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As I started my first year at Penn, the thought of studying abroad had never seemed like a reality to me. Although I was interested in service and seeing other parts of the world, I didn’t want to leave school for an entire semester and stay in a foreign country for that long of a time. I thought it would be difficult to miss out on a semester of Penn’s challenging engineering classes and then have to catch up when I returned. I had no idea about Penn’s global courses and short-term trips that were offered until the end of first semester, when the student leader for one of the programs — Global Biomedical Services — spoke to my bioengineering class in an effort to raise our interest. 

Fast forward to May, where I found myself in the middle of an orthotic fabrication process in Hong Kong. I was having an experience in a completely foreign country, trying new foods and working with students from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. 

This kind of experience is the kind all Penn students need to have at least once while they are in college. 

According to statistics from the University of California, 80% of students who studied abroad believed that studying abroad helped them adapt to diverse work environments, 90% got into their first and second choice graduate schools, and 84% felt it helped them build valuable skills for their future careers.

In addition, studying abroad has been found to have a positive impact on students’ self-confidence and maturity. 

To give Penn students a study abroad-like experience, Penn offers courses and a series of trips called Penn Global Seminars (PGS). PGS include a semester-long course taken at Penn that is followed by a short-term travel abroad. 

The trips are often taken over winter break, spring break, or in the beginning of the summer. For the 2018-2019 academic year, Penn offered 12 of these courses to countries including Ghana, Jamaica, Iceland, South Africa, Italy, Uganda, and the Czech Republic. The courses typically meet one day per week and are very relaxed, as they don’t involve many exams or assignments. 

To give an idea of what some of the trips encompass, students who travel to Ghana learn to design portable medical diagnostics to provide care to those living with limited resources. On the Rwanda trip, students work on designing and implementing solar energy platforms. Penn students traveling to Jamaica focus on the needs of stake-holders in developing rehabilitation technology to suit the needs of the Jamaican population. 

Penn makes it possible for students to have the opportunity to travel abroad without missing out on an entire semester at Penn. Additionally, the global seminars are not exclusive to students of certain majors or years. Students only have to pay one fee, and Penn takes care of the process of buying plane tickets and setting up hotels. Financial aid packages are available to students, and the course appears on your transcript as a normal course would. 

So, when the time comes to register for courses again, replace that random elective you originally chose with a more valuable and hands-on course that can both give you a study abroad experience as well as the opportunity to provide service around the world. 

ALEXA RYBICKI is an Engineering sophomore studying bioengineering. She is involved in the engineering and science sorority, AOE, as well as Penn Assistive Devices and Prosthetic Technologies (ADAPT). Her email address is arybicki@seas.upenn.edu.

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