Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten the chance to meet a lot of wonderful admitted students who have come to campus for Explore USC. One of the questions I’ve gotten a lot has been, “Is it possible for engineering students to study abroad at USC?” Of course, the answer to this is very clearly “yes!” Engineering students can study at a foreign university for a whole semester through the USC Overseas Office, and there is also the ever-famous and delightful Viterbi Overseas Program, which allows engineering students to take USC classes in an international city like Paris, Madrid, Rome, Florence, etc. during the summer. What I realized as I talked about my international experiences, is that so many of the opportunities I’ve had to go abroad haven’t been at all like what you’d expect when you think of “studying abroad.” Although I did spend a glorious summer taking classes in Paris through the Viterbi program, I thought I’d take the chance this week to talk a little bit about some of my non-study experiences.

Spring Break, 2010: Dominican Republic
Spring break of my sophomore year I had the chance to spend a week in the beautiful Dominican Republic. The trip was through USC Cru, a Christian organization on campus that runs a few trips every spring break. It was my first time in a developing country, and although by this time I kinda knew that I wanted to work in international development, this trip definitely solidified that. We got to spend a lot of time at the oldest university in the Americas, and we had so many great experiences with Dominican food, language, and culture.

January 2011, March 2011, December 2011, and soon to be… March 2012: Honduras
I’ve been involved in Engineers Without Borders since my sophomore year and have gotten to travel on project trips to Honduras three times. In one week (!!!) I’ll be heading to LAX to go on my fourth and final trip. I’ve seen so much of the design process through these trips, since they’ve all focused on a different part of the project. On the first trip we were surveying the site for our rainwater catchment system, measuring elevations and building dimensions, and testing soil stiffness. We also gathered a lot of information on material costs and availability. Between that trip and the next we designed the system — sizing pipes and tanks, figuring out what materials we wanted to use, and designed structural supports like columns and a foundation. On the next trip, construction began. We built the tank foundation that March, and then the following December we built the concrete support columns. When we return this spring break, we will be connecting all the piping, commissioning the system, doing operation and maintenance training, and conducting some needs assessments for future projects.

Summer 2011: Uganda
The summer between junior and senior year, I interned with a non-profit called Engineering Ministries International. Similar to Engineers Without Borders, EMI does architecture and engineering design for local organizations in developing nations. As part of my internship, I spent two and a half weeks in Kampala, Uganda where I worked with a team of engineers and architects to design a campus for a 1000-student boarding school. I got to try my hand at some surveying, using GPS and total station as well as learn some soil analysis techniques. We spent quite a few days conducting percolation tests and drilling down with a hand auger to measure the depth of the water table. Using this information, we designed a water system and on-site wastewater treatment system for the school.

Although none of these experiences would fit neatly into the “study abroad” category, they were every bit as important to my education as my summer in Paris. I love travel and seeing the world, and I hope that as I graduate and enter the real world, that I will continue to have the chance to go abroad and learn things from this planet’s many beautiful cultures.