There’s a misconception among college students that it’s difficult for STEM majors to study abroad, but I sat down with three science majors who assured me that with prior planning and an open mind, STEM majors take the plunge too.
Out of 13 students on the Mendoza Universities Program for the fall semester, three of them are STEM majors: Jake, a biology major at Colorado College; Lucy, a chemistry and Spanish double major at Williams College; and Morgan, a Spanish major on the pre-med track at the University of Denver.
Make a plan and get your credits done early
Jake, Morgan, and Lucy all agreed that having a plan early on and getting your STEM credits out of the way is essential. They made it clear that for them the abroad process wasn’t stressful because they had planned for it from the beginning of their college career, but that communication with your advisor is key.
Lucy made a plan with her chemistry advisor during her freshman year, and Morgan made sure that she completed all but one of her pre-med requirements before coming abroad. Jake noted that many of his science major friends can’t go abroad at all, or can only do a summer abroad, but since he took a class over the summer, he will be able to “just barely graduate” on time when he gets back.
Be open to new types of classes
While many STEM majors do take STEM classes on IFSA programs abroad, none of the three STEM majors in Mendoza this semester are doing so; rather, they are all using their time in Argentina to branch out and take more humanities courses (entirely in Spanish, of course).
Lucy says that after two years in a stressful major, a semester-long break was essential for her in remembering why she loved science in the first place. “So far, I’m very excited to go back to studying more science, and I think it is important for me to use the study abroad time to take a break from the fast-paced life of a STEM major so I can be even more interested in your studies when I return,” she said. Her history and literature classes in Mendoza have helped her get away from the typical “very structured and linear learning that occurs in STEM classes,” and she thinks that when she goes back to Williams, she’ll have a new perspective and a refreshed desire to learn.
Market the experience to benefit your career
All three students agree that learning Spanish will immensely benefit them professionally. Morgan, who works as an EMT in the US, says that her Spanish skills have already been indispensable on the job. Lucy agrees that Spanish will always be useful to her in the medical field. And even though Jake isn’t sure yet what he wants to do with his biology major, he knows that his semester abroad will help him grow personally as he is confronted with a new language and culture.
Take the plunge out of your comfort zone to see personal growth
In any major, studying abroad makes students step out of their comfort zone. But for STEM majors taking humanities classes in a different language, the adjustment is even more intense. Jake says that the difference in his day-to-day schedule has been the biggest challenge for him as he adjusts to his humanities classes and his different homework load.
Morgan appreciates the chance she gets to learn “about other people’s life styles, cultures, and every day choices that ultimately affect health” which will help her to better understand patients in the future. She emphasizes that especially in the medical field, having the empathy to understand other people’s diverse experiences is key. Studying abroad has helped her “to decrease or eliminate the inherent biases and judgements we have.”
All three students emphasized the importance of their time abroad in their holistic education: getting out of their comfort zone, honing a different language, and learning about the world around them and about themselves.
Emma Houston is an English literature and Spanish major at DePauw University and studied abroad with IFSA at the Universidad de Congreso in Argentina in Fall 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.