Our podcast this week, The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer, takes an in-depth look at Study Abroad. Louise Hon, Study Abroad Adviser and Kathy Barrett, Engineering Student Services Adviser go over what programs are available, how you can choose a country, how it will effect your time to degree, how will financial aid work and more. We also interviewed Joy Gu, a fourth year Berkeley Engineering, to get her first-hand knowledge of what studying abroad was like and tips she has for her fellow students.
- Berkeley Study Abroad
- College of Engineering Study Abroad FAQs
- Study Abroad Programs for engineering majors
LAURA VOGT: Hi my name is Laura Vogt and I’m the Communications and Events Manager for Engineering Student Services. Welcome to this week’s episode of the Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer, and this week, we’re discussing a subject that I think is one of the most awesome parts of going to college and that’s study abroad. So joining me today is Kathy Barrett. She’s our ESS adviser. And you heard from her the last couple of weeks and we have someone new Louise Hon, she is a study abroad adviser. Louise would you like to tell us about it yourself.
LOUISE HON: Hi! Thank you so much for having me. My name is Louise Hon, and I am one of the study abroad advisors at the Berkeley Study Abroad Office. We’re located in Stephens Hall directly south of the campanile. And we are there to really support students who have any questions about the process for study abroad.
LAURA: Thank you and thank you both so much for stopping by today. And Louise, let’s start with a simple explanation of what is study abroad.
LOUISE: Yeah. So study abroad really is an opportunity for students to engage in academic activities while living in another country. So, for example, if students participate on an EAP program, or a summer abroad, or global internships they can get UC academic credit. And I want to say that, while we often times refer to it as study abroad, there are really other opportunities including academic internships, or research opportunities, that students can do. And I mentioned earlier that there are three main programs that we work with called UCEAP, the Berkeley summer abroad program, and the global internships. So I’m going to take a little bit of time just to talk about what those differences are. UCEAP is the University of California Education Abroad Program. It’s open to all registered UC students, regardless of the campus, and there are summer options, semester options, and year-long options available to students. And when students go abroad they’re usually taught by local faculty members there. We also have a set of programs called the Berkeley Summer Abroad Programs, and these are UC Berkeley faculty led programs. So these are courses that are taught by Berkeley faculty members in various places, and they teach a course usually for a six to eight week duration. And then lastly we have the global internships option, where students have a unique opportunity to gain work experience while abroad. They’re usually six to eight weeks long. And it’s really unique because students get the opportunity to have these work experiences where it’s based on what their interests are, and that internship program really places them based on those experiences, and what their backgrounds are along with what their interests are, and what the program can offer. So, of course there are places that might be better fit for engineering students, such as Toronto, Hong Kong, or Singapore, or even Thailand than some other places. But there are many different places that students can go to.
LAURA: Fantastic. I didn’t realize there was three separate aspects to studying abroad that you can do.
LOUISE: Yeah those are three main areas that most of our students participate in. But there are really additional programs that are also available that’s sort of smaller, and a little bit more nuanced, and beyond that there are also independent study abroad that students can do, too.
LAURA: And so why would the student considered studying abroad? What is the benefits of that?
LOUISE: I think this is a really hard question to answer in a succinct manner, just because the reasons and the benefits themselves can be so wide ranging and personal. Academically speaking, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to study a subject that you’ve been studying but from a very different perspective altogether. So for example for a civil engineering student who’s been studying California, and the structures in California can be really interesting for them to compare another earthquake prone areas such as Mexico or Chile or Japan and New Zealand for example.
LOUISE: Study Abroad is also another opportunity to really focus on something that you may not be studying here and you have an interest in. So altogether those academic interests can be really satisfied during a study abroad program, but I think really the largest area of growth can be in the personal growth area. A study abroad can be uncomfortable, it can be challenging, but it’s a way for students to, kind of, know what your strengths are, and really overcome some of the obstacles that you have when you’re living in a very different context and environment. But, also, professionally you really get to meet people, and make connections with people that you may not meet on a day to day basis when you’re here in California, and I think, really, like in this context right now, I think it’s more important than ever to have that sort of study abroad experience.
LAURA: And so how does this pertain to our engineering students? I know you talked about for civil engineering, you can study in another space to see what they’re doing. Kathy, how does it work for engineering students? Like how would they even be able to work it into their schedules or their program plans.
KATHY BARRETT: Yeah I think for a lot of students their major usually has some sort of electives. So a lot of times, that’s a great place to when you go abroad. You can get some of those elective credits done, and technical electives, so they don’t necessarily have to be a specific course, but you need to be doing some upper division, mechanical engineering, technical electives. So that’s one way. Students go and, actually, get course to course equivalencies. So that’s another way they may go in, you know, I want to satisfy this course while I’m abroad. And engineering students can also decide. I’ve certainly had conversations with students who plan to save a lot of their humanities social science requirements and do something that’s very non engineering related, and they go and get humanities and social science satisfied. So that’s another option for students. And, of course, because we give students an extra semester when they go abroad we don’t count that as part of their eight semesters, or they’re four or five semesters, that they get as a transfer student 4 or 5, or freshmen eight semesters. It’s an extra semester. So even if they went and got nothing done, and they want to do something completely outside the realm and take language intensive program, that’s OK, too, because if they don’t make a lot of progress, they haven’t lost any of their time they get here at Cal. So there’s lots of ways they can use study abroad to both satisfy a requirement, and/or just learn something new. So yeah, it definitely can work.
LAURA: So when they’re going on this study abroad, is it just in the fall or spring semesters, or is it only for one semester? Is there a time limit to it?
Yeah. So students can study abroad for the summer, which is the shortest length of program, and summer programs can be really as short as three weeks, or as long as almost eight or 10 weeks. And then students can also do semester length or year long options. So really when it comes to the length of the program, it’s really about, how does that program fit into your academic plan here, what are you hoping to accomplish and what does that program help to accomplish some of those goals and priorities
KATHY: For engineering students, when I talked about that semester, if you go on a semester long program than that when I think about getting an extra semester summer programs don’t get you extra time in that sense. And if a student chooses to go on a year long program we don’t give them a year extra time, we give them a semester extra time. So usually students who are I’ve had a few students go on year long programs, and they’re definitely in engineering programs getting some coursework done while they’re there. So it’s harder going for a year and you’re not really getting a lot of engineering coursework done, then that’s harder. But, if you do go either semester or year long program, you’re going to get an extra semester here at Cal.
LAURA: And so how long is the planning process when you decide that you want to study abroad? When should you start?
LOUISE: So that’s one of the things that, I think, most students are not aware of, is that study abroad does take careful and sort of a long term plan. Most of our applications are due anywhere from four to nine months prior to departure. So some of those deadlines can catch students by surprise. So what I would say is if this is something that you’re interested in, definitely start thinking about it. Definitely start talking to your major advisor or your college advisor, minor advisor, about how it fits into your academic plan. Especially, like Kathy was saying, if you want to use some of those courses for elective requirements for very major specific requirements, or even humanities, you want to have that discussion so that it folds in well with the rest of your academic plan.
LAURA: And what is available out there for students to figure out? What programs they would want to do, or is there people that they could talk to or what should they do to it?
LOUISE: Definitely. So we have advisors that are available to drop in basis that students can come and speak with at 160 Stephens hall, at the Berkeley study abroad office. But in addition to that, we have some great resources online, and so Berkeley Study Abroad just launched a new Website that we’re pretty excited about over the past summer. And there’s an explore option where students can choose: when to go abroad, (like) for the summer, (it’ll) give me a list of programs (for the summer), or if I want to go to this region, (it) lets me know where I can go. So those things can help students kind of narrow down their choices depending on the length of time that region or that type of program that they wanted to, as we talked about earlier, with UCEAP or summer broad or global internships. But really I think sometimes the hard part really is not deciding to go, but deciding where to go, and how long to go for it. In addition to the resources that are available online, and through our advising office, I really encourage students to talk to other students who have done the program, to understand the student’s’ reason of why are they going? What are some of the things that they felt that they got out of the program? What were some of those challenges? Because there are challenges when it comes to living in a different country. So really you’re talking to fellow students, whether or not they are student ambassadors who are volunteers from study abroad returnees, who come back and help us with our events, or our peer advisers, who are work-study students who work in our office. I think that aspect, that human to human aspect, is so important in helping other students to really decide what is a good option for them.
LAURA: And we have, in engineering specifically, for our engineering students, is Study Abroad for Engineers Night which is going to be on October 19th in Sibley auditorium, and you can find out more information about that in our newsletter, we put it on every Monday. Plus I will have information on our Webpage, engineering.berkeley.edu. And what I like about our study abroad for engineers is we bring in four or five engineers that have studied abroad, some of them have done it for varying lengths of time, they’ve gone in different semesters, they’ve gone to places all around the world, and can tell you what their experience was, and you even get a chance afterwards to talk to them one on one if you want to.
KATHY: The thing to remember, too, financially, for study abroad, your financial aid goes with you when you go to study abroad. So that’s really nice to know, that even though it sounds like an expensive proposition, in general, it’s not. You do have, I think, plane fare you have to cover. But I think there are some interesting scholarships, and that’s where the EAP advisors can really help you figure out how to manage a budget. And some places are less expensive to live than it is to live in the very expensive Bay Area. So you might go somewhere where it’s less expensive to live which is great. And so there are opportunities and I think you, also, even have financially counselors in your office sometimes doing advising.
LOUISE: We do! and that’s really one of the best resources that we can offer students is that there are two financial aid counselors dedicated to working with students who are thinking of studying abroad to really plan the finances aspect of it, because oftentimes it’s either that academics or the finance areas where students are really concerned about where that might be the hesitation of why they’re not thinking of studying abroad or why they’re not applying. But we have two financial aid counselors dedicated to working with students and they can sit down with you to plan. Once you choose a program, identify that program, they’ll look at your FAFSA, expected family contribution, they’ll look at the program budget, and they’ll sit down and do a worksheet, so that you know what your financial aid package will likely look like during the term that you go abroad. So I think that piece of it is so helpful for students to really understand what are the finances that are involved. And when we look at a student’s budget for the term for study abroad, it is all encompassing for all of the things that they need including the round trip airfare, including the local transportation costs, including housing, as well as tuition, and things like that. So when a student looks at a study abroad budget, it could be bigger because it isn’t encompassing all of these other aspects that you need for your program that you may not necessarily need when you are here on campus.
LAURA: And I know you have an event coming up that’s all about study abroad, right?
LOUISE: Yes. So next Friday on September 29th from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We will be hosting our biggest event of the year. It is the Berkeley Study Abroad Fair, and what the fair is, is including our office as well as the system wide UCEAP office. There will be, either, close to sixty five different exhibitors, who will be coming in. These exhibitors can be either our partner universities from abroad or independent program providers who are there to speak with students about the different, not just study abroad opportunity, but also intern opportunities, research opportunities, work opportunities, that students can do, so with things like the JET program, which is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, where students, after they graduate… a person can spend a year or more teaching in Japan. So those opportunities, very internationally related, living and working, and studying opportunities, are all represented during the fair.
LAURA: Fantastic. And is there anything else that we want to add today, to let our engineering students know about studying abroad.
KATHY: I would say come and talk to your advisor. And the study abroad office has put together a really nice sheet that lists the countries that offer specifically engineering programs, or global internships, or research opportunities that are affiliated with UCEAP or the Berkeley study abroad, specific programs, Berkeley programs. And I think for students, you know, they want to do something in engineering. It’s a really great sheet and I don’t know if we’ll be able to put it up on our website. Yeah, definitely, so students could really say, well, here’s all my options if I want to get something engineering specific done, they can really look at that sheet to help kind of focus their study, because there are lots of opportunities. But this kind of narrows it down. So I’ll start with my students, when I’m talking to them, kind of start there, if they specifically are looking for engineering opportunities, because I think it’s a really helpful place to start.
LOUISE: I think to add to that sometimes when students are looking at the list of 40 plus countries, one of the questions oftentimes come up is, do I have to do the foreign language in order to go abroad? And I would say, not necessarily, because almost every one of those 40 plus countries, we have an opportunity for a student to study in English in select areas, or they can study the language of that host country. So really there are a lot of options for students to choose from, so engineering of specific specific programs, for example, at Carlos Soto University in Madrid, we have more than 200 plus engineering courses offered in English. If students go there for a semester, and then there are, you know, we mentioned earlier, the internships opportunity. There’s a specific one in Thailand where students can do more of a chemical engineering or materials science type of internship. There was lab research programs that students can do in English so there’s really a lot. But to add to that, I always encourage students, if you do have a foreign language background or school, it’s really, either hone some of those skills, or take on that challenge of trying to get a class in that host country language because it adds to the depth of experience that students can have abroad.
LAURA: Next up in our podcast, we’re going to be discussing with a couple of our students who have gone out and done a study abroad (program). So I’m excited! We’ll also have the student perspective on all of this as well.
KATHY: That’s wonderful.
LAURA: So thank you both so much for coming today. I really appreciate your time.
Hi! And welcome back for the second half of our podcast this week about study abroad. And this afternoon, we’re excited because I’ve invited Joy Gu, one of our peer advisers, here who actually studied abroad. So Joy can you tell us a little bit about yourself.
JOY GU: Sure! Hi everyone. My name is Joy, and I’m a fourth year engineering student. I study engineering mathematics and statistics with a minor in EECS.
LAURA: And how did you decide to study abroad? Why was it something you wanted to do?
JOY: Well to start off with, I have an older sister, and she’s kind of my mentor. And, she actually studied abroad in England, and when I was younger I was like wow! Studying abroad in a different country sounds so amazing! And so when I was looking at colleges, I really wanted to find a college that had a strong study abroad program, because it was definitely something, when I was applying to colleges, that I wanted to do. And so I noticed that Berkeley had a really strong study abroad program in many different countries, so if I were to decide to go to England, or if I were to decide to another country, it definitely would have provided me the great opportunities that it has.
LAURA: When you were looking for a program to do study abroad, what were you looking for, and what did you want to get out of (the program)?
JOY: So I really wanted to kind of get out of my comfort space or comfort zone because at college you’re experiencing a lot of different things. But I feel like having the opportunity to go to a different country, and experiencing the culture of the different people, really getting to know other diverse perspectives, was really important to me to gain out of my college experience. And so I really wanted a study abroad program that could allow me to experience a different country for a while and also offer me unique classes that I wouldn’t be able to take here at Berkeley.
LAURA: How did you choose? Where did you end up going?
JOY: I decided to go to the Pembroke-Kings program in Cambridge, England, and it’s a summer program. It’s eight weeks long, and I had the opportunity to go, because I went to a study abroad fair, and kind of talk to the different study abroad advisors that were there, and they handed me this giant book of opportunities, and I knew that I wanted to prioritize England to study. So I was looking through the different programs, and that one stood out to me the most because of the unique courses that they had. I had the opportunity to take a Lego robotics class, and we were able to basically create a Lego robot project, and I had never seen any class like that at Berkeley, and I thought wow this is the one opportunity that I had to take a class like this. And, additionally, the class sizes were very small. Here, at Berkeley, sometimes your freshman and sophomore classes can be really huge, and it’s really nice to experience a different type of learning style where all of our classes really have less than 20 students, and it was a really good opportunity to get to know other professors, as well. So, the student faculty ratio at the program was something that I was interested in, as well as the interesting classes that they had offered.
LAURA: Is there a reason why you chose to go in the summer rather than during fall or spring?
JOY: So, when I was originally planning on study abroad, I had kind of taken a look at my approximate four year plan on making sure that I would meet the degree requirements. I realized that a lot of my classes, especially in the mathematics department, are really hard to find equivalent classes. And when you’re taking them abroad in other universities, there’s a really long process to make sure that they are equivalent. And so, because the program that I went to was a UCEAP program, through the education abroad program, the classes were easy transferable, it was very simple to get them to count towards degree requirements. And, so, in order to not delay my graduation, I really wanted to do a summer program, because it allowed me to experience all my four years at Berkeley, but also have that unique study abroad experience in this honor.
LAURA: How long did it take you to prepare to do study abroad? And did you have to worry about like (getting) a passport or visa or anything along those lines?
JOY: Sure. So whenever you do study abroad, there are like application checklist points. So there’s a checklist for you applying, and then, once you are accepted into a program, that program usually will provide you a checklist of things that you need to complete before you depart. So, for example, they had deadlines on forms to submit, when to get a visa if you needed one. For me, since I did only study abroad for eight weeks, we didn’t have a requirement to submit a separate visa. You got that visa when you’re at the airport. So different programs will have different requirements, and they’re pretty good about giving the students the time and the information that they need in order to complete them on time.
LAURA: Your tip would be just to make sure you follow the due dates and stuff.
JOY: Yeah. I would recommend writing down all of the deadlines on your calendar.
I know I almost missed a deadline, because I didn’t write it down one time, and I had to like ship this paper overnight to make sure it arrived at the office on time. So I do recommend really grilling down those deadlines, because of slipping off on one day could mean not being able to go to that country.
LAURA: If someone was to ask you, how they should go about trying to choose a program, do you have any advice for what you were doing?
JOY: Yeah. I would recommend really isolating the country and region first, because there are so many different study abroad programs. It can get a little overwhelming if you were to just look at the list of programs we offer. So I would narrow down what you value most, whether it’s like the culture, or if you want to experience a certain culture that maybe you haven’t experienced before. If you’ve taken a class like Spanish, and you want to go to Spain. So, really narrowing down your personal values, and what you’d like to gain out of that experience. So, for me I heard my sister tell all these stories about England, and I really wanted to experience that for myself, so I knew that England was a priority for me in looking at programs, but different people have, you know, all sorts of experiences, and why they want to stay right. So I would say narrow down the region in the country, and then start looking at the programs in that country, and determine whether those semester programs versus your long programs or even summer programs are better fit for your schedule.
LAURA: And what was the best part of your summer abroad?
JOY: I think the best part of my study abroad experience was really meeting other students. For me, the program that I went to was an international program, so the students there were from all over the country. There was definitely a lot of U.S. students, but there are also people from Hong Kong, and France, and Germany, and Vienna, and it was really amazing just to have all of us come together in these small classes, and really get to know each other. There were a lot of students who like formed different travel groups. So whether it’s a weekend trip to Scotland, or to Paris, or Italy, a lot of students were able to kind of connect together. And I think one of my regrets was not going to one of those giant trips with other people. I definitely wanted to gain the most out of England itself, so I did stay in the country, so I would recommend if you are going to a different country, really make the most of the opportunity, especially if it’s in Europe. All the countries are so close together, and you can really gain a lot out of that experience outside the classroom.
LAURA: Is there anything else you would want to add about studying abroad?
JOY: My best advice is to really push your boundaries. When I started off at college, I was, you know, a little bit more shy, and then going to the study abroad experience, forcing myself to make new friends, and really learn about other people in a different part of the world. It was a really really fascinating. And another one of my favorite parts of studying abroad was getting to be in a space where these real world issues are occurring. So when I did study abroad Brexit had just happened. And so my professors were really wanting to show the students like the different cultural perspective. I mean, we hear and read the news all the time, but actually being in a country when that happens is a really impactful experience for me.
LAURA: Thank you so much for coming, and sharing your experience with all of our students.
JOY: Thank you for having me Laura.
LAURA: And we’ll talk to everyone next week. Thank you.