All Bioengineering students are encouraged to study abroad for a summer, a semester, or even a full year. The courses that students choose to enroll in can be used towards their BE degree requirements, if pre-approved. Therefore, students do not have to worry about falling behind in their studies.
Students pursuing a BSE, a BAS, or a dual degree and/or fulfilling premed requirements are all encouraged to explore the Penn Abroad programs. It helps to start planning early. Note: Premeds cannot fulfill premed requirements abroad.
The deadline to apply for Fall 2017 study abroad is mid-February to mid-March, depending on the program.
Tell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Chang Su. I grew up in Xi'an, China, which is the city where 13 dynasties established their capitals and where the Terracotta Army is. I moved to Calgary, Canada, when I was in high school. I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the romance of cowboys. I am interested in neuroscience, and I work in Dr. Dave Meaney's research lab, which focuses on traumatic brain injury. I plan to become a physician after I graduate from Penn.
When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I studied abroad at ETH Zurich in Switzerland during the fall semester of my junior year.
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?
I learned that the Penn BE curriculum is broader and better-rounded, compared to the engineering curriculums at ETH Zurich. The classes I took at ETH that would satisfy my BE requirements at Penn were offered through various departments, including biochemistry, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. I also learned that students at ETH generally do not take classes outside of their majors, whereas Penn Engineering students are required to take classes in the social sciences and humanities. Since, at ETH, most undergraduate classes are offered in German and most graduate-level classes are offered in English, almost all the classes I took were graduate-level classes. Also, the classes I took abroad were often very different from the equivalent undergraduate courses at Penn. For example, the Signals and Systems class I took abroad put a lot more emphasis on applications, such as signal processing through Matlab, than the class offered at Penn. I also had the opportunity to take classes that are not offered at Penn, such as Rehabilitation Engineering (which was not offered at Penn when I decided to study abroad) and Drug Delivery and Drug Targeting.
I experienced the layback yet efficient and punctual culture in Switzerland. For example, the Study Abroad Office at ETH is only open from 11 am-1 pm every day, but I never had to wait for more than 24 hours to have any of my questions answered, either in person or through e-mail. Another example was that I often saw people reading books or chatting at cafes for hours. However, I also often saw people looking at their watches impatiently and complaining if the train did not arrive within two minutes of the scheduled time.
I also experienced the drastic cultural differences among different parts of Switzerland. There are four official languages in Switzerland -- German, French, Italian and Romansch -- and the country is divided into different regions based on language. The food and culture of each region feel more similar to the countries that share the same languages than to other parts of Switzerland. Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. All the signs and street names are in German, and the food and culture feel more like Germany than the French- or Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland, even though Swiss German sounds completely different from High German. Also, the second language of Swiss people is often English (instead of other official languages of Switzerland), regardless of the part of Switzerland they are from.
Many things I learned about Swiss culture and ETH are difficult to articulate, because culture, as an abstract concept, is often very subtle. A past participant from Penn BE who had studied abroad gave me a lot of advice and told me many things about her experience. However, it was not until I studied abroad at ETH myself that I started to embrace the culture. Therefore, I think that living in a place for an extended period of time is the best way to learn and experience the culture.
What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I solidified my desire to become a doctor while studying abroad. Thinking about a future career while studying abroad may sound slightly odd. However, I had a lot of time think and reflect because I did not have a busy Penn-life to worry about.
In addition, I learned that I enjoy travelling and photography so much that I may one day want to become a part-time travel photographer. Travelling is not only about sightseeing but also about embracing new cultures, developing new perspectives, and meeting new people. I became great friends with a few people with whom I had the privilege to travel with while studying abroad.
Give an example of an experience you wouldn't have had if you had not studied abroad.
I would never have lived in an international house with one shared kitchen for the entire building, so that I made friends from all over the world while cooking together. I would never have known how good chocolate and cheese fondue taste. I would never have been part of the team painting the decorations for the largest decorative ball in Europe, the Polyball, which is the annual year-end party at ETH Zurich. There are many experiences I would never have had if I had not studied abroad. However, one of my favorite moments was skating on the outdoor ice rink on Polyterrace, the terrace behind the main building of ETH. All the church bells in Zurich were ring when the clock struck six. I stood on the not-so-smooth ice and just listened. I wondered: If I had never studied abroad at ETH Zurich, would I have ever stood peacefully and watched the sun setting behind a city with thousands of years of stories?
When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
I started thinking of studying abroad during the fall semester of sophomore year. I first researched programs and talked to past participants of programs in which I was interested. I did not actually apply until the spring semester of my sophomore year.
How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
Since I am an engineering student and since the only languages I know are Mandarin and English, the only study abroad programs I could attend were those in Hong Kong, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK. Since the Australian schools start in late July/early August, and I already had plans for the summer before going abroad, I decided not to study abroad in Australia. Since I am from Asia, and I think one of the main reasons why people study abroad is to experience new cultures, I decided not to study abroad in Hong Kong. After talking to past participants, I realized that ETH Zurich was the most suitable place to study abroad for BE students because of the wide range of classes offered at the school. I would be able to fulfill all my requirements for my junior year as a BE student at Penn, except for the BE labs. Also, due to the central location of Switzerland in Europe, I believed that I would be able to experience more of European culture. Therefore, I finally decided to study abroad at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Besides, who can say no to the Swiss chocolates and Alps?
What advice would have to for students interested in studying abroad or a short-term abroad experience?
Go. Just do it. I do not know if it will be the best experience in my life because I am only in my 20s, but if I could relive my life a million times, I would choose to study abroad every time.
Commonly Asked Questions About Studying Abroad:
When do most students go?
Junior year is most common, for one semester or a full year.
Where are some of the frequent places Bioengineering students go for Study Abroad?
- ETH Zurich
- Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
- Koc University in Istanbul
- Queen Mary, University of London
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Melbourne
- Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble
- King's College London
- Saint Louis University-Madrid
- National University of Singapore
While these are popular programs for Bioengineering students, you can find many more oppurtunities on the Penn Global search page.
How do you get started?
There are very clear steps and guidelines to do Study Abroad. Please look here for more information and a step-by-step guide on how the study abroad process works.
How do students finance Study Abroad?
Whether or not you receive financial aid from Penn, you may be eligible for financial assistance during your term abroad. Explore scholarship opportunities to find your match. For information about scholarship deadlines, consult the relevant offices/Web sites. Please also review Penn's financial policies for study abroad.
Study Abroad Advising
During Fall 2016, Dr. Gershon Buchsbaum will be advising all Bioengineering undergraduates interested in studying abroad. Students must meet with him to approve courses to be sure that they satisfy degree requirements. For logistics and any other approval, you must go to Penn Abroad.
Summer Study Abroad Oppurtunities
Opportunities are available for Penn Engineering undergraduates to participate in summer programs abroad, organized by Penn Engineering and in partnership with universities abroad. Several of these programs offer the opportunity both to study abroad and to participate in service learning projects. Summer opportunities include:
- Engineering Summer Program at University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain
- International Summer Program at Technical University of Dortmund, Germany
- Summer Program in Automotive Technology at University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
- International Development Summer Institute - Africa Program
- Global Biomedical Service Program
- EWB's Global Technology Service Program
Ways to Participate in International Experiences: