BS chemical engineering, BA Chinese studies '11
(MS materials science and engineering '13, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign)
Occupation: Graduate student (now senior admissions counselor at the University of Rochester, according to Isthier's Linkedin page -- Aug. 2013)
When and why did you choose to study abroad? What factors (your major, other commitments, Take Five) did you weigh as you were making the decision to study abroad?
My English teacher in high school always told us to seize any opportunity we had in college to study abroad, because such chances to see the world are only harder to come by as we move on in life. I discovered a study abroad program would fit nicely with my love of travel and desire for a more immersive experience while studying Chinese. I had to re-arrange my engineering curriculum a bit to accommodate my time abroad, but I also looked for a multidisciplinary institution where I could explore engineering on the side while my classes focused on language learning.
Who at UR encouraged you to pursue this option?
Making the most of a study abroad entails a lot of self-motivation, but I really owe a debt of gratitude to the advisors and staff at the Center for Study Abroad, who made me feel it was their life mission to facilitate my receiving an outstanding study abroad experience. It also helped having supportive professors who expressed interest in talking about my plans to go abroad, and who recognized the benefit of studying abroad for my future career.
Beyond the academic work, how did you engage with your new "community" and culture while you were away from Rochester?
I met new people every day, both in and out of class, not just from China, but from all over the world! I also spent a semester doing a homestay with a professor's family. What I really enjoyed was traveling and exploring China on my own. Many people have a romantic notion of visiting a remote village and talking and laughing with the locals, but few actually get to experience it.
What was returning to campus like for you?
The things I missed most upon returning to campus were the low cost of living and the plentiful, delicious food. However, studying abroad opened several opportunities as I finished my last year on campus, especially through sharing my experience with others and encouraging them to go abroad. The main highlight was the chance to meet Michelle Obama as a representative of the Gilman Scholarship Program, which helped fund my trip.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I decided to go to graduate school and pursue my research in nanomaterials. It was a tough choice, because I enjoy studying science just as much as Chinese language and history. I always keep a lookout for ways to integrate the two – last year I received a fellowship from the NSF to conduct my research in China for the summer.
What skills, tools, or knowledge gained from studying abroad do you draw on since graduation?
Every day I still use the Chinese I learned! Whether I am meeting new people, working in the lab with international students, or just keeping in touch with friends back home, others appreciate the effort when you try to learn their native tongue. Being open-minded and developing strong interpersonal communication skills are also things from study abroad that help me when working on teams to solve multidisciplinary research problems.
What advice do you have for current students contemplating studying abroad?
Start planning NOW! The earlier you plan for study abroad, the more flexibility you will have in pursuing a program you really want to attend. Planning later, or not at all, means you must progressively limit your choices if you need to satisfy certain courses or time limits. The time spent planning out courses or budgets over the next few years pays off even if you choose not to study abroad – both Rochester and the rest of the world have opportunities that call out for your time and passion!