Benjamin studied in Senegal on the Global Health Fieldwork Experience in Senegal Program during the Summer of 2015.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
Being surrounded by a culture completely different than your own is an incredible, eye-opening experience. I suggest everybody studies abroad to see the differences between people and to realize that we are all humans. Experiencing other cultures helps us accept other’s differences and by opening our minds, it makes us better people.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
While at Penn State I pursued two rigorous scientific majors, which typically do not mesh nicely with the traditional study abroad programs. However, the field experience of the global health minor allowed me to spend a short time over the summer shadowing and conducting research in a hospital, which fit very nicely with my other academic activities. The ability to do real science in a short amount of time while abroad was what drew me to this particular program.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
I have spent the last few months interviewing for Medical Scientist Training Programs to continue my education towards earning both an MD and a PhD. At every single interview I spent a significant amount of time speaking about my experiences in Senegal. The knowledge I gained about conducting medicine in resource poor, challenging environments in a cultural context entirely different from that of my upbringing was invaluable. I would not have been so successful in interviewing and impressing schools if I had not participated in this study abroad program.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
I spent six weeks living in a country that is 95 percent Muslim. I worked closely with HIV patients to understand the struggles they faced with getting the care they needed and wanted in the context of the Senegalese medical system. I shopped in open-air markets for foods I did not even know existed. I had to communicate using my four years of high school French. I made friends with people in another country in another language. None of these could have occurred in the same fashion if I had stayed at Penn State
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
1) Keep a journal. At the time, you think you will remember everything. Much of it you will. But the details of day to day life, the nuances of each day, will get lost in your memory. Bring a journal and try to be diligent about recording your time abroad. It is a unique experience and you want to make sure you remember it all.
2) Exit your comfort zone. It can be too easy to only participate in activities you know, but staying on that familiar path misses much of the importance of studying abroad. Eat the local foods, even if they sound weird. Try the local language, even if you really do not get it. Visit people and see how they live, maybe even try to live like they do. We happened to be in Senegal during Ramadan, some students attempted to participate in Ramadan, which requires fasting from food and water from sunup to sundown. These are the experiences you remember most.
3) Speak with people about what you are experiencing. It can be very tempting to shut yourself up and hide what you might be feeling, especially if you are feeling uncomfortable. Talk about it with the people you are traveling with or living with. They can help you understand things and may provide valuable advice. You want to be happy during your study abroad and the people around you can help make sure you have the best experience.