Asia

Connor DiPaolo ’19 (Hong Kong)

Major: Math major
Program: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Spring 2018

Why did you study abroad?

My fall semester of frosh year I took an intro Mandarin class, and was absolutely destroyed. Most of my life I’ve had a strong control over my trajectory, and so I’d been wanting to put myself in a position, like frosh fall, where I could potentially fail. Taking Mandarin abroad was an easy way to facilitate that. I ended up going to Cantonese speaking Hong Kong instead of the more natural Mainland China for this challenge because I’d visited Hong Kong before and really loved the city and the nightlife. In the end, I think I found the best place for me.

Tell us about your program

The CUHK program is pretty simple: you enroll as a student, and take whatever classes you (a) want to take and (b) can get into. There are opportunities that the study abroad office facilitates to meet local students or go on cultural excursions, but largely your experiences are the same as a local student.

Describe a typical day

Luck with scheduling meant that I had no class on both Thursdays and Fridays; a typical day was a weekend. I’d usually spend an hour and a half a day working on my two Mandarin courses, but other than that I’d usually wake up at around 10 or 11, cook a breakfast (usually eggs or a noodle dish), and go on a run to the wilderness park near the school. At night I’d either do homework or go grab a beer and dinner with friends at a local restaurant (the food was cheap and good!). Some nights I’d go to parties or concerts around the city. Sometimes I would make art or do woodwork in the maker-space in my dorm. School days involved some class during mid-day, but largely my activities were the same.

What were your courses like?

Mathematics courses weren’t as entertaining as their Mudd counterparts, and I was quite bored with the teaching style (rote problems reminiscent of HMC core math and incomprehensible recitation sections) by the end of the semester. More likely than not this is professor specific. On the other hand, my two Mandarin courses were extremely well taught, integrating a lot of outside vocal practice that was easily applicable in the city, and I learned much more than their 5C counterparts despite less work overall. The two courses in Chinese politics and political economy were best of all, with standout professors covering material not accessible within the 5Cs to a graduate level.

The actual grading and work structure of my courses was similar to that at the 5Cs, though focusing more on memorization than the creative thinking the 5Cs (in my experience) tend to encourage.

Where did you live?

Almost everyone in the program lived in regular student dorms, which varied quite a bit in quality. My dorm happened to be the newest one, and had decent facilities but little to no social interaction between residents and strict rules, for example regarding guests. The latter was quite the shocker coming from Mudd.

What challenges did you experience?

One of my bigger challenges was adjusting to the different expectations of the math department, which focused more on computation than concepts. Non-academically, maintaining a thriving social life at a very large school is much more of a challenge than doing the same at Mudd, requiring much more personal effort.

What did you enjoy most about your time abroad?

My favorite two parts of my Hong Kong experience were (a) going on wild adventures with friends throughout the city, like somehow weaseling my way into a ~$400 music festival for free, or going on a 35 mile day hike across the entire region, and (b) making friends with local people in HK and the Mainland, for example landing me on the back of some random person’s motorbike for a free ride and cooking dinner for a bunch of Guangzhou residents for Lunar New Year. Both of these motifs inevitably led me to discover Hong Kong’s somewhat unique position in the world as a nexus of East and West.

Now that you’re back, what do you wish you would have done but didn’t?

My initial goal coming to Hong Kong was to pick up some Mandarin, at least enough to order food, interact with people, and find my way around a city without a phone. I have any motivation to learn Cantonese, the local language, since knowing both Mandarin and English can get you through almost any situation.

After learning so much about the cultural history of Hong Kong and Guangdong province, I actually wish that I learned more than the basic “excuse me”, “thank you”, “stop the bus please” Cantonese, not only to be able to better understand the cultural background but also because I’d be better able to interact with local people.

What advice do you have for STEM majors and study abroad?

Be prepared for different teaching styles from what you’re used to.

Don’t be afraid to take some hard humanities classes. They can be seriously rewarding and enlightening.

Madelyn Gaumer ’19 (China)

Maddie Gaumer up a mountain in China.Major: CS-Math
Program: Summer Engineering in China Program

Why did you study abroad?

I studied Mandarin in high school but wasn’t able to take any Mandarin classes freshmen year due to scheduling conflicts with Mudd Core. As a result, the summer after my freshmen year, I decided to study abroad in Beijing to improve my language skills.

Tell us about your program

The program was run by China Studies Institute (CSI) during the summer and focused in intensive Chinese learning. Classes occurred at the Foreign Language Teaching Building at Peking University and at another building located nearby. Engineering majors also took an E84 class.

Describe a typical day

Most days, I would wake up and walk to class. On the way, I would normally stop to buy some fruit for breakfast. My classes were located about a twenty minute walk away. After my morning classes, I would get lunch at one of the nearby cafeterias. Food in China is already relatively cheap, but at the university cafeterias, food was also subsidized, making it even cheaper. In the afternoon, I would do my homework, hang out with other international students in the program, and also go on adventures with some of the language buddies, who were a Chinese students studying at the university. For dinner, I would either go out to a nearby restaurant or eat at another cafeteria. At night I would normally go to the gym or walk around the large campus.

What where your courses like?

I took two language courses and one cultural course. I found the homework to be extremely reasonable, and my language skills definitely improved. The program splits you up based on language ability at the start of the program and can also provide extra tutoring if you’re interested.

Where did you live?

I lived in an international student dorm across the street from Peking University. All of the students in the program were placed in the same building. I shared a living room and a bathroom with one other student in the program, and we each had our own room.

What challenges did you experience?

I got fairly sick with the flu at the very end of my time in Beijing, and navigating the medical care system there not being entirely fluent in medical terminology was definitely a challenge. However, the program leaders and the friends I made abroad were all very supportive.

What did you enjoy most about your time abroad?

I managed to take a very last minute trip Shanghai Disney with some friends, which was a super cool experience. Just saying yes to different opportunities and adventures made my summer unforgettable.

Now that you’re back what do you wish you would’ve done but didn’t?

I wish I had traveled around China more during the program. I visited a few different cities while I was in Beijing that summer, but looking back, I would have loved to visit more.

What advice do you have for STEM majors and study abroad?

Doing a language intensive program often means that the other students around you will be international relations majors or other humanities majors. I really enjoyed getting to know other students and hearing about the things they wanted to do with their language skills. Make time to really get to know the people around you even if they have very different interests from you!

Hannah Slocumb ’19 (China)

Hannah SlocumbMajor: Chemistry
Program/Semester: SIT Abroad, China: Health, Environment and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Spring 2018

Why did you study abroad?

I came into college planning on studying abroad, but initially had no idea where. In high school I loved every opportunity I had to travel as I felt that each experience provided me with a new perspective on the world and helped to keep my mind open. I really enjoy learning languages, and since I had learned a good amount of Spanish in high school I thought that Mandarin would be the most useful language to learn which I haven’t already taken (seeing as it has the most native speakers of any language and also because a lot of science is coming out of China now). During my first two years at HMC, I took Chinese 1A-B and then decided that spending a semester in China would be the best way to improve my Mandarin language ability.

Tell us about your program

This program is based in Kunming, Yunnan. It’s a beautiful city-it’s called the City of Eternal Spring because year-round the temperature stays between 60-85 °F and it is covered in flowers. In general, Yunnan has the greatest amount of diversity in flora, fauna and ethnic groups. Because of this, the program provides four main courses: Community, Environment and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Field Methods and Ethics (for anthropological studies), Chinese Reading/Writing and Speaking/Listening. Additionally, you spend the final month doing either an Independent Study Project (ISP) where you choose anything to study in Yunnan province, an internship at a local organization, or an intensive Chinese language course. In addition to coursework, you also travel with the program for two weeks seeing various areas around Yunnan which you study in your courses.

Describe a typical day

When we were in the classroom, I would wake up bright and early for my 8:30 AM Reading/Writing Chinese Language course. I had a rather unique experience in that I was the only person on the program with my level of Chinese, so I was in a class by myself. This let me choose the pace at which I went through material, and in classic me fashion, this ended up being an overly fast pace of approximately one lesson per day. After my Reading/Writing course, we would all go outside together and learn Tai Qi from a Tai Qi master for half an hour. Then we would go back for the Speaking/Listening Chinese Language course and end at noon. After this I would either eat at the school cafeteria or grab one of the Yunnan specialty foods, erkuai (a mashed rice patty which is used as a wrap for sweet or savory egg/meat/whatever you want as a filling). In the afternoon I would go to a lecture in our Community, Environment and TCM or Field Methods and Ethics courses and do homework. After this, I would either go to dinner with my friends (when we were living in a hotel near the school) or go to my host family’s for dinner, then I would work on homework. On the weekends, I traveled with friends or spent time with my host family. Sometimes, we would take field trips to various places around Kunming (like a local hospital, Buddhist holy mountain, etc.). One extended field trip was when we had to spend five days traveling by ourselves in groups of 1-3 students; I chose to go to Pu’er with two of my friends to visit the place where the famous tea is grown. After we finished these courses, we traveled for two weeks around Yunnan where we would visit important sites in some of the places we had studied about. Then during ISP most people chose to stay in Kunming, but three of us chose to stay in Shangri-La, which is in cultural Tibet. There I learned how to paint the traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form of thangka paintings. I would go to class every day from 9-5 and was taught by a local thangka master, which lasted for two weeks. After finishing one thangka, I spent the rest of my stay in Shangri-La writing my ISP report, exploring the town/surrounding mountains, or hanging out with a local monk named Tenzin and his friends.

What were your courses like?

The courses were definitely not easy. Chinese language is a very difficult language to learn, so I had to work hard on memorizing characters and understanding grammar. Nearly every day I had a 听写, or dictation quiz, where I had to listen to sentences which my professor verbally gave me, then write them down in Chinese characters. The other two classes were taught through a series of lectures by local experts or via field trips to places which we were learning about. Most assessments for these courses were through several papers. My favorite class by far, however, was my ISP-I really enjoyed the freedom it gave us, as we were able to study practically whatever we wanted. It was amazing to be able to simultaneously learn so much about Tibetan culture and paint (I really enjoy art). I also interviewed a number of locals who were incredibly kind and friendly. At the end of my course, I didn’t even mind writing a 15 page paper on the significance of what I did because everything I learned was so incredible.

Where did you live?

The program travels a lot, so I lived in a number of places. For approximately the first month and a half, I lived in a hotel with a roommate (who was also named Hannah). After this, I lived with a host family in Kunming for two weeks with a young couple. They were incredibly kind and took me to a number of places around Kunming-by the end I became pretty good friends with them! During traveling periods I was mostly in hotels except for a five day homestay with a rural family-we stayed in a village of a few hundred and helped them out with whatever they wanted us to do (farming, construction, just generally hanging out, etc.). For ISP, we had to find our own housing, so we lived in a few hostels which were pretty cheap, sometimes as low as $5/night! I especially liked the hostels because this way we were able to meet other young people (mostly Chinese nationals) who were traveling in the area as well.

What challenges did you experience?

Language certainly proved to be a barrier. Even though I can hold some conversations in Chinese, going into shops or restaurants was always a struggle. Kunming has a pretty standard accent, but once I got out into the countryside the local accents made communication even harder. Also, in Shangri-La most people speak Tibetan (some don’t speak any Mandarin) which sometimes could be challenging, especially since I had taken the most Chinese out of the three of us who stayed so most communication came down to me.

What did you enjoy the most about your time abroad?

I loved experiencing a new culture, the hospitality I found wherever I traveled was amazing and people were always very friendly. My favorite part was definitely living in Shangri-La. I found Tibetan Buddhism to be a fascinating religion and I loved learning about it through a number of ways. It was fun to spend a lot of time doing art and learning about younger Tibetan culture from my thangka teacher (he is the same age as me). I also really appreciated learning from several monks, one of which is a reincarnated lama. We spent the most time with Tenzin, the lama, and I really enjoyed learning from him because he was simultaneously incredibly wise and also loved to have fun. I think I’ll always value what I learned about hospitality and kindness from my time abroad, and I think it’s helped me to become a better person.

Now that you’re back, what do you wish you would have done, but didn’t?
I spent almost every weekend traveling, and I while I really enjoyed everywhere I went I wish that I had spent more time exploring Kunming. I also wish I had also made more local friends; while I did make a few, it was a lot easier to just hang out with people on my program and I wish I had branched out a bit more.

What advice do you have for STEM majors and study abroad?

If you’re remotely considering study abroad, DO IT! It was probably the best semester I’ve had (and I’ve definitely loved going to HMC, so thats saying something). Also, if you can swing it, don’t be afraid to take all HSA courses. You can take STEM classes here but if I had taken any of the same cultural or language classes here I would not have gotten nearly as much out of my classes. Take full advantage of wherever you go, this is probably the easiest opportunity to be fully immersed in a foreign culture for a few months!

Josephine Wong ’18 (China)

Josephine Wong and friends outside a building.Major: Engineering
Program/Semester: IES Shanghai Engineering, Spring 2017

Why did you study abroad?

I grew up in Southern California and had never stepped foot out of the state. I was curious about the landscape and pace of life outside of California. I wanted to get a change of view and see what, if anything, was different living among a different culture of people. I chose to go to Shanghai because it would also give me the opportunity to practice my Mandarin. I had Mandarin classes for many years but I’ve never had the chance to put the language into real practice.

Tell us about your program

The program is divided into two segments. First, I lived in an apartment with other abroad students. Our suite was in the same complex as the IES Shanghai center and the Mandarin classes. The intention of this arrangement was to help us get acclimated to the new environment by making it easy for us to get to class, reducing the number of courses, and setting up our housing in downtown Shanghai. During those six weeks, we learned how to use the subway and became familiar with the city. We had a lot of time to explore Shanghai and get used to living there. Next, we moved to the university town and began taking courses at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Some of us lived in homestays and while the rest of us lived in the international dorm. Around the middle of the semester, the IES staff took us on a trip to Xi’an for three days.

Describe a typical day

While living at the apartment, I had Mandarin class twice a day. On weekdays, I would have breakfast, go to class, have lunch, go to class, then do homework and make dinner. On weekends, we usually went sightseeing around Shanghai or go on overnight trips at popular cities near Shanghai.

At the homestay, I had two classes on MWF and one class on TR. I ate breakfast at my homestay. I usually stayed on campus the entire day so I ate lunch at the canteens. Meals were paid individually, but they (as most other living expenses in China) were very cheap. A typical meal would be 1-3 USD. With 5 USD, I could get enough for two meals or a pretty sizeable lunch. Between classes, I would hang out at the international program office, where there was a nice study space for students, or the library. I would be back home for dinner and spend the rest of the evening with the family and doing homework. On weekends, the other program students and I took the subway back to downtown Shanghai or found something fun to do around the university (watch a movie, shopping, etc.).

What were your courses like?

My Mandarin class was taught by the IES staff. There were only two other students in my class so the teaching was very individualized. We had lots of opportunities to practice new words in the group setting through conversation.

My classes at the university were:

  • VM211: Introduction to Solid Mechanics (E83-equivalent)
  • VR203: Food in Modern East Asian History
  • VR206: China in the Early Modern World

Just like at Mudd, my engineering class had weekly problems sets, midterms, and a final and my humanities class had regular readings, class discussions, and essays. The classes had a similar grading scale and were taught in English. My classmates were mostly native Chinese students. International students are rare during the spring semester because fewer courses are offered during the spring. The spring semester at the university is similar to a summer semester in the US: most students treat it as optional and take the time to work in internships.

Where did you live?

I live in an apartment suite during the first six weeks with two other program participants. We had a kitchen so we cooked or ate at nearby restaurants. The apartment complex was located in the heart of Shanghai so supermarkets and eateries were close-by and abundant. Also, the subway was a short walk away, making it very easy to explore the city. We had an RA that lived with us and helped us with various things, like find a doctor when we got sick or arrange trips outside Shanghai.

During the remaining two months, I lived in a homestay near Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Minhang campus. The homestay was very close to my classes, about a fifteen-minute walk away. I had a host mom, a host dad, and a seven-year-old sister. My host mom’s parents also stayed with us for the first couple of weeks.

What challenges did you experience?

I was not prepared for the cold. Coming from Southern California, I didn’t bring enough warm clothing for the wet and rainy winter there. It was fine when I was living in the apartment because we had heating, but at my homestay, the windows were often kept open. Heating was minimized since electricity is more expensive in China than in the US. I got used to it after a while, but I wished I had been more prepared. So, I would say, if you’re planning to come to Shanghai in the winter, bring or buy plenty of warm clothes!

What did you enjoy the most about your time abroad?

The two things I enjoyed the most during my time abroad was traveling and spending time with my host family. There were only five people in my program so we traveled together almost every weekend. Around Shanghai and in the nearby cities, we visited Chinese gardens, museums, parks, and famous buildings. We had two longer trips: one to Chengdu, where the main attraction was a large panda reserve, and one to Xi’an, where we saw Emperor Shihuangdi’s terra-cotta soldiers. We had less time to travel once our university classes started. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my host family. Communication was slightly difficult because they spoke little English, but Pleco (the English-Chinese dictionary app) helped a lot with translation. I enjoyed living with them. I got to try Anhui dishes, learn about their day-to-day life, and practice my Mandarin.

Now that you’re back, what do you wish you would have done, but didn’t?

I wished I had booked my return flight later after the end of the program. There were so many more places around China that I wanted to see.

What advice do you have for STEM majors and study abroad?

Engineering majors who want to study abroad should start planning at the beginning of sophomore year. Because there are a lot of course requirements for the major, it’s important that those who plan to study abroad start taking core engineering classes as early as possible. This is especially true for those interested in the IES Shanghai Engineering Spring program, which has a rather limited number of engineering classes.

Ruth Sung ’17 (China)

Ruth Sung and Emily Beese in Pingyao, China

Ruth Sung and Emily Beese in Pingyao, China

Major: Engineering
Program/Semester: E84 in China; summer 2014

Why did you study abroad?

Even in high school, I knew that I wanted to study abroad while in college. I didn’t anticipate doing it the first year of college though! I was drawn to this program for two main reasons. Although I’m of Chinese descent, I have a hazy idea of what my heritage means to me. Studying in China would be a chance to experience the country that my parents grew up in, study at a renowned college, and immerse myself in a vibrant culture. In addition, I’m teetering between an engineering and computer science major and taking E84 would help me get a better picture of what engineering entails. China in other words, was an opportunity for me to discover my past, experience the present, and determine my future.

Tell us about your program

I took part in a summer program in China. It was 8 weeks studying at Peking University in Beijing, China through China Studies Institute (CSI). We had classes during the week and during Friday or the weekend, there would be trips out to places like the Great Wall and Forbidden City. The CSI staff were super nice. They were willing to answer all our questions and help us plan our own weekend trips. Peking University is a much larger campus than Mudd, and it is a 15min walk from the dorms to the classrooms. There are also multiple cafeterias for food so there’s a lot of variety, and it’s quiet cheap. As for going around the city, Beijing’s public transport is cheap and ubiquitous. There is a subway station at the East Gate of Peking University and bus stations nearby.

Describe a typical day

Emily and I stayed off campus at Hope’s house so we would all get up at 7, eat breakfast, and bike 15-20 min over to class each morning. Chinese language was from 8:30-10:20 Monday to Thursday. We had a super long lunch break, around 3 hours during which we’d eat lunch on campus and do our Chinese homework (or procrastinate). Beijing is 15 hours ahead so that was also the prime time to talk to people on the West coast because they’d be up. From 1:30-4:00 or 1:30-4:30 we’d have engineering and history respectively. Truth be told, 3-hour classes are extremely long. After class, Emily and I would bike back to Hope’s house to do homework and eat dinner with her family. Friday’s and the weekends were more eventful.

What were your courses like?

We had 3 courses: E84 (into to electrical engineering), Chinese language, and Chinese modern history. In all the courses, Mudders were the majority or all of the students. I found all of my teachers easy to communicate with and encouraging of our exploration of China. The one challenge was balancing exploring Beijing and working on homework. Emily and I made it our goal to force each other to get out more often. We went out every weekend and visited Wu Dao Kou (right next to the university) usually once a week for dinner out. They also have the most amazing milk tea boba.

E84 was taught by Prof. Wang (a Mudd prof) so it was basically a condensed version of the course.

Chinese language was a lot of fun. Being in the 100 class, we jumped right into the pinyin, characters, and reading. By the third day of class, we could actually read a full sentence in Chinese. It was work every night to memorize the characters, pinyin, and meaning but it was so rewarding to be able to read random characters everywhere. By the end, I could actually write a letter in Chinese, or read short passages.

Modern Chinese history was a bit eye opening. I didn’t have the most background knowledge of modern Chinese history and we covered from the Opium Wars to modern day. While fascinating, it was a writing intensive course so the workload was proportioned accordingly.

Where did you live?

Emily and I lived with Hope for the summer. She was Emily’s roommate and was super kind to open her home to us for the summer. Since we were at her house, we’d bike to the university for classes, which were about 15–20 min away. We’d eat meals with her family and we went out to dinner several times together.

The public transportation in Beijing is extensive and cheap, it costs 2RMB (~30 cents) or less to travel on the subway or bus. If you’re going outside of Beijing, you can get train tickets which can be more expensive.

What challenges did you experience?

Coming to China, I was able to understand basic Chinese and knew enough to ask my way around although I couldn’t read or write any Chinese (people won’t understand English). Thus, language wasn’t that large of a barrier for me. I also eat Chinese cuisine at home on occasion so I really liked the food (and it’s super cheap). The most challenging part was the amount of homework that we racked up between three classes. Yes, studying abroad is awesome but don’t forget about the “studying” part, it’s not just an abroad adventure. All the same, the weekend excursions and explorations became so much more enjoyable after being holed up with work during the week.

China’s not as much of a melting pot as the US so one thing that I noticed was that if you’re an ethnicity other than Chinese, you tend to get a lot of stares, especially if you’re hair color isn’t black.

What did you enjoy the most about your time abroad?

We went camping on the Great Wall one weekend which was a blast. The CSI office had camping gear (tents and sleeping bags) that we could borrow. We left Saturday morning and after a day of traveling on subways and buses, we finally started hiking on the wild section of the Great Wall. The view was amazing. We didn’t really plan for a downpour at 2am or being completely soaked but we rung ourselves out the next day.

At the end of the program, our whole group traveled to Pingyao. Instead of heading back to Beijing, Emily and I stayed a few days longer. We met up with Hope and Siyi (our roommates from Mudd who were Chinese) to explore Xian. We got to see the Terracotta warriors, ate at the Muslim district, and walked around.

Now that you’re back, what do you wish you would have done, but didn’t?

Go exploring more on the weekends. See more of China.

What advice do you have for STEM majors and study abroad?

E84 in China specifically was an appealing program for me because it was a chance to take a tech class and a writing intensive in one shot. It’s also during the summer, which means you don’t have to plan for a semester away from Mudd.

Study abroad is a wonderful opportunity. Talk to Ms. Chiles early to figure out how to find programs that offer STEM classes or what programs have transferable credits and how to plan your schedule around it.

Also, make sure that you take time to explore the place you study abroad in. Set aside your work every now and then and go out.

Obosa Obazuaye ’14 (Japan)

Obosa Obazuaye '14

Obosa Obazuaye ’14 with his host family

Major: Computer Science
Program/Semester: Pomona ICU, Fall 2013

I came to Harvey Mudd College hoping to try out new things. For example, I had always wanted to take formal violin lessons and Japanese classes, and with Harvey Mudd being a “liberal arts college”, attending Mudd would allow me to engage in such non-STEM curricula alongside my rigorous math and science education.

I was indeed able to take both violin lessons and Japanese courses upon my entry to Mudd at Pomona College (as part of the Claremont Consortium). Although both required an amount of dedication and some manipulation of my course scheduling, I found that both were very enjoyable and provided a good stress relief for my tough experiences with the Harvey Mudd Core and certain major courses; pursuing these arts/humanities interests was absolutely worth it for me. Furthermore, Japanese fulfilled my humanities concentration, so after four semesters, I was ready to end my Japanese education and spend more time completing my other required courses. However, the prospect of studying abroad had always lingered in my mind.

Now, as I presume most Mudders do, I had two pressing thoughts that concerned me about studying abroad. The first was the notion that I should make the most of my time at Mudd by taking as many courses at Mudd as possible. The second was a concern that I would have too much work to complete upon returning from study abroad, such that I would have to enroll at Mudd for a fifth year. However, by and large every person I had brought up the prospect of studying abroad to had told me that it sounded like a great opportunity. It particularly resonated with me when many of my professors and other trusted adults said things along the lines of, “I really wish I had taken advantage of such an opportunity when I was your age.” As a result, I decided to go through with it, completing many of my humanities requirements (distribution, concentration, and Mudd hums) before going abroad so that I could focus on my major after returning. This definitely helped in softening some of the workload upon returning.

I have heard many students say that a big part of their desire to study abroad was the prospect of experiencing different curricula abroad and/or opportunities to party and have fun in a new and exciting country with new and exciting people. Although I definitely did want to experience and enjoy a different culture and meet new people, my main reason for studying abroad was that I wanted to pursue Japanese until I could really feel confident in my Japanese skills. While the Pomona College Japanese courses definitely put me at a relatively high level in only four semesters (especially when compared to some of the other studying abroad students I encountered in Japan), and even though I did very well in my Japanese courses, I still felt like I could not actually say that I was reasonably “good” at Japanese. I usually pick up things (skills, knowledge, etc.) very quickly, but I rarely have enough time to master anything (as they say, “Jack of all trades, master of none”). I wanted to be able to say that I was really good at something, or at least be able to put a concerted amount of time and effort into a single passion. Ultimately, I chose to let this pursuit of expertise take me all the way to Japan for half a year.

Another reason for studying abroad was to become a more interesting person. I wanted to have a deeply personal experience, away from my family and friends and everything I have become so used to in my life, so that I could better understand myself and my place in the world, so that I could feel more like an adult (i.e., by having an experience that requires much independence), and so that I could have interesting stories to share with people I meet throughout my life. I always love listening to people, old and young, tell stories of their various experiences in life, and I wanted to become that person who could describe his own interesting adventures and experiences to others.

I believe all of my goals were fulfilled. Through studying abroad, my Japanese language skills improved immensely (I can usually enjoy Japanese media such as music, movies, books, and video games without the use of English subtitles/translation, though I still need a dictionary on occasion), and I think I have become more aware of life’s innumerable pathways. Being in the so-called “Mudd Bubble”, I was so focused on my coursework that I did not realize how many possible career options existed. For example, when I was in Japan, I was often asked, “Are you planning on working in Japan after you graduate?” I had never even considered this, and although I do not plan on working in Japan in the near future, it was really eye-opening to realize that such opportunities are available to me; I am not limited to only aiming for jobs at, say, Microsoft, Google, or other big-name companies that are popular for Mudd computer science majors. And indeed, I had a plethora of interesting experiences I can share with people willing to listen; stories ranging from the experience of seeing the magnificent sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji, or having my butt smacked by a sociable old man in a public bathhouse (these stories and more are detailed on the blog I kept while I was in Japan, www.raisinbranmansanjapan.tumblr.com).

Furthermore, my homestay experiences were invaluable in improving my Japanese skills as well as my interpersonal relationship skills. It’s one thing to meet someone and exchange small talk for several minutes, but it’s entirely different to live with a new family for several weeks or months, and constantly think in and speak another language. It was one of the most difficult and mentally taxing things I have ever had to do, and yet it was by far also one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences I have ever had. There is just something particularly profound and unforgettable about being loved and cared for by strangers in a foreign country. Being in college for two years, I had also forgotten what it is like to interact with children, so being able to spend time with children in my host families and at volunteer events in the community helped me remember why I love kids.

Upon coming back to Mudd, I took five full non-Core tech courses (three CS, one engineering, and one physics) in one semester, which was probably the toughest course load I have ever had. However, through the combination of my experiences in Japan of having to be independent and having to teach myself (language, rules, how to troubleshoot, etc.) and solve real-world problems (and in a foreign language, nonetheless), I had gained a work ethic far more tempered than before I had studied abroad, and I flourished that semester, spending about 36+ hours a week on homework, thoroughly understanding and enjoying the course contents, and putting in some extra hours to help my classmates finish their assignments.

Missing a semester at Mudd did present some challenges. I had one less semester to take some of the many courses that I was interested in taking, which resulted in having to rearrange my schedule and take heavier course loads over my final three semesters. However, being a computer science major, I had slightly fewer course scheduling issues than, say, engineering majors (who have a few more courses in their major than computer science majors do) or physics majors (who, unlike computer science majors, have many courses that are offered only one semester a year rather than both semesters).

Another challenge resulted from missing the fall Career Fair, and neglecting to look for summer jobs/internships to apply for while I was in Japan. This was a bit of a setback because by the time spring semester rolled around, many companies did not seem as open to giving job/internship offers. However, I put in extra effort in applying during my semester back and I was fortunate enough to eventually receive a great internship offer right before the spring semester ended.

All things considered, I can say without a doubt that studying abroad was by far one of the most enriching and edifying experiences I have ever had, not only as a Harvey Mudd student, but simply as a human being.  I would definitely encourage other Mudders to consider this opportunity.