The Power of Studying Abroad

Lake Vouliagmeni, Greece (2)

Nick at Lake Vouliagmeni, Greece

Political Science undergraduate student Nicholas Maier spent the winter semester studying at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. Nick participated in the UCF Study Abroad program, a two-student exchange through the UCF Political Science Department which allowed him to spend September through the end of February in Germany.

At UCF, he has worked on several projects in environmental engineering with his research mentor, Woo Hyoung Lee, Ph.D. Nick and a group of research students recently returned from Washington, D.C. where they presented a project at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) and received an Honorable Mention in the category of sustainable energy.

The project was funded by a competitive grant from the EPA for 38 teams nationwide, and now they are competing for continued funding for Phase II of the competition. “Our project was on sustainable cultivation and low-energy, low-cost extraction of microalgae using forward osmosis for further processing into biofuels,” explained Nick. Lüneburg (home)

Nick is currently finishing his junior year, double majoring in environmental engineering and political science. Nick would like to thank Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., and Paul Vasquez, Ph.D., for conducting the application process and choosing him of the exchange. He hopes his study abroad experience “inspires someone to try studying abroad or to just look for new experiences.”

Read below to learn about Nick’s study abroad experience:

“The exchange was really an “international” one for me even beyond the traveling, because I got to spend my time with other exchange students from around the world. That exposure to people from different backgrounds was one of the most important parts of the experience and something that I think people should make an effort to do regardless of whether they go abroad.

When I first arrived in September, I took a three-week intensive German course. After that I took classes in political science with German students, taught in English, and kept practicing my German outside of class. Because the German winter semester overlaps with both fall and spring in the U.S., I started four UCF classes online in January rather than taking a semester off from UCF or coming back early. That was difficult at times, but worth it to spend some extra time and finish the semester in Germany.

GroupI think an important thing about studying in Germany was how much it detached me from the situations and relationships I was used to. Everything was different from home; the language, the weather, the layout of the town, how I got around, and most importantly, the people.

There’s a big travel guy named Rick Steves, who has a few shows and has written a lot of guidebooks. He talks about traveling as a political act, and that’s something I didn’t really understand before I did it for myself. I thought eating croissants at a French café or seeing the Parthenon would just make a person more pretentious, if anything. What I realized is that travel really is important, not because it makes you more intellectual or cultured, but because it gives you an opportunity to think in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Of course, if you’re not careful you can get carried away with that and think you know something other people don’t, which would be my warning to anyone who Brandenburg Gatedoes study abroad. Really what you “learn” comes a lot from who you are and what you expect from people or from an experience. Either way, it’s the chance to test out those expectations in a new setting that makes going abroad really worthwhile. The experience will definitely leave a mark on me.”

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