By Calder Phillips-Grafflin
As those of you who have read Sci/Tech in the past have noticed, Erica Fugger is currently editing the section because I’m away on a term abroad. Term abroad experiences wouldn’t usually fall into Sci/Tech’s jurisdiction, but since Union and other major universities, as well as a series of government reports, advocate for engineers and science majors to have “international experiences” while in college, I will be writing a weekly column this term to both raise awareness and provide more information to engineers and science majors thinking about studying abroad. What this means is a discussion of the variety of technical and non-technical issues inherent to studying abroad as a science or engineering major.
In that spirit, here are few bits of advice.
First: For an engineer traveling abroad, get used to having airport security/border guards go through your stuff. Inevitably, you’re going to be packing in as much as possible, and that means your luggage will look pretty suspicious (especially if it looks like a rat’s nest of cables and computer accessories like mine did). The TSA ran explosives tests on my bags, and the Germans unpacked it completely. For those of you concerned about privacy, do remember that many countries legally allow police (including U.S. customs) to search your laptop, camera, or smartphone without a warrant or even ‘reasonable suspicion.’ If you want to keep your data private, get used to using encrypted hidden partitions.
Second: If you end up studying in Europe, your definition of ‘fast’ internet will be swept away. On a good day at Union, you get maybe 3 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. In Prague, which is certainly not the technical capital of Europe, an average connection is along the lines of 70 Mbps down, 40 Mbps up. In more basic terms, that’s the difference between a download taking minutes and a download taking hours.
Third and perhaps the most important: Don’t even think about going on a term abroad if you don’t deal well with stress and waiting. Things can and will go wrong. But even when everything goes right, be prepared to wait for hours for simple things like ID cards, metro passes, course registration, and more. In addition, the general Czech attitude towards non-essential issues is along the lines of “deal with it.”
Don’t get me wrong, studying abroad is an amazing experience that I highly recommend, especially to engineers who will have to live and work globally. But do think about it and be prepared to be blindsided by the consequences.