The annual Global Week at UVA kicks off today! Global Week offers you an opportunity to explore global internships, international career paths, and programs to help you study, research, and go abroad. There are even opportunities to explore global experiences virtually.
To celebrate Global Week within Engineering and Computer Science, we asked two current students and two alumni to tell us about their global experiences. Read on to learn about the adventures of Hanbin, Gabby, George, and Senthil. Then, learn how you can share your story.
Let's meet Hanbin.
Hi there! I’m Hanbin Cho and I studied Computer Engineering. After graduating in 2016, I’ve been working as a software engineer. While at UVA, I went on three study abroad programs:
2013 summer for 1 month: Surveying a variety of industries in Stuttgart in Germany, led by Prof. Elzey. Learn more about this program. After it ended, I backpacked solo for seven weeks. Watch the video journal.
2015 spring semester: Attending National University of Singapore as an exchange student. Learn more about this program.
2016 January Term: Surveying a variety of businesses in Delhi and Mumbai in India, led by Prof. Cheema. The latest version of J-Term in India can be found here.
How did I decide to study abroad? Besides the sheer appetite for adventure, I thought witnessing different ways of living could inspire how I may live well in this world. Whether the program aligned with my major did not matter. I thought the lessons would be useful anyway. Going abroad through UVA programs had significant perks. The financial aid and scholarship offered by the International Studies Office reduced the cost barrier. Also, the programs lowered the risk of adventure by ensuring that I would have the support of fellow students and the local partner organization.
What did I learn? A lot, but to be brief, I’ll share just two stories. First story: Traveling through foreign lands opened my eyes about the cultures there and the cultures in my hometown simultaneously. Noticing anything “novel” there prompted me to wonder, “novel compared to what in my hometown" that I’d become blindingly familiar with. Since then, I think I have become more attuned to subtle, environmental variables that influence a situation. This has been very useful in social interactions as well as in engineering work. Second story: I went through rapid cycles of meeting good people, growing very close, then grieving when the time for parting had come. This shaped me to think that, “This too shall pass” is the only certainty in any encounter. But it occurred to me that I could choose how to respond to that outlook. If it will end one way or another, might as well choose to appreciate the journey! This guided how I've approached other life journeys. And sometimes, the diverged paths have crossed again in interesting ways.
Let's meet Gabby.
Hi! My name is Gabby DeFilippo, and I am a 4th year studying Computer Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In spring of 2020, I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland through the UVA exchange program. I wanted to study abroad because I love traveling and learning about other cultures. Through this exchange, I was able to experience the Scottish culture and travel to various parts of Scotland with other international students on the weekends. This was my first time being so far away from my family and friends, and I learned how to be even more independent and self-sufficient. My confidence grew in my ability to live on my own and meet and form lasting connections with new people.
Some of my biggest takeaways from study abroad were the importance of being open to new experiences and actively listening to and learning from the experiences of others. In terms of my experiences as a CS student, it was really cool to see how CS was taught at another university. The pace of learning was different. Our assignments were more spaced out, but they were more complex. It was helpful to be able to learn and work with students from different technical backgrounds.
To anyone considering studying abroad, definitely do it!! I was nervous to go abroad, but knew it was something I wanted to do in my college career. Everyone worries about making friends and finding a place to fit in abroad. The University of Edinburgh had a lot of international students, so I made a lot of friends within that community. My advice is to get involved in as much as you can and don’t be afraid to talk to other students!
Let's meet George.
My name is George Noonan and I’m a fourth-year Computer Science student in the Engineering School. Last fall, I completed a UVA Exchange program at the University of Hong Kong. I originally planned to return to Hong Kong in the spring, but I decided to go to Australia instead because there were frequent protests in Hong Kong. I studied in Sydney at the University of New South Wales through a program that was not affiliated with UVA, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
Ever since I took a gap year and had an amazing experience living in Asia, I have always wanted to study abroad for a year. I enjoy the independence of living in another country and the thrill of immersing myself in another culture. Going abroad as a student was a unique opportunity to accomplish these things and to meet other people my age from around the world. Additionally, it gave me the chance to learn more outside the classroom. Whether it be going out with friends, eating at a local restaurant or exploring the city, there are always opportunities to learn more about the local culture and broaden one’s perspective.
The last reason I chose to go abroad is the ability to travel. Hong Kong and Sydney are a long way from the U.S. and going abroad to those places allowed me to easily travel around the Asia Pacific region. I took full advantage of this and recommend traveling to other countries for any student considering going abroad.
How did studying abroad help you as an Engineer?
As an engineer, studying abroad broadened my perspective on the cultural and social implications within Computer Science, particularly for sensitive topics like information governance. This topic was especially relevant while I studied in Hong Kong because the meaning and use of censorship lie at the heart of the Hong Kong protests. Besides broadening my perspective, studying abroad gave me confidence in my ability to work through problems independently because the courses I took were rigorous and required learning on my own.
What would you like to tell someone else who's considering studying abroad?
Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve made. You will learn more about yourself and the world by living in another country than you ever could in a classroom. If you are at all considering it, I recommend speaking to a study abroad advisor, chatting with a friend who went abroad and researching various programs. I would start by choosing a region you’re interested in and looking at programs that offer courses for your major. Not all programs will offer the classes you need, so it is important to do your research!
Let's meet Senthil.
Hi I'm Senthil, I graduated from UVA in 2017 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and minors in Computer Science and Design Integration. After graduation I entered into a rotational program at Pratt & Whitney where I got to work as a Project Engineer, Structural Engineer, and Design Engineer for a little over 2 years. Then in September of 2019 I decided to leave my job and backpack through a few countries in Asia before switching careers.
What led to you deciding to take a career break?
I have always had a curiosity to explore the unknown and a passion for seeking out new experiences. The first time I studied abroad in college, I knew I had to do it again and keep traveling as much as I could. Deciding to quit my job to pursue this passion was a tough choice, but one that I felt would ultimately be the best for me as it's something that I know I will regret if I don't do it and I won't really get many opportunities to do so. I figured now is when I will have the least responsibility, the most time, and enough savings to do a long trip so I wanted to take advantage of my situation.
Additionally, after working for a few years I was also starting to feel like I wanted to switch careers and move more towards a software engineering role. Having minored in computer science I knew I had the skills necessary to transition into the field, and from working on a lot of side projects programming tools at Pratt I was gaining more of an interest in jobs that focused primarily on coding. Upon completion of the rotational program I tried to find a role within the company that would align more with my interests but unfortunately there weren't many options available at the time. So I decided I had gained a lot of great experience and enjoyed my time at Pratt but it was time to move on. This career transition would also provide me with a valuable opportunity to take some time off in between jobs so I could make an extended trip where I could travel extensively and fulfill my increasing desire to take a big trip.
What did you hope to get out of the career break experience? What lessons did you take away from it?
I intentionally went into my backpacking trip with very few plans and not many expectations. I wanted to leave it open ended so I could be more spontaneous, take opportunities as they came, and just see where the journey took me and where I would end up along the way. My drive was really just to be exposed to other cultures, see what different countries were like, meet people from across the world, have a lot of interesting experiences, and try new things outside my comfort zone.
From traveling in general (India, Canada, Germany, Amsterdam, South Africa, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) I have learned a number of life lessons. It's taught me to be curious and explore as much as possible because you never know what you might find. Whether an experience is good or bad there is always something to be learned from it, so be open to new things and take risks. I've also seen how helpful and kind strangers can be even if you can't speak to each other, so many people will go out of their way to help you however they can. I also gained a new found confidence from constantly putting myself in new or uncomfortable situations, which has helped me to grow and be able to handle unexpected events better. After all the mistakes I have made traveling I know that I can rely on myself and handle a wide variety of situations. Finally, one of the most important lessons I learned is to be as open and accepting as possible. The world is a big place with people from so many vastly different walks of life, you never know where they come from or what their story is, so listening and learning from them to try and understand who they are is one of the most rewarding and valuable things you can do.
What would you like to tell someone else who would be open to considering a career break in their life?
I would tell them that it is a big decision so definitely think about it a lot and consider your situation, but at the end of the day don't let fear hold you back and take the risk if you feel it's the right path for you. Personally I found there were 3 main things to think about. The first is what your life is currently like and what you will be giving up by changing your life and leaving behind what you have. The second is what you stand to gain from taking a career break, what you will do with the time, and how it will benefit you and align with your goals. The last is what you will do after the career break, where you see yourself heading in the future, and how you plan to accomplish that once your break is finished. Take plenty of time to evaluate your options and choose what is best for you.