Jared Nolan '12
honors economics major, engineering minor
University of Melbourne, Australia
What drew me to Australia was that I really didn't know anything about it. So there was an aura of mystery, a certain mystique shrouding this huge island on the opposite side of the world. Deciding on the University of Melbourne was much less romantic. I knew I wanted to live in a city to get away from the suburban lifestyle for a semester. Maybe it's funny, then, that I discovered what makes Australia different from everywhere else in the world is its natural beauty.
When I was choosing courses, I thought to myself, "Why come all the way to Australia to take classes I can take anywhere?" I had to take one such course for my major, environmental economics, but besides that I enrolled in biology of Australian flora and fauna, Australian Indigenous studies, and sport and education in Australian society. Those three don't really connect at all to my academic work here, but that was kind of the point. Environmental economics, on the other hand, does. I'm already using some of the concepts I learned in an engineering course I'm taking this semester, environmental systems. It's exciting when you can find interdisciplinary connections between courses.
Jared chronicled his abroad experience in this blog.
For example, recently it was my turn to give a seminar presentation. My topic for this 40-minute lecture was single effluent charges and transferable discharge permits. In class and lab for the last few weeks, we have been developing models to simulate the impact various pollution emitters have both in the atmosphere and in streams and lakes. These models can be used to develop water and air quality standards. It is a whole other problem to implement these standards by regulating emissions. This is where effluent charges and transferable permits come in; they are cost-minimizing solutions to impel polluters to reduce their emissions to meet the air and water quality standards. In my environmental economics class last semester I studied one specific example: cap and trade with auctioning. I was able to incorporate my knowledge of this method of pollution control into my presentation, and I even went over an example I learned last semester.
That's one example of drawing on my studies abroad. But the connections go beyond that. Just the background of how to approach and deal with these problems carries over from one class to another.
Maki Somosot '12
psychology major, French and cognitive science minor
No, I haven't been to the Louvre. Or to Oscar Wilde's grave, although I passed that cemetery every day on the way to work. But I've been to Paris.
Whenever I tell people where I spent my semester abroad, the same faraway, dreamlike look always takes over their faces. You are so lucky to have lived in Paris, they gush back in varying degrees of admiration and wonder. It wasn't too bad, my standard response goes. Hardly the ecstatic outburst expected from a student who has tasted a slice of the Parisian life.
What drove me there was the dogged pursuit of a 13-year-old, Francophile's dream of the French capital. What people - including my starry-eyed self at the time - don't know about Paris is that it is a city of extremes. Just like any other metropolis, it can be as breathtakingly beautiful and fulfilling as it can be dirty and ugly. Living and working in Paris bludgeoned my unrealistic childhood dream back to reality.
"My internship at Reuters Paris exposed me to a spectrum of personalities and experiences in a workplace that was unequivocally French: intense, chaotic, and pulsing with life."
One by one, however, my disappointments found themselves replaced by genuine, sumptuous slices of the Paris so carefully hidden from tourists. My internship at Reuters Paris exposed me to a spectrum of personalities and experiences in a workplace that was unequivocally French: intense, chaotic, and pulsing with life. I worked the notoriously short, but nonetheless deadly, French work cycle. Various cameramen and I hunted down breaking news all over Paris just as it was about to break as if our lives depended on it. With nothing but a TV camera and a microphone, we rediscovered Henry IV's long-lost mummified head, uncorked the Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 at midnight, savored inky calamari entrees whipped up by Michelin five-star chefs in the Paris Metro, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Eurotunnel in the freezing North of France, covered and groundbreaking trachea reconstruction techniques and the Pompidou's retrospective of Piet Mondrian's work, and parlayed with Brangelina, Will Ferrell, and Mika on the red carpet. There were also the unforgettable French strikes over pension reform, wherein we risked near death in a crush of story-hungry journalists for a soundbite from the French Socialist Party leaders.
"In Paris, I missed the comforting ivory tower here in the bubble. Now that I'm back, I'm longing for the chaos out there to take me up once again."
Aside from the glitz and grime of the job, the best part was working with the personalities. I will always remember heated debates and subdued personal confessions about life-after-school with certain cameramen who never failed to remind me about my childish naïveté. I hung out with the best and the worst of them at the Basque bar in the corner. I was only an intern, but I might as well have been a full-time team player. Of course, I only realized this well afterwards.
In retrospect, my life in Paris was so jarring and so disjunctive to Swarthmore that I'm not sure if I can ever marry the two worlds together. Maybe I've already inhaled too much secondhand smoke or imbibed too much coffee in Paris to ever believe that I could ever find common ground between the two. In Paris, I missed the comforting ivory tower here in the bubble. Now that I'm back, I'm longing for the chaos out there to take me up once again.
Zack Wiener '12
honors education major and linguistics special major
School for International Training (SIT), Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
As my sophomore year went on, I found myself wanting to take on a learning experience that was more visceral - a method of learning that wouldn't have me stuck behind a computer screen or constantly with a highlighter in my hand. I wanted to learn by doing. After I found the SIT website and investigated my options, I made a bet with myself: "Go as far away as you can, both physically and culturally, and see if you can not only survive, but thrive there. I bet you can't do it." A short application, a few trips down to the Mongolian consulate in D.C., and two stuffed suitcases later, I found myself on a plane bound for Ulaanbaatar.
"I made a bet with myself: Go as far away as you can, both physically and culturally, and see if you can not only survive, but thrive there. I bet you can't do it."
If I had to choose one word to describe my experience in Mongolia, I would choose: wild. The whole trip was just a wild experience, I never really had the time to be scared, shocked, or sometimes even reflective. In the city, I spent my time getting to know Ulaanbaatar's bustling, nameless streets. By the end of the trip, I had mastered the UB bus system, found all the internet cafes, was attending expatriate poetry readings, and could argue in pretty decent Mongolian with the taxi drivers that wanted to charge me too much.
For the half of the time that we spent out in the countryside, on the steppe with nomadic herders or in small villages with local salespeople, I spent my time immersed in a culture that I had only read about in National Geographic. Formerly exotic tasks, within a matter of days, became as familiar to me as if I had been doing them for years - things like keeping a herd of goats in one place, riding a horse through the tall steppe grasses, disinfecting sheep for foot and mouth disease, and putting up and taking down yurts (which are incidentally called gers in Mongolia.)
"When I write to my Mongolian friends, I always sign 'I miss Mongolia, but one day I will return!'"
Every new experience, whether it was eating horse meat of boiled goat innards; drinking fermented mare's milk or cheap Mongolian vodka; seeing the smog ring over the city or the sun set over a mountain; feeling the best Mongolian cashmere or the old goat whose hair was shaved to make it; I learned to acknowledge my inhibitions, then abandon them. I can't even begin to enumerate the lessons I learned. I just know that when I write to my Mongolian friends in a letter, I always sign, - "I miss Mongoila, but one day I will return!"
In terms of academic work, I haven't really figured out exactly how to fit my Mongolia experience into my academic career. I know that I have taken valuable lessons from Mongolia that will help me survive some of the pressures of Swat. Bending over an honors seminar paper, it's easy to see your whole world as a microcosm. Your perspective has a way of setting its parameters to exaggerated markers of success. In those types of situations, I try to sit back and tell myself, "OK, Zack, get some REAL perspective. This can't be harder than eating a whole bowl of boiled sheep's head soup!" It generally works wonders for my work ethic.