Freshman year Parth never envisioned studying abroad. But, three years later, I surprised myself by jetting off to Europe for what would be an eye-opening semester at the University of Edinburgh. After spending five months abroad, visiting 13 countries and 29 cities, and making numerous friends and memories across the world, I can confidently say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Making the Decision to Study Aboard
Getting to the point of actually studying abroad takes a level of planning and conviction. As M&Ts we’re often constrained by requirements and commitments. Taking an entire semester to do something different seems more than difficult, but impossible. And, with only eight semesters at Penn, shouldn’t you stick around and make the most of each one? After all, Penn has so much to offer, so why would anyone want to go anywhere else?
However, around the end of my sophomore year I realized: 1) the immense benefit of studying abroad and traveling, 2) the feasibility of doing it while being an M&T, and 3) the marginal benefit I would get from another semester at Penn compared to a potentially incredible experience I could have abroad. All of this, combined with generous support from academic advisors to make scheduling work (particularly adding classes in other semesters, and helping choose a study abroad location where requirements can be met), and chatting with past friends and M&Ts who did the experience, I was able to take the plunge.
A World Away from Penn
When comparing life at Penn to life abroad, the biggest difference was having substantially more free time and fewer obligations. This means you could do anything you wanted; from socializing and going out, to reading and learning whatever you craved. The freedom was particularly refreshing, and I found myself
doing significantly more random things and developing new interests.
Part of the reason for this is a function of how classes are run at Edinburgh. Typically, most of the grade is decided by a final exam, so your semester is light for traveling and exploring, and you end up putting more work in during finals week. I also tremendously enjoyed taking requirements outside of the typical business and engineering courses. For example, I ended up taking two history classes at Edinburgh that taught a very European way of liberal arts, and both classes have made me better-rounded as a student.
Socially, Edinburgh has plenty of clubs to join if you’re interested (though because of traveling, it’s difficult to maintain) and a lot of the nightlife is oriented around bars and casual hanging out. I found there to be things to do for everyone and because you’re with other exchange students who are trying to get the most of the experience as well, there is always someone to do it with if you want. The city and country are also just beautiful, so it’s really fun to walk around and do day or weekend trips hiking or seeing more of the countryside.
Traveling, as you might imagine, is a completely different experience and really varies depending on where one is going and with whom. I did a huge variety of trips, from multi-day backpacking trips in Italy and Switzerland, to more lavish trips to Barcelona and Ibiza, and everything in-between. The common thread throughout was being engaged in different activities, meeting new people, expanding my worldview, and just having a lot of fun throughout.
What I Brought Back
If life is just a collection of different experiences, then studying abroad is one of the most unique and memorable ones you can get. There are very few times in life where you can just spend a few months traveling and living in a completely different environment. And, it’s the only time you can do so as a student, meaning you interact and travel with other individuals your age but who have completely different backgrounds, mindsets, goals, and worldviews.
While I don’t know what life will be like post-Penn, I know studying abroad has made me more confident dealing with unknowns. And even more importantly, it has expanded my horizon for what is possible for myself and the world around us.
To all younger M&Ts reading this – study abroad, I promise you it’ll be worth it! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, fears, or if I can help in any way.
Parth Chopra is a computer science major concentrating in finance and management. He is a member of the Class of 2018 and will be joining Uber’s APM Program after graduation. His favorite thing about being an M&T is meeting and interacting with extremely driven, passionate, and intelligent people in the community.