More STEM students are making study abroad a reality and seeing the academic and career benefits from it. Will Salisbury attends University of Maine and spoke to us about his semester studying abroad in Valencia, Spain as a STEM major.
How do the STEM classes you’re taking in Valencia factor into your career goals/major?
At the Polytechnic University of Valencia, I am taking four STEM classes that factor into my major and ultimately my career goals. While in Spain I’m taking Chemistry, Dynamics, Thermodynamics, and Calculus III. The main goal I hope to achieve through pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering is getting a job in the renewable energy industry. Each of the STEM classes I’m taking is essential in graduating from UMO with my engineering degree and will allow me to work as an engineer or pursue even higher education. Employers, and even other schools, look fondly upon students who’ve taken a semester abroad.
What are the benefits of being able to take your STEM studies overseas for a semester?
There are countless benefits to studying overseas relative to taking classes at your home university. Living in Valencia puts me close to the entirety of Europe, and because of this, I’ve been able to travel all around the EU on a college student’s budget. I’ve visited France, Morocco, Ireland, Holland, and have plans to visit four more countries by the end of my stay.
Through visiting these places I’ve gotten a deeper understanding of some other cultures and peoples. That’s something that can’t really be taught in a classroom, but it’s a perspective that’s gained through experiences and immersion.
Through taking classes at a different university with different students I’ve had a chance to learn about people with different nationalities but similar goals as mine. I’ve gotten to know a group of Spanish Computer Engineering majors that are really similar to me.
Perhaps one of the more interesting benefits I can attest to about living in Spain is that I’ve learned a lot about communication. I didn’t have much Spanish knowledge before coming here, so I had to do my best to communicate with the people. Over time and practice, I’ve learned a lot of the language and can now effectively express myself and have basic conversations.
Since I’m only a sophomore, I’ve only ever lived with my family or in a dorm room. Living in an apartment, in Valencia, gives me a chance to live by myself. A trial by fire type deal, having to figure out how to buy household supplies for myself for the first time while in a foreign country is wild. My favorite part about being in Spain is the pure freedom. It’s really totally up to you how you spend your time here.
Has the opportunity to study abroad opened any other unique doors related to your STEM career?
I think it’s hard to see the opportunities that I might’ve opened up for myself right now, but there are a couple I can think of. Through studying here I’ve gained a lot of connections with professors that could possibly recommend me to an internship, either in the States or in Spain. Since I’ve also learned a fair bit of Spanish, I could put this on my resumé. I could also use this as leverage to get internships in Spanish speaking countries. As I’ve mentioned before, employers, scholarships, and other schools enjoy seeing that students have studied abroad. It shows that you can thrive in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations. Adaptability and rolling with the punches are really important here and also in the workplace.
Do you have any tips for STEM students who think they can’t study abroad because of their major?
To students that can’t study abroad or think it’s out of reach; if you think, at all, that you’d like to study abroad, you should make it happen. It’s been one of the coolest and greatest experiences of my life and I’ve learned a lot about myself. If you’re worried about workload abroad, don’t be. You’ve probably already finished a year or semester of engineering school. You know you can already be successful in school. Also, the professors know that you’re not just abroad to take classes. My program gives me almost every Friday off, so I have three day weekends to travel or study. So far, I’ve had no problems being an engineering student while studying here, as far as the workload is concerned.
For Mechanical Engineering students, my program lines up absolutely perfectly, so taking classes here won’t put me behind at all. Even if it doesn’t work out that well, you can take a bunch of Gen Ed’s while abroad. Graduating in four years isn’t essential or a rule, especially if you’re sacrificing a semester abroad for it. The cost of studying abroad is really up to you. General tuition and living cost isn’t that much more than living on campus at UMO. You can choose how much you spend on food, drinks, and traveling. There are a ton of scholarships available to study abroad students to help with the cost. It might be difficult to see now, but, looking back, you won’t regret spending the difference for studying abroad.