but rather I had more time to myself to exercise the non-engineering part of my mind, become more absorbed in the community around me, and travel extensively. It has been a sort of year off from my degree within SEAS, and it’s allowed me to take a break and find some of the inspiration that had been missing back at Penn. The lecturers here are all experts in their field, and it wasn't uncommon for me to find reference material published by them at the university's library. I feel that my ability to write research papers really blossomed over my two semesters at KCJS, as I was passionate about all of my subjects and found myself often reaching out to interview people I'd met around Kyoto for them.

If you could tell a prospective abroad student one piece of advice, what would it be?
If you can, I highly recommend enrolling in a program where the language is a primary area of focus. Not only will living in a place where that language is primarily used greatly improve your language abilities, but also forcing yourself to think in that language will challenge you like never before. That’s not to say that studying somewhere overseas where English is widely used isn’t a challenge, but I think that you get can get a lot more out of the experience by being able to interact on a deep level with native speakers in their native tongue.

Micah Jaffe
Major: Systems Science & Engineering (SSE)
Minor(s): Engineering Entrepreneurship & Mathematics
Activities at Penn: Theta Tau, Phi Kappa Psi, Jewish Life Liaisons, Intramural Volleyball
General interests: Guitar, House of Cards, tennis, volleyball, naps

Read Micah's Story

Where did you go abroad?
Universitat Politécnica de Valéncia (UPV) in Valencia, Spain

Why did you choose your specific program?
Ever since I was in high school, I had wanted to study abroad in Spain. I loved the Spanish language throughout high school and my Spanish classes at Penn, and really wanted to increase my fluency. I felt that learning a language in a classroom only goes so far, and I really wanted to immerse myself in a foreign country and language. When I was abroad, I was the only Penn student studying at UPV. I really liked this because it allowed me to immerse myself even more in the local culture, rather than just hanging out with a bunch of Penn kids. I chose my program because it was more immersive than I felt like some of the other programs might be, although your abroad experience is always what you, as the individual, make of it. Also, it didn’t hurt that Valencia gets around 350 days of sun a year.

What were your favorite parts of the experience, both academic and otherwise?
Academically, classes are classes, so if you like your classes at Penn chances are you’ll probably like your classes abroad (though the converse is also true). I took all of my classes except for one in Spanish, which was probably my single favorite part of the academic experience. It was really cool to be the only foreigner in a class of 75 Spaniards, actually learning and interacting with them as if I were a local. It was also very weird and uncomfortable at times, but in my opinion the whole point of going abroad is to go out of your comfort zone, so even when it was awkward it helped me grow quite a bit.

My favorite part of abroad, I have to say, would probably fall into the “otherwise” category. The pace of life in Spain is infinitely more relaxed than in the U.S., and you really have time to do the things you want to do outside of the classroom without the same opportunity cost. For me, this was playing beach volleyball. I met almost all of my Spanish and European friends playing beach volleyball, which I would say was probably my single favorite part of the abroad experience. Like I said before, the climate in Spain is very conducive to outdoor activity, and I was at the beach multiple times per week well into finals.

If you could tell a prospective abroad student one piece of advice, what would it be?
I’ll give two. 1) Go abroad. 2) Like with any major adjustment, there will probably be a decent amount of chaos on the front end. This is to be expected, and even though it can be stressful, it’s not something to freak out about. Going abroad, even to countries that speak English or are culturally “similar” to the U.S., is a big change, and like any big change, there’s a learning curve. You’ll get acclimated quicker than you think, though, and then you get to enjoy all the awesome things and occasional not-so-awesome things about living in a foreign country.