As a STEM major student, you will probably find it difficult to decide to study abroad as you may not be able to find a related STEM course that fits into your curriculum; but, you still want to have a semester abroad, with affordable trips to beautiful attractions, in a developing country? How can you prepare yourself for a successful semester abroad, while still incorporating and finding STEM offerings in the local curriculum? Let’s find out how a STEM major studying abroad in India made it all work.
Before studying abroad, I had to plan my academic schedule ahead, especially for STEM courses required for my desired major. That means you want to plan your courses as soon as possible if you want to study abroad to make sure you graduate on time. As for my schedule, I planned to take all the STEM courses in my college and save a semester for studying abroad. Doing so gave me more free choices to study local courses that I wanted to. In addition, the abroad courses could be transferred as equivalent credits back to my college. Moreover, taking local classes broadens your worldview and provides you with a better understanding of people of different countries, cultures, and identities, as well as gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own identity while being abroad.
Finding STEM in the Local Curriculum
I went to India through the IFSA Global and Public Health program in Manipal because I wanted to explore the health care system in a developing country. My decision was right because in India, I could observe the progress of development in the health care system to try to get rid of poverty and infectious diseases spreading over a large population. Local healthcare provided by the government is almost free here. It is interesting to understand how the country faces health-related issues, especially indigenous diseases that I have never heard of anywhere else, and attempts to provide cost-free, comprehensive health care to people.
Through weekly field trips, you could closely see how the healthcare system is laid out from the community to individual citizens. As a professor in our class put it, the goal of science and technology is to provide the best assistive means to people on an equal basis. I think the experience of the public health visits supports my life-science major. Having these kinds of experiences outside of the laboratory is valuable to broaden my perspective in STEM. Observing community healthcare becomes the stimulus for my scientific works which would aim at the need of the community.
One distinct aspect of the program is the immersion experience with traditional Indian medicines and treatment methods. They offered a unique class of Ayurvedic methodology, an ancient Indian healing method. The class gives me an opportunity to look at the intersection between science and health. After each lecture, we had a practical section, which is relative to an experimental lab in STEM. The practical section was a time I could enjoy and also experiment with different healing methods like massages (as we learned so far) on the others. I was curious to understand how those complex healing methods work and how ancient people invented. Joining the class was an adventure to the past and connected the insight of ancient health methodology with that of modern science.
Opening Yourself for Cultural Experiences
From the first day I arrived in India, their work ethic has been so inspiring to me. I learned from individuals such as workers, employees, and students that they all possess a sense of purpose and take their responsibility seriously. Besides classes, I still have time for attending church and doing sports and yoga. I joined their indoor soccer team during the first week, and I befriended a lot of excellent Indian students. After that, there were a lot of hang-outs and travels together. Getting to know more friends, I also found a lot of them have the related STEM majors as mine. That kind of friendship would open a way for future collaboration and support which is an essential cornerstone for those who are studying STEM majors.
Nhan D. Nguyen is a Biochemistry major at Wabash College and he studied abroad with IFSA in India in Fall 2018. He served as an IFSA International Correspondent through the IFSA First-Generation Scholarship program.