I've always wanted to travel the world, see the sights, hear the languages, eat the food, and experience the adventure. People always said "College is the best time to travel," but it dismayed me because I believed that studying abroad as an engineer would be nigh impossible. The idea of going to Germany grew on me, mainly because of the engineering powerhouse it was. Yes, I'd have to put off junior spring, but I learned from discussing with Dr. Patzer that it was entirely possible to graduate on time and study abroad.
Germany will remain a highlight in my life. I mentally and physically prepared myself to make the most out of this experience. I arranged to stay with a host family because that was how I would connect with the real German culture, real German community, and real German life. I became a speaking German, shopping German, listening to German police sirens, that biked everywhere. The lifestyle was remarkably different, from having to hang clothes on the clothesline in the basement to figuring out the subway system. There were many struggles during the first few months, but I grew extraordinarily within that short period of time. I firmly believe that I'm now more equipped for an independent professional life.
I took three engineering classes and one random class while I was studying abroad. One of those engineering classes was taught exclusively in German for German students. The other two engineering classes were taught in English but had mostly German students. Regardless of the language, the classes were very much in the vein of German universities of Applied Sciences. Attendance was completely optional and there was no homework, no quizzes or midterms. There was one final at the end of the semester that was all or about 90% of the grade. While some classes were 90 minutes long and twice a week, most were 180 minutes long (with a 15 minute break) and only once a week. It honestly felt easier than Pitt, perhaps because I had fewer than my typical 18 credit load, or perhaps because the subject matter I studied was easier. It was a massive relief to not have the grades transfer over, because I mean, who wants a "1.3" showing on a Pitt transcript anyway? (I took Biomonitoring 1, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Consumer Behavior, and Elektronik 1).
By far, the best part of studying abroad was living the life of a world traveler. Hostels are extremely convenient in Europe. I spent five days in Leipzig, Germany celebrating the city's 1000th year while immersing myself in the largest goth festival in the world. For you Pennsylvanian residents, imagine Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair + dance clubs + concerts + living in an urban city + free access to museums and graveyard tours. I spent four days in Athens, Greece right before the most recent economic collapse. I considered how tough living there must be and appreciated how much liveliness and charisma there was in the city. I also spent four days in Kraków, Poland. Again, I got to use a bit of the native language to interact with the people there and enrich my experience. How about a spontaneous trip that involved walking 10 km to find distant relatives? I did that too and I walked away with homemade liquor and plenty of family stories.
I am now a complete convert and a very excitable activist for studying abroad. It has added cultural, intellectual, political, and religious diversity into my life. Did you know that German Christians find the death penalty fundamentally wrong? But it's the traditional Conservative Republicans that are proponents for it in the U.S. This was always a fun conversation to have.
What if you do it all, intern/co-op, research, maybe even shadow in a hospital but don't have a perfect 4.0? Well, studying abroad is a fantastic way to differentiate yourself from other job applicants. Many engineering jobs involve travel, and if you've already developed that world awareness, it will only help you.
Sounds like a great time? It definitely was. Thinking about doing it? You should. Talk to Dr. Patzer about your interest (and come to the meeting with your Degree Progress Workbook... it just makes life easier). Money an issue? Studying abroad should cost no more than a normal semester if you do it right. All your normal scholarships and financial aid counts, plus you will have new scholarships which you can apply for! Did I mention the grades don't transfer? Only the credits do, as long as you pass. So go ahead, and find an equivalent to 1320 while you're studying abroad.
Nathaniel is a senior Bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in Cellular Engineering and a certificate in Russian and Eastern European Studies. He has completed five internships as a CAD engineer and two years of research as a data analyst. He studied from March to July of 2015 in Hamburg, Germany in HAW-Hamburg.