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NYU Tandon students take advantage of global opportunities

Study abroad and alternative spring break trips provide students with lifelong memories

scuba diving

Undergraduate Amanda DiTrolio scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef while studying abroad in Australia

It’s common to hear that engineering classes are so demanding and the curricula so inflexible that studying abroad is simply impossible. But just because it’s a common sentiment, doesn’t mean it’s true. Tandon students have a wide array of programs that can take them well beyond Brooklyn if they plan properly.

“Everyone can benefit from the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture and gain international perspective, and that’s especially important for engineering students, who may find themselves one day working for a multinational company, engaging with clients from around the world, or teaching at an overseas university,” says Sara-Lee Ramsawak, Tandon director of academics and global programs. “And to say that a semester abroad will derail or delay graduation is simply incorrect, because proposed courses get preapproved for credit even before a student packs their bag; there’s just no reason anyone has to miss a major course or elective.” (To add a layer of certainty, certain key courses are offered free of tuition during the summer, just in case a newly returned student discovers a gap.)

Computer science major Simone Brown tackled the issue strategically. “I figured out that I could simply take all of my unrestricted electives abroad,” she explains. “The summer after my freshman year I studied in Spain, which I had always wanted to see, and then during the fall semester of my junior year I went to Australia. Australia, in particular, struck me as a once-in-a-lifetime trip; when else was I going to have the chance to pick up and go that far away? While I was there I flew in my spare time to Thailand and Singapore. Those were not, by any means, short flights, but I realized that I might never be that close to those countries again in my life, so I better seize the opportunity.”

She seized the opportunity, as well, to get to know people wherever she went and can now claim friends from all over the world. “It’s a little ironic perhaps, but some of the friendships I forged while I was in Australia are with NYU students from Washington Square,” she laughs. “We lived a subway ride away from one another but didn’t meet until we were thousands of miles from New York.”  

johnathan in londonJonathan Reyes, a mechanical engineering major, also recently made the most of his chance to globe-hop. Studying in London, he traveled during Holy Week to Rome, where he saw the Pope. “Because I’m Catholic, that was deeply meaningful to me,” he says. He’s also grateful for how the experience has helped him grow as a person. “I learned to be open to new experiences and to work through any fear or homesickness. Those are natural reactions, but I realized I could adjust.” When he returns, he’ll be a junior — not only on-track to graduate on time but with a global internship on his CV; NYU London, where he is taking courses, helping him arrange the hands-on post with a construction firm.

Amanda DiTrolio, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major, chose NYU in large part because of its reputation as a global university, and she spent hours creating possible course schedules on scrap paper and Excel spreadsheets to try to find the best time and way to make her dream come true. Like Brown, she settled upon Australia. While engineers are generally celebrated for their problem-solving abilities, she says that her trip helped her understand different cultures, ways of life, and the problems people experience from day to day, in essence, honing her “problem-finding” abilities. “I believe in a world as globalized and connected as ours that it is vital, as an engineer, to add this skillset to our toolbox, so that we can create solutions that are inclusive, sustainable and applicable to people across any and all borders,” she says.

feeding a wallabyDiTrolio realizes that she and her fellow study-abroad participants risk using clichéd expressions of excitement in describing their experiences — but that is simply because study abroad is, indeed, so exciting and enriching for anyone who participates. “To quote the countless people who have come before me, ‘My experience abroad was something I will remember and value for the rest of my life,’” she asserts. “I say this very literally because it could not be more true. Those words are an inadequate way to encompass all of the extraordinary trips I took, the people I met, the lessons I learned, and the stories I created.”

Chemical engineering major Savannah Sookchan concurs. "This was one of the greatest experiences of my life," she says. "I've made lifelong friends and understand multiple cultures, and as a person, I've become more independent and outgoing."

 NYU campus in Florence

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Spring break travel done right

Treasure Beach, on Jamaica's south coast, is an idyllic destination that attracts visitors with its tranquil beaches, off-the-beaten-path vibe, and commitment to sustainability. For students on Tandon’s pre-health track “alternative spring break,” it provided much more.

“I’m a pre­med student, so shadowing and volunteering in the clinics and hospital of Treasure Beach allowed me to compare the health care in Jamaica with that of the United States and my native Dominican Republic,” Reyna Solana, a senior majoring in biomolecular science, said. “This gave me the chance to explore and obtain a better understanding of global health, which was exactly my intent when I decided to attend NYU.”

Overseen by Ramsawak and Alexandra Seidenstein, a faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the trip provided an unforgettable educational experience for all involved — as well as plenty of beach time.

Sandesh Bhattarai, a senior in Seidenstein’s department asserts, “Every pre-health student at NYU Tandon should participate in the annual trip to Jamaica. The exposure to health, education, and policies on a global scale is invaluable, and in the afternoons, we took ocean breeze walks, where I learned about the lives, dreams, and obstacles of other caring, driven students who aimed to help the world.”

Jingyi "Jenny" Li, who is earning a master’s degree in biotechnology, appreciated the chance to learn more about how HIV and HPV were being treated on the island, as well as the issues being faced by Jamaica’s LGBT population — focuses of programming presented during the trip — but was also grateful for the respite provided by the friendly and energetic schoolchildren they encountered. “We had brought textbooks and classroom supplies to give them and got a lot of hugs in return,” she recalls.

Watch Tandon’s pre-health page for information about upcoming trips.