Additional Information:

International Opportunities in Engineering

International Outreach Opportunities

Penn Abroad Programs

For more information on Study Abroad, contact the SEAS Study Abroad Coordinator, Sonya Gwak. If you would like more information on Service Learning Oppurtunities, contact the SEAS Director for Global and Local Service Learning Programs, Dr. Ocek Eke.



Service Learning

Studying Abroad

Student Spotlight:

Joshua Ng, Penn Global Biomedical Serivces trip in China

Tell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Joshua Ng. I’m from Hoover, Alabama. In high school, I was super-interested in biology; I spent a lot of time camping and doing stuff outdoors, so the complexity of nature always fascinated me. On the other hand, I also really liked tinkering with technology, from things like building robots and programming to photography. Bioengineering was a perfect fit for my interests. Another reason bioengineering appealed to me was the focus on creating something of use for other people. I’m passionate about helping other people, especially people who may not have been as lucky as I have been in life. I’m currently studying to attend medical school after undergrad, and although I’m still not sure what specialty I want to pursue, I hope that I will be able to apply it to developing and remote communities. As far as research, I’m interested in most fields that have a translational aspect. I’ve worked in a biomaterials lab developing electro-spun materials for therapeutic purposes and am currently in Dr. Dan Huh’s biomimetic microfluidics lab working on modeling asthma on a chip. I intend to continue research in whatever career I pursue. My uncle told me once that being a practicing doctor allows you to directly affect a lot of people’s lives, but is ultimately limited by the number of patients you can see; research, although not as direct, has the possibility of helping many more people than a single doctor could. I hope to find a balance between these two worlds in the future.

When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I was a student on the Penn Global Biomedical Service (GBS) trip in the summer of 2013, when we went to volunteer at a rehabilitation clinic in Yangjiang, China. We helped diagnose and fabricate orthotics for children with cerebral palsy. I was lucky enough to return as the student leader of the GBS trip in 2014. On this trip, we helped make orthotics for children with cerebral palsy in Guangzhou, China, and helped make prosthetics for recovered Hansen’s disease patients living in the Shaoguan, China, leprosy village.

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?
On the surface, we learned a lot about biomechanics, gait analysis, and the process of creating orthotics and prosthetics. However, I think the experience was more valuable in allowing us to see how different the world is outside of our small local communities. We saw that not everyone in bioengineering has state-of-the-art facilities to work in, and patients don’t always have easy access to basic health care, let alone good health care. But even though we were serving people in less than optimal conditions, in our hot and humid open air “clinic,” the patients and their families were the most appreciative people I have ever met. I learned that, although it is easy to get caught up in classes, grades, and the like, bioengineering would be meaningless without the patients we are trying to help.

What did you learn about yourself from your experience?

I learned that what really motivates me is patient interaction. I think we all struggle with determining why we are studying and taking hard classes at a place like Penn. During my freshman year, I lost some of my original motivation when things turned out to be harder than expected, but seeing the appreciation and happiness on the patients’ faces when we were helping them really showed me the reason why I was doing all of this. The reward of having an influence on others people’s lives really motivated me to try harder and learn more ways to apply my knowledge.

Give an example of an experience you wouldn't have had if you had not studied abroad.
I think one of the most unique abroad experiences is making friends with the local people. Since we were working closely with a group of Hong Kong students for our entire trip, the friendships we made were especially meaningful. On my trips, I became great friends with Albert, one of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) students. I had always thought of him as a normal guy, but on our last night in Hong Kong, while we were talking about his career goals, he told me the most sincere reason I had ever heard for wanting to work in health care. He revealed that his parents had to work really hard jobs to allow him to attend school, and because of this, he felt incredibly grateful to have what he had. He only wanted to be able to give back to others, and orthotics was a career that would allow him to do that.

When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
I started thinking about study abroad when I found out about GBS when applying to Penn. The program was one of the many reasons I chose to come to Penn, but I mostly forgot about it during my freshman year until Dr. Rizk encouraged us to apply in our Intro to Bioengineering course.

How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
The orthotics aspect of GBS appealed to me because I was interested in biomechanics, and the rural public health aspect was also a big plus. The location was also one of the main reasons since my family is from Hong Kong; I had visited many times before, and my aunt is a professor at PolyU, the school we partner with for the program. I was excited to visit Hong Kong again but also excited to visit more rural areas in southern China. The drastic difference in lifestyle and access to health care between Hong Kong and southern China was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

GBS allows Penn students to volunteer in southern China, helping to diagnose and fabricate orthotics for children with cerebral palsy. Penn partners with the PolyU, where they have a program specifically for orthotics and prosthetics. The professors and students from PolyU teach us basic orthoses production techniques and plan the itinerary for trips to clinics in southern China (with which they have lasting relationships). Over two weeks, we work alongside the PolyU students and Chinese clinic workers, seeing patients and making orthotics. Since the patients are usually children, “working” with patients often turns into playing with stickers and toys. Between workdays, there are days for exploring the local communities and sightseeing.

What advice would have for students interested in doing study abroad or a short term abroad experience?
It often seems like there’s no time for study abroad when you’re focused on classes and commitments during the semester. But I think if it is at all possible, it is worth making the time for a study abroad experience. It is truly refreshing to see what the lives of people outside of our community are like, and for me, it provided a lot of motivation to continue the seemingly arduous path that I was pursuing in school. Don’t be afraid to try the study abroad program early on; I went on my first abroad trip the summer after my freshmen year, and I think it allowed me to see the rest of my classes and experiences at Penn from a different and unique viewpoint.


Global Biomedical Service Program
The Global Biomedical Service Program (GBS) prepares students through coursework at Penn designed to familiarize them with the techniques of building prosthetics, cultural differences between China and America, and the clinical skills necessary to work with patients, followed by a 16-day trip to China. There, teams of Penn and Hong Kong Polytechnic University students work with amputees at a local clinic -- a six-day process that involves getting to know the patient and his or her needs; measuring, designing and building the prosthesis, and then returning to the clinic to work with the patient to ensure a proper fit.

Global Immersion Course in China
To complete the application for the 2017 Global Immersion Course - China Program, click here.

Engineers Without Borders, Penn Chapter (PennEWB)
Penn Engineers Without Borders promotes human development through access to technology. The student-run non-profit organization's dual efforts focus on helping developing communities worldwide with their engineering needs through real, hands-on engineering projects, as well as on educating students and the Philadelphia area community about sustainable development and engineering.

The Rwanda Gashora Program (RGP)
The Rwanda Gashora Program is Penn Engineering's newest global service learning program. RGP is a partnership among Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST), Agnes Irwin School (AIS), and Penn Engineering. The program will include designing and implementing a solar power system at both AIS and GGAST, as well as working on a computer lab upgrade and offering a "coding academy" at GGAST.

Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics (APOC)
Open to Penn Engineering juniors, seniors, and graduate students, the APOC program is an exciting new collaboration between Penn Engineering and two African international health research centers in West and East Africa. This program consists of two courses in which students will learn about a relevant disease, the context of that disease, and how to design and pilot point-of-care diagnostics for the disease for use in Ghana and Kenya. The program includes a three-week trip to sub-Saharan Africa after the spring semester ends.

Ways to Participate in International Experiences: