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Taking a Semester Off of Premed to Study Abroad

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My mind can easily recall sitting in my academic advisor’s office to look over my Spring 2018 classes. Her tiny, windowless space was scattered with souvenirs and knickknacks gathered from various nations around the world. Painted masks were stacked against travel books on a shelf behind her desk. Postcards created a colorful of the exotic against the beige painted brick of the wall. An oblivious koala hung from her lamp, his button eyes glancing over at the spot for my second semester of organic chemistry on my registration sheet. I was also glaring hard at that piece of paper. Organic Chemistry 334, Molecular Biology 302, Statistics 205, Women in Society 201, Spanish 300 – sleepless nights, study guides, early grey hairs, papers, oral exams. I had been warned that a pre-med course would be hard but now I was just tired.

And then it hit me. The all familiar stress of a college student that is laced with that “well, what’s the point?”. I looked up at my advisor and stated, “I think I am just going to study abroad for a semester”.

Taking the Plunge

So far, I have spent everyday thinking that that is the best choice I could have ever made. Because the truth is, if you truly want to be a good doctor, you have to understand both yourself and other people.  Although it initially seemed difficult to take a semester off classes that would count towards my biology major, I have learned infinite things studying abroad in China. It has deeply immersed me within a new culture – one where I interact as a foreigner and a student.

Since the beginning of the program, my weekends have been spent exploring Shanghai with its stark dichotomy between old and new architecture as well as old customs meeting a modern city. The streets are lined with a cornucopia of shops, restaurants and milk tea chains that give Shanghai an ever bustling vibe. There are dozens of “sights to see” throughout the city, however, there is so much to take in by just experiencing the difference in the people that inhabit the place itself.

Branching out

While studying abroad, I am taking courses in public health, something I have never had the opportunity to do previously. My view of the medical world is being rounded out with further viewpoints and enhanced by professionals in fields that I rarely get to be part of like environmental health. I am also partaking in research that I am passionate about, something that I did not have time to do at my home university.

I believe that as a pre-med student, our academic and professional lives are portrayed to be set on a one-track course. We are told the classes that we must take, the time frame to do so, the grades we have to get, the organizations we should join, and so on. I feel as if the constraints of this trajectory inhibit a lot of personal growth. Studying abroad allows for a break from that. A chance to grow into yourself a little more. To learn something that isn’t a chemical equation. To learn a new language. To experience the intricacies of a new culture. To not burn out. And most importantly, the remember why you are going into the field that you are working so hard in. Studying abroad as a pre-med student is one of the most enriching things you can take part in.

Claire Burgess is a Biology Major and Women and Gender Studies Minor at the University of South Carolina. She studied abroad on the IFSA Study in Shanghai: Public Health program in Spring 2018.