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Penn State Science Students Cover the Globe

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Penn State celebrates International Education Week from November 15-19 by commemorating 100 years of internationalization. The Eberly College of Science is celebrating by showcasing science students who have taken advantage of study abroad opportunities all over the world.

The benefits of traveling abroad are truly immeasurable. Spending time in a foreign country is not only a great addition to any resume, but it also leaves students with unforgettable experiences and new perspectives that last a lifetime.

Science students are no strangers to leaving their mark around the globe. They come back to Penn State ready to share their experiences and to tell their science peers why they shouldn’t miss their chance to live and study in another part of the world.

Science students sometimes think they have limited options for international experience, but that is far from the truth – last year science students studied on six continents! 

Science Courses in Asia

Senior Microbiology major, Mike Milillo, pushed the envelope when it comes to study abroad norms. In addition to studying on a summer program in Italy in 2008 and conducting summer research in Germany in 2010, Milillo also went to Singapore for during the Spring 2010 semester, an experience unlike any other.  He described his Asian experience as “different and fun to visit.” 

He continued, “Singapore is a very clean and modern city, even from a culture-shock standpoint,” Milillo said. “It’s important to keep an open mind.” Milillo’s studies in Singapore were focused around infectious disease, and his professors were medical doctors from the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United States.

Field Experience in Central America

If you’re interested in getting experience a little closer to home, science students have been gaining experience in Central America, specifically Costa Rica, for years.  Junior Biology major Michelle O’Malley jumped on the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Costa Rica doing field work with Dr. Jacqueline McLaughlin, where she experienced the biodiversity of Costa Rican habitats firsthand and contributed to the conservation of sea turtles.

 “This field experience has instilled elements of versatility into my character,” O’Malley said. “Because I did not have access to many of the resources I normally depend upon, I was forced to be flexible and to cope with challenging experiences and uncomfortable circumstances. Additionally and importantly, this field experience strengthened and enhanced my communication and interpersonal skills.”

O’Malley hopes to one day work in the medical field and believes this program has helped to set a foundation.

“Any career in the biological sciences requires a foundation of general knowledge, which I believe this course supported,” she said. “This field experience in Costa Rica enabled me to witness and intimately interact with wild and endangered species, a rare opportunity. I worked with experts in the field and gained valuable, hands-on scientific research experience.”

Science Courses in Australia

If your goal is to get as far away from State College as possible, then you may want to research study abroad programs in Australia.  This was Chris Francy’s motivation, as he “was able to miss most of our winter and instead enjoy another summer.”

Francy, a senior Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major, wanted to “break the mold and study abroad somewhere besides England,” he said. Aside from his love of the ocean and desire to experience Australian sports, he also had another factor drawing him to study on the continent down under for around six months.

“University of Western Australia has a great science department,” Francy said. “Actually I enrolled in a pharmacology class while at UWA, and even though this class isn’t required for a BMB major, I really enjoyed it. Because of this class, I am looking into biological pharmacology graduate programs.”

In a reflection of his Australian experience, Francy noted he returned to the United States with a greater sense of science on an international level, maturity, and self –sufficiency, and an understanding of different cultures from around the world, based on his interactions with Australians and other international students.

“I can say that without a doubt I had the best experience of my life while in Australia,” Francy said. “I quickly found out that science was very much a part of Perth, a lot of DNA research has been conducted there, and they even have a DNA tower overlooking Kings Park. UWA is a great place for science students, and I hope other science and BMB majors follow in my footsteps.”

Language, Science, and Research Experience in Europe

Western Europe, including the United Kingdom, is a popular destination for science students, and Brandon Kilduff studied in both France and England, spending a huge chunk of his college career enhancing both his worldliness and science experience through intensive research.

Kilduff made the most of his abroad experience, conducting research, meeting new people, taking chemistry courses, and even landing an internship. He noted the difference in class structure and a bit of a language barrier while in France.

“The chemistry courses were completely in French,” Kilduff said. “There was no way I would’ve been able to pass if I weren’t fluent, which is why starting in Besancon, where I learned the language before going to Strasbourg was so crucial.”  Kilduff worked on his French with the summer program in Besancon, followed by a year of Chemistry in Strasbourg, and capped off his experience in France with an international research experience.  He returned to Europe the following summer to get additional research experience at the University of Sussex in England.

Field Experience in Africa

While many science students take advantage of summer and semester study abroad options, more and more are not only seeking a cultural immersion experience, but also a chance to contribute to their host country through short-term embedded courses.

That’s what Roma Amin and Samir Patel aimed to do, as they headed to Kenya to bring medical services to impoverished people of that nation. The work for this embedded course, EDSGN 452 offered by Dr. Khanjan Mehta in the College of Engineering, began well before they boarded the plane to Africa.

“Samir and I were in charge of developing what the flow chart would look like to show the stakes involved,” Amin said. “To see the devices built by the engineering students was awesome, and we helped bring the actual medical part.”

Patel described the trip as “life-changing.”

“It was a completely new environment,” Patel said. “I had been to India before, but this is a completely different world. I was also very surprised at how hopeful people were. They were happy with the way they lived but they were looking for improvements.”

And that’s exactly what the Penn State students brought. Their project is called Mashavu, and its goal is to make entrepreneurs and humanitarians out of the students involved. This trip was the first time the students in the course brought a fully functioning kiosk, with biomedical devices to capture and transmit patient data and a finalized concept of operations.

“You don’t want to impose Western medicine,” Amin said. “We saw over 500 people and received overwhelming support of the project, a confirmation that it will work.”

According to Patel, there was a change in the Kenyan people from the first day he met them until the last day.

“They became more confident and outgoing,” he said. “My best experience was talking to the patients while they were in line. I met a lot of college students who liked the same music, movies, and sports- we talked about the World Cup! We think they’re foreign creatures, but they’re just like us.”

Spanish Minor in South America

Maddie Todd, a Science major with a Spanish minor, decided to study abroad in Ecuador to complete some of her minor requirements.  Todd did not take many science-related courses while abroad aside from a psychology class, but she did learn something related to her major.

“I learned the difference in the set-up of education,” she said. “It only takes five years to get a medical degree in Ecuador. Here it takes eight, four years of undergrad and four of med school. I thought that was really cool and wish I would have known about it before studying there.”

That wasn’t the only new learning experience for Todd. She participated in a home stay, which she feels was much more beneficial than staying in a dorm with other American students.

“I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much Spanish if I had stayed in a dorm,” Todd said. “My family was so generous and treated me like their own daughter.”

Aside from Todd’s very positive experience with her host family, she also noted a few additional highlights. With her program, Todd experienced different aspects of Ecuador.

“We did a lot of trips as a group,” she said. “We visited places like an indigenous market and a cloud forest.”  She also traveled to both Columbia and Peru, trips she considers to be highlights of her study abroad experience.

Todd returned to the United States as the same person with some new perspectives.

“Certain aspects changed,” she said. “Everyone is more relaxed there, so it made me more patient. It also made me realize that I want to travel more in the future and not only work in the United States.”

It’s not hard to see how studying in any part of the world can be rewarding. The opportunities are endless because science exists everywhere.  Take the time to explore the options at www.global.psu.edu/ea and visit the Science Career & International Education Office if you have questions about how you can fit an international experience into your time at Penn State.

Read more about the International Education Week activities offered by Penn State.

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