STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students are known for their strict class schedules. Many of my STEM major friends have told me that they would love to study abroad, but they don’t want to mess up their course schedule and delay their graduation time. Studying abroad as a STEM major is possible, and Laney can tell you how and why it’s worth it.
Laney, a double major in Biochemistry and Anthropology, attends the University of Denver, and has experienced the difficulties of studying abroad as a science student firsthand. She explained, “I’ve faced a lot of struggles with my home university over this decision, such as schedule conflicts, worries about graduating on time, and feeling like I’ve missed out on internship opportunities. The STEM programs available at my home university are based on year sequences, so going abroad for a quarter out of a year would really mess up those sequences, not only this year, but for my senior year as well. I had to begin planning to go abroad at the end of my freshman year in order to proactively adjust for that lost quarter of the sequence.”
Choosing a Location
Yet she still decided that studying abroad was worth it. She expressed that studying abroad was a once in a lifetime opportunity, as well as a chance to take a break from being a science student. “I chose India because I thought it would be the most impactful for my future career, as it would give me skills I may need as a doctor, such as intercultural communication and empathy. These are especially important skills since I want to participate in Doctors Without Borders. I’ve also felt restricted to very rigid and structured schedules, plans, and time tables since I started college and I hoped that things would be more spontaneous in India.”
Making a pros and cons list helped in the decision making process. Her cons were that it may interfere with her planned course schedule, prevent her from starting undergraduate research as early as she had originally planned, and possibly cause her to have to take summer classes in order to finish her class sequences in time for graduation. Some pros included the fact that she would be able to experience the country in a deep and meaningful way, that many of the courses taken while abroad would transfer over to her home university, and that she would gain the intercultural skills needed for Doctors Without Borders. In the end, the pros outweighed the cons.
Focus on the Benefits
By having made the decision to study abroad, she believes that she has learned a lot more than if she would have stayed at her home university. “I think that by going abroad, I’ve taken the step towards becoming a more cultured, enlightened individual. There is so much knowledge that exists outside of the classroom that not enough STEM majors go in search of. Going abroad has forced me to become a more well-rounded STEM student by experiencing new cultures, learning new languages, and talking to people who are different from me. It has also forced me to learn how to exist outside of my comfort zone, which is something that I needed to learn as someone who plans on traveling to different areas with diverse cultures to help others as a doctor.” In addition to learning new skills, she was also able to take courses that satisfied required classes for her graduation plan. IFSA’s ‘The City, The River, The Sacred’ program in Varanasi, India places a heavy emphasis on culture focused classes, fulfilling many of Laney’s electives for her Anthropology Major in addition to required social science courses for her home university.
She also explained the benefit studying abroad will have on her future career. “Studying abroad in general is incredible for exposing students to new perspectives they wouldn’t gain in the traditional environment of their home school. I chose STEM in order to pursue a career in medicine, and I believe studying aboard will have immeasurable value for a career in healthcare because it gives me an opportunity to practice communication with those who are from different cultures and backgrounds than I am. It’s even more relevant, since I want to practice medicine abroad.”
Laney concluded, “Overall, I am happy with my choice to study abroad. Yes, it has been difficult. It has been hard to adapt to at times. However, I’ve gained invaluable skills from my time abroad that I can carry with me for the rest of my life, such as the ability to adapt to different environments and situations, a deeper range of empathy for others, and a wider understanding of cultures and communities.”
Studying abroad is a rewarding and enriching opportunity that STEM majors should pursue. With a little planning, the opportunity to go aboard is possible. The first step is to talk to your advisor at your home university about how to fit a semester abroad into your graduation plan. Then, research programs that may work for you and what you need. There are so many different programs available that there is one that is certain to be perfect for you! Despite the possible challenges, studying abroad is an opportunity no student should miss. Not even STEM majors.
Grace Carson is a Journalism and Political Science major at the University of Denver and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler’s program ‘The City, The River, The Sacred’ in Varanasi, India in Fall 2017. She served as an International Correspondent at IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.