Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior biomedical engineering student Sean Shamgar ’21 reflects on important perspective he learned from his trip to Germany.
– by Sean Shamgar ’21
Throughout the first five months of this year, I had the opportunity to complete my fourth semester in the western part of Germany as a part of the TAMU Faculty Led Biosciences program offered through the department of biomedical engineering. Looking back on what I wrote in my pre departure blog post, I find it humorous that I noted how, given the months of planning, buying cloths and supplies, applying for financial aid, and doing every other bit of minutiae needed to go on a study abroad, the full weight of me leaving everything that I was familiar with here in the U.S. behind hadn’t truly struck me until a few days before making my first international flight. The reason that I find this funny is because, in a sense, there is no way to really prepare mentally for what it means to uproot one’s life to a faraway land of a different language, history, and culture. This realization became apparent to me very quickly after arriving and ties directly into what I consider to be my first major takeaway from the experience: an expansion of empathy.
The empathy that I am referring to stems from the realization of what it means to be thrust into a country with a different language, culture, and rules of interaction all the while being expected to live day to day life. It took me at least to month to feel like I truly had a basic grasp of how to maneuver the new landscape that I had been dropped into and that was with the constant help of my host family and instructors. I cannot begin to imagine what this experience must be like for people who did what I did with none of the safety nets that I constantly had at my disposal. This makes me think about all of the people who arrive in America facing a similar set of circumstances. So often, we in America make comments that are indicative of never having had an experience where you are a fish out of water, never having had the experience of keeping one’s self from interacting with others for fear of embarrassment from making a social gaffe. For me, the bulk of the personal growth that I went through happened during those first few weeks of the program and I will always be grateful for getting insights into an experience that is not so uncommon for many people of the world.
The second major takeaway from the experience came not from my personal experience of day to day life at home, but through the observation of other people’s lives in the various countries that I traveled to throughout the experience. If you are one who never travels, you are likely never going to be confronted with the fact that the way in which your culture and society are organized are in no way indicative of how humans have and currently structure life. Realizing this has not only led me to question how my familiarity with my own culture biases my view towards it and away from others, but also has revealed to me how much influence lies within the happenstance location of my birth on what I consider to be my personal identity.
Generic as it might be to say, my time abroad was truly one of the most life changing times of my life and I will forever treasure the memories and connections that I made during that time.