Penn Bioengineering strongly encourages undergraduate students to have an international experience through Service Learning, Study Abroad and many of our International Internships. Please take time to read through the many programs we offer, and contact us with any questions.
Tell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Cassandra Cedarholm. I'm originally from Minnesota and I'm studying bioengineering, concentrating in biomechanics, and minoring in Engineering Entrepreneurship. External to BE, my academic interests lie within my Arabic classes and nutrition courses! Now, I'm submatriculating into the Bioengineering Master’s program.
When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I studied abroad during the fall semester of my junior year. I went to the University of Edinburgh and joined their biomedical school.
What did you learn about your field of study from your study abroad/short-term abroad experience? What did you learn about the culture in which you had your experience?
In regards to Bioengineering, the university did not have a distinct undergrad bioengineering major, so I ended up joining their Bioelectronics Master’s program for a few of my classes. This was a great opportunity since their Master’s courses were all very small, and almost all had a hands-on component, which really appealed to my learning style. I ended up learning a lot more about bioelectronics and circuit design than expected. In regards to the culture, it was impossible not to learn about and enjoy the Scottish culture! The university fully embraced Scotland's heritage by throwing cèilidh dances and Scottish balls for the students, as well as organizing pub nights for international students. Through these experiences, plus living with the Edinburgh students in the dorms, I picked up the British lingo and learned all about Scotland's history. Overall, I discovered that Scotland is an incredibly warm and welcoming place with a fascinating history.
What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I discovered that I love doing triathlons! At Penn, I got so caught up in the professional atmosphere of doing OCR, networking at events, working on extracurricular boards, doing research, etc., but while abroad, I got a complete break from those things. So outside of class, I suddenly had all this free time, and I decided to join the triathlon club for fun. I ended up traveling around Scotland to compete in different triathlons, meeting other athletes, and getting to see a unique side of Scotland by biking and running through it. I brought my new interest in triathlons back home and now participate in a few every summer.
Give an example of an experience you wouldn't have had if you had not studied abroad.
While abroad, there's a whole host of new experiences that you cannot have anywhere else. Some weekends, I would decide that I wanted to study on the beach, so I'd fly to Portugal for a few days to do problem sets in the sand, whereas others. I'd stay in Edinburgh to throw together a picnic with friends and do work on Arthur's Seat, which is a mountain in the city's center that has picturesque views of the city. The most impactful experience was when I met up with an idol of mine. A few years ago, I briefly met a doctor who works for the WHO, and I had always wanted to pick his brain and learn from his career path, but I never had the chance as he is based out of Geneva. Once I realized a flight to Geneva was $20 for a weekend, I reached out and asked if I could meet him. On the spur of the moment, I flew out to tour his office and got to have a full one-on-one day with someone who has great experience in a field that I'm passionate about. I learned a lot from him, and because of that day, he is now a great mentor to me and still provides me with guidance and connections.
When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
Coming into Penn, I knew that I wanted to study abroad, but I didn't know how to go about making it happen. I discovered that I didn't need to start planning for it until the fall semester of my sophomore year because most abroad applications are due at the start of the spring semester in sophomore year. I was personally nervous about taking all the required BE classes abroad, so I started communicating with the Study Abroad office in the fall, but after my Cairo experience was cancelled, I picked Edinburgh within a matter of days during the spring semester. The main planning that requires forethought is meeting with the office staff to confirm your choice, as well as filling out the application’s short answer essays.
How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
I accidentally stumbled upon the Edinburgh program. Originally, I planned on going to the abroad program in Cairo in order to use my Arabic language skills, but that program was shut down due to the unrest in the area. I was then left with two options: apply last minute to another program or stay at Penn. Without much time to do research, I quickly checked which programs that would allow me to take all the Bioengineering classes I needed to stay on track with my peers at Penn. Second to that, I wanted a school that finished exams before Winter Break and allowed me to have a normal-length summer break (so I could still have an internship). Finally, I wanted a place that wasn't as popular for Penn students, so I could branch out and meet new people! This all led me to Scotland!
What advice would have for students interested in studying abroad or a short-term abroad experience?
I would encourage you to not be held back by the stereotypical fears of going abroad! Many people say going abroad is too expensive, or it puts you behind in classes, but I actually got ahead on my core classes while abroad and had the same fees as I normally do to attend Penn. I've also heard of fears about being alone in a foreign city, but at least at Edinburgh, they had a great international student office that coordinated bonding events and extensive buddy systems that matched me with local students. Edinburgh also had the Brown-Cornell-Penn Center that catered specifically to students abroad from those schools, so I got to meet other Brown and Cornell students, and I felt safe with that supportive staff behind me. I also highly recommend that you plan early with your adviser and attend the info sessions that the Penn Abroad office puts on! They have a lot of good information to put your mind at ease and help you plan.
Study Abroad: Mid-February to Mid-March (depending on program)
GBS: November 7
APOC class (ENGR 566): October 13
International Internship Program (IIP): January 24
Funding for Independent International Internships (I3): March 1
Ways to participate in International Experiences: