Get Some (International) Perspective – Reflections from a Recent Experience Abroad

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

I was fortunate enough to spend 8 days abroad on a recent business trip to Israel. As this was my first visit to the country, I knew there would be much to learn and process. After spending some time reflecting on my trip, I realized some of what I discovered (or was reminded) may be useful for those preparing for internships and full-time employment. Here are just a few observations:

The solutions to some of the most vexing domestic issues can be found abroad. During one of my meetings, I had the chance to speak with a principal at a local elementary school. I was curious to hear more about the school’s philosophy on educating students and how they achieved success. He was very candid and offered his opinion based on years of experience working in the country. Thinking about what he shared, I realized a similar approach may be helpful at some schools in the U.S. that have encountered challenges. Ultimately, this conversation reminded me that some of the answers to very challenging issues in the U.S. can be found abroad – so it’s important to take advantage of the chance to spend time abroad, visit different countries and learn as much as possible.

Perception can be significantly distorted by limited perspective. Prior to my trip, I revisited some articles written about the country from the perspective of individuals in the U.S. But I was quite curious to hear opinions from those who actually lived in the country. A few conversations with local citizens reminded me that perspectives can vary drastically on events and there is much value in hearing different viewpoints. What is especially great about visiting other countries is hearing firsthand accounts from those who lived through events others have read about in the past. Developing an appreciation for different viewpoints and appreciating the value of global mindset can be very helpful while working in companies or organizations and throughout your career.

While differences may be apparent, there may be more similarities than you expect. During a few conversations with other colleagues on the trip, a few people remarked how different cities and neighborhoods we visited reminded them of areas in the U.S. While it may be easy to focus on differences we see and observe, I was reminded that people’s lifestyles and experiences in other countries may have more in common with the U.S. than people realize or assume. Having the willingness to be open-minded and appreciate the similarities and differences of individuals you encounter will be helpful as you prepare for a global workforce.

Studying Abroad and Marketing its Impact on Your Professional Skills

Marianne Lipa, Associate Director

Studying abroad can be transformational academically, interpersonally, and professionally. From the professional standpoint, the experience is valuable and employers seek candidates who have flexibility and adaptability, communication, teamwork, cross-cultural, and analytical skills.  During your semester abroad, students cultivate and develop a broad foundation of transferable skills and attributes including self-awareness, intercultural communication, analysis from a variety of different perspectives, and independence.   The question becomes how do you market yourself with your abroad experience.  You can indicate on your resume any specific coursework that may be relevant to the position and extracurricular involvement (e.g. student groups on campus) associated with the semester abroad experience that enhanced your semester abroad within the academic and cultural realm.  If you have substantial international experience, you can include a section on the resume that focuses on the international/global aspects.  In both the cover letter and interview, you can explain in depth how studying abroad has prepared you further for success in the position and how the global perspective you developed shapes your analysis of economic, political, and social issues.

And remember you can also meet with a Career Services advisor to assist with navigating your international job search, domestic job search with international components, and how to best promote the impact of your study abroad experience as it relates to your professional skillset. Also please mark your calendars for our upcoming international opportunities career fair on November 11 in Houston Hall.  More details are available on our website at

We look forward to seeing you at the fair and in the Career Services office!

Ramadan and Refugee Realities: A Summer with UNICEF Jordan

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Saagarika Thanvi, GEN ’16

Al-Balad in Downtown Amman, Jordan

thanvi1Hearing the call to prayer just before sunset. Watching people gather at the iftar table to break their fast. Enjoying the ambiance of Ramadan nights. Jordan opened my eyes to a new culture, a new way of living, and a new way to engage with everyday realities of people. I worked with UNICEF Jordan this past summer for the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Section related to understanding the performance and efficiency of the wastewater treatment facilities used at the Za’atari and Azaraq refugee camps in Jordan. My work exposed me first hand to the consequences of war and to the importance of supporting those people who need help the most. Watching people living in caravans in refugee camps having fled bombs and chemical weapons is heart-breaking. It was a surreal feeling being so close to the war torn countries of Syria and Iraq yet feeling sheltered in the safe haven of Jordan.

It was a new experience for me to work in WASH, but this past summer I learned so much more from my colleagues through this summer experience than what I was previously exposed to. It was a pleasure to come into the UNICEF office every day: I was challenged to use my skills as an engineer in a real life situation, but at the same time I had this unique opportunity of working with and learning from international professionals.

Azaraq Refugee Camp, Courtesy of Saleh Al’Sharabati (UNICEF Jordan)

When I use the restroom on a daily basis, I take it for granted that everything will be taken care of. I do not have to worry about the amount of water I consume. Or the water quality that is released back into the environment. However, this summer I realized the importance of water – the most essential ingredient for life. With tens of thousands of people living in small spaces and with only a limited water supply of about 35-40 litres per person per day provided, the challenges faced in treating the wastewater is enormous. Yet regardless of the situation, it is important to take into consideration the water quality because of the high potential for diseases to be spread through the water. However, the most important lesson that I learnt during these past weeks is that wastewater need not be seen as a ‘waste’ but as a resource. Wastewater can be easily reused for agricultural purposes and it can be used as a potential energy source through the generation of biogas.

Umm Qais, Jordan
Umm Qais, Jordan

My summer in Jordan made the world seem huge because of the sheer beauty of the earth I was exposed to, and through the amazing scenery that stretched before my eyes. This summer also made the world seem small because of the common human bond that demands of us to be open and loving to all especially to those who are the most vulnerable. I realised this summer the importance of doing my part to engage with communities that need to be supported because of circumstances that are not of their choice. It is essential to use the skills we have learned to make a positive difference in the world around us. Experiencing Ramadan in Jordan taught me the importance of human communities coming together in celebration of a common faith. Seeing the realities of refugees exposed me to the pain and suffering people have had to face due to selfish battles fought out of hate. Love is always greater than hate, and in a world with so much difficulty, we need to encourage more openness to learn about other people and make our world safe and just for all children and people to live freely.



Can Pre-health Students Go Abroad?

Yes, many pre-health students find a rewarding way to study, conduct research, work or volunteer abroad.  It may not seem possible when you consider all of your required coursework and campus commitments, but with a little planning, it can be done.  These are some of the most common paths our pre-health students take to experience life in another country:

Penn Study Abroad – a traditional semester or year of study in another country.  Some students choose programs related to health or science, others not at all.  Whatever you choose is fine, but remember the requirements for health professions schools need to be taken in the U.S.

Penn Short Term Abroad – summer study abroad and short-term learning experiences.  From a summer of international study to service learning and leadership ventures, Penn sponsors a number of opportunities if you want to “go global” outside of your regular class schedule.

International Clinical Volunteering Programs – opportunities to help provide healthcare abroad, from 10 days to a year.  Do evaluate the expense and safety of each program.

Penn International Internship Program – 8-12 week long internships and funding for internships abroad.  Survey a list of previous participants for examples related to healthcare.

International Fellowships – A number of fellowships, such as the Fulbright or Gates Cambridge Scholarship, fund study or research abroad.  CURF is your stepping stone for applying to them.  It is not at all uncommon for our applicants to health professions schools to delay their application to take advantage of a post-graduate opportunity in another country.

An Taisce

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here. This entry is by Agatha Leach, LPS, Masters of Environmental Studies, ’16

This summer I received a fantastic opportunity to work with An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, a charity that preserves and protects Ireland’s natural and built heritage. As a graduate student in the Masters of Environmental Studies program, I have been fortunate to combine my academic interests in land preservation and resource management with my abiding interest in Irish history. Though a small island, Ireland’s tremendous natural beauty has supported a green tourism sector critical to the nation’s overall economy. Despite the heady beauty of the place, aspects of Ireland’s environmental policies and standards poorly address issues of pressing environmental concern. Ireland’s large and poorly regulated transport and agriculture sectors have spurred a long list of issues, including dismal municipal water quality, polluted rivers, high greenhouse gas emissions, and a precipitous decline in biodiversity across all habitats and biomes. For Ireland, whose largest economic sectors are agriculture and tourism, the importance of addressing these issues is apparent. Nevertheless, a general public apathy towards the environment and an overwhelming tendency to produce Irish solutions to Irish problems has created a vicarious situation. In the absence of meaningful government interest in the environment, several key charities and organizations, such as An Taisce, have taken a leading role in protecting Ireland’s natural heritage.

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Cutting turf in the traditional way. Glenties, Co. Donegal, August 2015.

The research I undertook with An Taisce largely concerned the protection and stewardship of peatlands, a unique habitat environmentally and historically particular to Irish experience. Irish peatlands have traditionally been used for a variety of purposes, including domestic and commercial sources of indigenous fuel, agriculture, and forestry. However, 99% of actively growing raised bogs in Ireland have been destroyed and the remaining sites face increasing threat. The outright destruction of bogs particularly afflicts Counties Westmeath, Offaly, Leitrim, and Donegal, where the increasing turf extraction remains the largest unregulated land use in Ireland. Commercial turf extraction in Ireland falls under the purview of Bord na Móna, a semi-state organization charged with the extraction and maintenance of peatlands in Ireland. The environmental damage resulting from turf extraction is tremendous, and when completed through commercial techniques, proves irreversible. Water-storage capacity both locally and regionally can be reduced and this draining releases nutrients, heavy metals, sediments, and dissolved organic carbon into surrounding watersheds and soil. Effectively, draining bogs destroys pristine habitat for threatened bird and mammal species as well as increasing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Industrial peat excavation. Bog of Allen, Co. Kildare, July 2015.
Industrial peat excavation. Bog of Allen, Co. Kildare, July 2015.

In my experience, I see the protection of Irish peatlands facing two challenges. First, public backlash against peatland protection remains vehemently rooted in a tradition of hand-cutting turf from local bogs. Second, the availability of a massively cheap, indigenous fuel in an otherwise fossil fuel-poor nation leads to government sympathy towards turf extraction. In understanding these factors, it becomes clear that the battle to protect peatlands in the long run must address both obstacles to be successful. My work with An Taisce concerned the monitoring of peatlands through satellite imagery to determine bogs under active excavation, the extent of the excavation, and whether these sites currently hold legal planning permission to conduct such activities. The results suggested that the extent of extraction on a majority of sites required special planning permission from local authorities as well as multiple environmental impact assessments (EIAs), surveys commonly required in the case of any large-scale land development. As the majority of peat extraction continues without any regulation or permission, I was able to witness several situations capturing the utter disregard for Irish cultural and natural heritage that pervades this issue. One such case involved peat excavation from a bog in County Westmeath by a private company without planning permission, EIA, or any other license. It emerged that the excavation unearthed a bog road, or togher, dating from 1200-800 BC, a significant archaeological discovery to both Irish and European culture. Despite many attempts over the course of the year by various organizations across Ireland to halt excavation in order to preserve the togher, the company continued to act outside the authority of critical planning regulation and so destroyed the artifact without fear or repercussion. image 3 The experience with An Taisce so strengthened my passion for environmental stewardship, not only in seeing firsthand the blatant destruction of cultural heritage, but also by working with those who serve to protect natural habitats. This opportunity was only possible due to a grant provided through Career Services at Penn, and I am deeply thankful for the help they provided throughout the summer.