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