‘Something different’ results in lifelong friends, memories

Mark Westman with some friends.
Mark Westman, left, with friends at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

Mark Westman’s incentive to study abroad was simple: He wanted to do something different.

And just look at how that turned out when he spent fall 2018 studying at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, through the IES program.

During the two-week reading period, Westman and a couple of the friends he met along the way took a trip to Abel Tasman and Wellington.

“During this time of just walking along the beach and overlooking the capital of New Zealand, I learned I had some good friends. I knew I would talk to these people for the rest of my life,” says Westman '20, a mechanical engineering major. “While the word isn't often used in the friend context, at that moment I knew I loved my friends, and I loved my life.”

That wasn’t all he learned.

Westman discovered he had more free time while studying abroad, and used it to start cooking new recipes, playing guitar, learning to follow Rugby, and reading consistently. “This was all while balancing schoolwork during the week and traveling on the weekends.” With so much free time, he became adept at planning and organization, Westman says. “I think my grades will vastly improve now that I have returned, simply due to the fact that I use my day so much more efficiently now.”

Applying to study abroad, he found, was “relatively easy.” Theodore Pagano in the Center for Education Abroad helped him complete his applications. Westman also consulted the Hajim School’s study abroad website for a spreadsheet listing all the classes that previous students had taken abroad that could be counted for credit at the University of Rochester.

“I already knew what classes I was required to take for the semester, so I simply looked up and wrote down all schools in which credit for the classes had already been accepted,” says Westman, who attends UR on an NROTC scholarship. “That was by far the hardest part of the entire process, and it was really only thirty minutes of work.”

As a result, all of the classes Westman took at Canterbury will be credited towards either his major or cluster. For example, he took the equivalents of ME 225, 280, 213 (Fluids, Material Science, and Mechanical Systems respectively) for his major. Another course, Ethics in Sports, will count towards his cluster in ethics.

The professor in his material science class at Canterbury began the first day of class by sharing his background. “You could pick up the accent unmistakably,” Westman says. “While he grew up in Pennsylvania and went to school at Vanderbilt, he worked in Rochester, NY at Kodak for multiple years. As soon as we spoke to him he instantly knew that we were Rochesterians also. It's impressive how far you can travel simply to come closer to home.”

A group of people swimming under a waterfall.
Who says a school field trip can’t be fun? IES study abroad students enjoy
a trip to the Cook Islands.

One of the highlights of his stay was an IES-sponsored trip to Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands. “I know what most people would be thinking, that a school field trip can't be fun. Well, they're wrong,” Westman says.

The trip included snorkeling, whale watching, walking across the island, biking around the island, visiting a school, performing a traditional dance, and having lots of access to tropical beaches.

The island is surrounded by a coral reef, extending about 200 yards from the shore, in which the water is “crystal clear, warm, and shallow. After the coral reef the ocean steeply drops off to over a mile deep,” Westman says. “Whales migrate during the winter months (southern hemisphere) and pass right by Rarotonga. This means that at any time you could look just off the coast and see whales playing and passing the island. During dinner every night we would sit on the rocks just above the shore, and one time we were lucky enough to have a whale completely breach out of the ocean.”

A whale jumping in the ocean.

Even so, Rochester was never far from the thoughts of Westman and other UR students studying in Christchurch. “We wanted to share with the other study abroad students how amazing Rochester is when it isn't snowing. We made homemade garbage plates for part of our study abroad group, and some of the local Kiwis. They were a huge success--so huge, in fact, that one of our Kiwi friends still continues to make garbage plates on her own.”

Westman’s advice for other students considering study abroad: “Do it. You’ve got nothing to lose.”