A Domestic "Abroad" Experience


The number of cool programs that the College offers its students is incredible. This semester, I am participating in the Penn in Washington program, a semester-long opportunity for students interested in public policy to live in Washington, D.C., intern full time at a public or private agency of their choosing, and take interesting Political Science courses on topics such as the U.S. Presidency and foreign policy. After being here for only a month, I have already learned so much about the field I want to go into and the culture of our nation’s capital.

    The first week we were here was Orientation Week, where we traveled around the city to take tours of places such as Capitol Hill and meet with interesting professionals, such as Hill staffers, lawyers, and judges, who work in DC. The cohort really learned a lot about networking in DC through that week, as well as how the federal government works. This week culminated in group presentations on how policymaking occurs in DC at the federal level.

    Since orientation, I have been working full time at the United States Department of Education in its Office of Innovation and Improvement. Specifically, I work on one of their Teacher Quality Programs called Teacher Quality Partnerships, which is a grant program that allocates federal dollars to universities to reform their colleges of education and set up non-traditional programs that allow professionals already in their career but wanting to switch over to teaching obtain their certifications. ED is a really cool place to go to work everyday--it’s right off of the National Mall, and it has a great cafeteria and fitness center within the building.

    I’m so grateful for this unique opportunity to study and learn more about political science in the best place to do so. I’m most looking forward to seeing what the environment down here starts to look like as the election heats up going into November!

Patrick Z, C'18

On Being an International Student Orientation Leader

    After a semester abroad in London, I was convinced that I had been renewed. I romanticized my walks to class, the sounds of the city, and the way that the crosswalks never seemed to be in right place. Yet what I loved the most about my experience was the people that I met everyday. In London, I knew I had access to a vibrant city with people from all over the world. When I returned to Philadelphia, I realized that at a global university like Penn that mindset never has to end.  

At the end of my junior year, I became an International Student Orientation Leader, which means that I got to directly interact and connect with the students from all over the world who were studying abroad at Penn. I created friendships with students from Australia, England, France, Brazil, Croatia, Switzerland, and more. We ate pizza in my living room, and watched movies at the local theater on Friday afternoons. I was able to learn about their perspectives, share knowledge, and build great friendships. Even as a junior, they taught me to experience Penn with fresh eyes.

For me, that is the value of attending a school with a reach well beyond the borders of the United States. In addition to the ~12% of students who spend 4 years here as internationals, we invite ~200 students to study abroad every year. Whether in class or hanging out on the weekends, I am encouraged to try on different lenses and experience life through other viewpoints. Today, I am still in contact with a lot of the students I met last year. I have even been able to connect with two students who are studying abroad at Penn this year. I can’t wait to continue my global education within and outside of the classroom.

Jaslyn M, C'17


My go-to introduction at Penn usually goes something along the lines of, “My name is Julia, I’m from Taiwan, and I’m a sophomore studying English and Computer Science.” For me, the part about being from Taiwan is a natural statement--it is, after all, where I lived for eight years, and where my family currently resides. It wasn’t until recently, amid discussions about internships and voting, that several of my peers were surprised to find out that I can actually work and vote in the US.

So the long story is that I was born in Boston, but moved to Hong Kong at an early age because of my parents’ jobs, and ended up in Taiwan for the second half of my childhood. I had always attended international schools, and both English and Mandarin are my first languages. Growing up straddling multiple cultures felt natural to me.

At the same time, I don’t fit in the quintessential “Third Culture Kid” profile that sites like Buzzfeed often publish lists about. I haven’t attended ten schools in eight countries in the span of three years; I’m not mixed; I grew up considering myself Asian-American. Then I got to Penn and realized that my conception of Asian-American is completely different from what my peers, who grew up in the US, understand. The beauty of Penn’s diverse student body, though, is that mutual understanding does not depend on geographical or cultural circumstances at all.

The people closest to me at Penn seldom have the same background as I do, but there is something about the people here, an openness towards new ideas, that allows us to bond despite our perceived differences. It really comes down to personality, and that of course, knows no socially constructed limits.

-Julia W. '18

An Unexpected Friend

Over winter break I had the privilege of traveling to visit my sister who is living in Taiwan. Previously, I hadn’t been able to travel very much, but when I got this opportunity I was very excited. Experiencing Taiwan was so cool for me with different language, food, culture, and way of life. Having so many friends from school that were international and even Taiwanese made the experience especially cool. It really opened my eyes to the size of the world and how lucky I am to be at Penn where I have so many people living down the hall from me with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

After being in Taipei for three days, my sister and I decided to take a trip to Okinawa, Japan. With only an hour and a half flight, we were there very quickly. We went through customs and proceeded to find our way around the small island. Speaking no Japanese made it difficult at times, but my sister and I managed. We took tours through the island, went to local restaurants (as long as they had a picture menu), and relaxed on the beach. On the last day, we decided to take a ferry to an even smaller island, inhabited by less than seven hundred people called Tokashiki. This island was truly paradise with turquoise water and large white sandy beaches. As we got to the beach it was only my sister and me. This was paradise. Then, after about an hour, two more people came onto the beach. I looked at them and couldn’t believe it. It was one of my hall mates from freshman year at Penn. It was truly amazing to me that I could literally be around the world on a small deserted beach island in the middle of the East China Sea, yet still see a friend from Penn. It really showed me how lucky I was to be connected to a place like Penn. It’s truly an international place with amazing connections around the world. 

-Jack C. '17

Not your typical Penn Abroad

Before coming to Penn, the two coolest travel experiences I could credit to my name was going on vacation to Cuba (I'm Canadian and this was before Obama renewed diplomatic ties) and getting to hug a panda bear in Sichuan, China. These were all experiences I had with my family, and truthfully, I had never travelled much I came to Penn. Travelling in university is very different from travelling with family, and I am infinitely grateful for the opportunities that Penn had provided directly and indirectly for my travels.

Even though I've never formally been abroad during the school year at Penn, I was able to go to Tokyo, Japan over Spring Break in freshman year and Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa in my sophomore summer. I went to Tokyo as part of a trip organised by Wharton Asia Exchange in order to expose people to business and culture in Asia. Tokyo was a city in a class of its own and I got the opportunity to visit the Tokyo headquarters of companies like Honda, Google, Sony, and Morgan Stanley and was able to meet Penn alumni who are working there now. Along the way, we visited places like Asakusa shrine, the Buddha of Kamakura, Tokyo Skytree, and the hot springs. I made some very good friends on that week-long trips, ones that has lasted until now.

In sophomore summer, I went on a volunteer trip with three other Penn students to South Africa through an organisation called Penn International Business Volunteers and we worked on a management consulting case for an education non-profit in Johannesburg for three weeks. It was an extremely educational experience both in getting hands on experience in exploring a potential career path and getting immersed in the South African culture. We worked everyday alongside the employees of this non-profit in Diepsloot, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Johannesburg. My favourite memory was spending time with the school children after their classes ended and singing and dancing with them. After our time with this non-profit ended, we also swung by Cape Town for a week and got to hike Table Mountain, go to the Cape of Good Hope, and visit the University of Cape Town.

These experiences abroad, despite not being your typical abroad story, really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that were out there in the world. I got my first taste of independent travel and I've been exploring every chance I get ever since. 

-Ber Ber X. '16


Alternate Spring Break: A New Way to Travel During SB

For my past two spring breaks, rather than relaxing on the beach at exotic destinations, I’ve spent them with  Alternate Spring Break (ASB). Schools all across the country have ASB programs, but each ASB trip goes to a different location and participates in different service capacities. This year, I went on a Habitat for Humanity trip to High Point, North Carolina, and last year, I also went on a Habitat for Humanity trip, but the location was Lynchburg, Virginia.

Some tasks I’ve done at the Habitat sites include painting the interior of the houses and constructing sheds. My clothes often end up paint-covered, and my arms sore from hammering. But, beyond the service work, a very special quality of ASB trips is how close you get to your group. You apply to be a part of ASB, and you are assigned to an  ASB trip with 13 other people, most of whom you don’t know at all despite going to the same school. After just a week, you will have shared endless laughs, inside jokes, and meaningful conversations with these 13 people.

I think it’s easy to get comfortable in your own social circle at Penn, so it’s really cool how ASB allows you to branch out and get close to friends that you otherwise would never have met. On my ASB trips, I have had some of the most honest and genuine discussions about issues in life, social justice, and the Penn experience - and the wide diversity of perspectives and backgrounds within the group make it all the more interesting.

Though some people gawk at the idea of doing service work for Spring Break, ASB is truly a reinvigorating break from school and has always helped me gain more perspective about the important things in life. I have met the best people through ASB and highly recommend it to anybody interested!  


-Emma H. '17

Traveling Abroad Without Using Your Semester or Summer Time

As a student in the sciences, I often hear people saying, I can't travel because of my major. This is completely false. Regardless your course of study or program you are enrolled in, your ability to travel or study abroad is completely dependent on the effort you make to do so. Aside from the countless programs offered within each major to specifically accommodate students within the course of study, there are plenty of options to study abroad in subjects far beyond the major you pursue at Penn. Among these programs are a variety of summer programs (with a wide range of duration times) that all have financial aid options. If summer is not your thing and you don't want to study abroad, there are classes at Penn that you take during the fall or spring, and then travel during the break following the semester.

For example, two of my friends took the same religious studies class on South Asian Shrines last fall. One was a Operations and Management concentration in Wharton and the other was an Art History major in the college. Their class met for two hours once a week and during winter break they traveled to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia to visit some of the shrines they had discussed in their class. In the spring their class continued with a focus on the trip and how it intersected with the material they were taught (it had the same time commitment 2 hours per week). Both my friends absolutely loved the class; this class is just one of many many options available at Penn if you are eager to explore the lesser known options of traveling as a college student.

-Kelli L. '17

Study Abroad in Retrospect

Studying abroad is full of clichés. I can laugh about how pretentious I must sounds when I recall the best cheese I ate along the Seine and the sigh from my friends as I begin yet another sentence with, when I was in Paris. Many of these clichés take the form of expectations. When I was deciding to apply to study abroad in Paris, I heard countless times how it would be the best few months of my life. I would form lifelong friendships. My language skills would rapidly improve.

I am proud to admit that these hopes did come true and (here’s yet another cliché) I truly did have the most transformational experiences that I know will affect me for the rest of my life. The one thing though that no one really talks about is that studying abroad is hard. The word difficult has too negative of a connotation, so it is best to say that my experience was challenging. The most obvious challenge I faced was the language barrier. Although I could express my basic needs, I could not always represent my feelings or my personally the way I could in English. There were also the normal adjustments of moving to a new place: having to commute on the metro, getting lost constantly, and having to make new friends. The last challenge I had been warned about by every study abroad officer I had met with, but didn’t fully came to terms with until I got to Paris, but I also experiences culture shock.

Over the course of four months, I experienced the cultural differences between France and the United States that are impossible to fully comprehend as a tourist. For example, the culture of being a college student is completely different. In France, the best universities are public ones and tuition is covered by the State. However, college is also meant to weed students out of the system and the idea of liberal arts does not exist.

Overall, I have returned back to Penn as a more independent and open-minded person. My last cliché is this: through my exposure to French culture, I have not only seen ways our country can improve, but I also have a deeper appreciation of American culture that I took for granted before.     

-Hannah F. '17

Uende Ng’ambo | Go Abroad

I never had a serious thought process of weighing the pros and cons for spending a semester studying abroad. As an African Studies major I had taken Swahili for my first two years at Penn so the chance to spend the entire semester in Tanzania totally immersed in this language that I had spent so many late nights in Van Pelt trying to learn seemed like the natural thing to do. I wanted total language immersion and that’s exactly what I’ve gotten.

The College’s language programs and classes are phenomenal, but there is something about language that you never really can grasp with only grammar charts, dialogues, and in-class essays. Being able to go to country or part of the world where your language is spoken and get real practice on the streets is invaluable. Haggling with shopkeepers in the main market of my host community of Iringa or trying to explain where I was trying to get to when I was hopelessly lost during my month-long home-stay in the rural village of Ikanga has taught me more about the subtleties and intricacies of Swahili than I ever could have learned in a classroom at Penn.

Being able to wittily deflect aggressive and frequent marriage proposals from random strangers (yes, this happens and, yes, it’s bizarre) has cemented my ability to think and produce the language quickly. While negotiating prices for some colorful Tanzanian cloth (that my sister basically wants brought home more than me at this point) has honed the way I use certain vocab, progressively getting more direct and harsh as the rounds of bargaining go on.

All in all, what this semester has taught me most is that having the opportunity to study abroad is not an alternative to Penn, but a natural continuation, in my opinion a requirement, for anyone trying to solidify their proficiency in a foreign language. As a junior I’ve spent two years memorizing vocabulary and learning verb conjugations, but five months of getting to put that knowledge into use has been amazing and, if given the chance, I’d do it all again if I could.

If you’re trying to master your language and thinking of going abroad, as Professor Mshomba, Penn’s Swahili instructor, told me last year “Uende Ng’ambo!” “Go Abroad!” and put those language skills to the test. 

-David Scollan '17

Learning to Speak a New Culture

The fact that I had to change the language back into English in order to type this is a testament to my attempt to truly integrate myself into the French culture and language while I’m abroad in Paris. Although my computer may be set to French, it is still a daily struggle to communicate with my professors and host family, although I do notice my language skills improving. Writing my papers in French and trying to take notes in lecture is more difficult than I could have anticipated, but one of my favorite things about my abroad experience has been learning outside of the physical classroom.

One of my courses “Nineteenth Century French Painting” has a component where students meet once a week at the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay to interpret the paintings we learn about in class in person. I aspire to work in a museum one day, so the ability to be in front of the works while discussing them is not only a great cultural experience, but also it is also helping me in developing my skills of visual analysis.

Another one of my classes called “Castles and Gardens” also has an excursion component, and each week we spend half of the seminar in lecture and the other half going off into the city to tour the historical buildings and landscapes we have learned.

Being able to explore museums, galleries, and historic buildings in Paris both as part of my classes and on my own has been one of the most valuable parts of studying abroad for me. Although I am used to living in a major city like Philadelphia, I too rarely take the time to wander and get lost when I am so busy at Penn. 

-Hannah Fagin