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Interview with: Patrick

Why did you choose to study abroad in this country? Did anything about this country surprise you / was it different than you expected?

As I trawled the Penn State study abroad database, I decided to study in a Francophone city, but one that wasn’t a study abroad cliché, like Paris. As a Francophone city and a capital of international politics, Geneva fit the bill.

That said, I anticipated Geneva would be a bustling, sophisticated metropolis. I was a little shocked to find that, in fact, Geneva is smaller than Pittsburgh; the social dynamic is quiet; and the cost of living is eye-popping. It’s a beautiful city, I find myself telling people now, for a short visit. It’s not the kind of city to live in.

What was your favorite trip you took while you were there?

Less than 24-hours after arriving in Geneva, my host department took me along to the Alpine Convention conference in Poschiavo, Switzerland. I was exposed to dozens of actors in Alpine politics and was inspired to develop my own conference upon returning to Penn State. I also test-drove an electric bike halfway to the Italian border … and crashed it into a railroad tie.

How did you meet locals? Have you stayed in touch?

I met most of my Geneva friends through two outlets. I introduced myself to some American Fulbright students and met a network of internationals through the Fulbright Program. Then, because I was abroad during the 2012 US election season, I volunteered with the Switzerland for Obama campaign. That put me in touch with an incredible mix of expatriates, grad students and Swiss locals. 

I'm interning with two of those American friends in New York this summer, and one of our Swiss friends plans to visit in July. Everyone stays in touch through the wonders of social media.

How do you think study abroad will help you in your future?

Studying abroad has given me a better idea of the legitimate challenges in living overseas: Creating a social network, dealing with government red tape, and finding an apartment. Many of the problems I anticipated before leaving, like procuring food and communicating in French, were actually non-issues. When I next move to a foreign city, I’ll know exactly how to prepare and adjust for the inevitable hurdles.

More immediately, study abroad has helped given me a career-relevant perspective. In fact, the HR Coordinator at my current internship noted, in a professional development class, that she highly values applicants with study abroad experience.

What advice do you have for a student thinking about studying abroad in this country or in general?

Go somewhere unusual. Go somewhere related to your interests. 

Many, many of my classmates spent semesters in traditional study abroad destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Universally, my classmates had fun but my impression is that they weren’t challenged. They stayed in cultures similar to America and socialized in groups of Americans. It’s like the freshman year of college, where new students cluster in packs like antelope on the Serengeti.

By going to non-traditional locations and consciously pushing your comfort level, to the contrary, you’ll challenge yourself and you’ll develop yourself as an individual.