2017 Michigan Tech Magazine: Issue 1

Off the Leash

By Stefanie Sidortsova

From Chile to the Czech Republic, #HuskiesAbroad know that incredible education experiences aren’t confined to the Keweenaw.

Who: Kemin Fena, Class of 2017, Biomedical Engineering major, International Spanish minor
What: Study abroad + service learning project
Where: La Universidad del Pacifico, Lima, Peru
When: Summer 2014
Why: Immerse in the Spanish language. Gain international service work experience.

Kemin Fena in Peru
"Studying abroad had a profound impact on my academic career, my goals, and my perspective of the world."—Kemin Fena

Immersion is the best way to learn another language, so I knew right away I wanted the homestay option. I was humbled by the generosity of my host family and their willingness to accept me into the family as one of their own. I loved sharing meals with them—the entire family sat down to simply enjoy each other’s company while eating delicious food. My host mom even taught me how to cook some of my favorite Peruvian dishes!

For my service learning project, I volunteered at a children’s hospital. I met children who dreamed of getting a college education but their families couldn’t afford to send them to a university. I realized how fortunate I am to be getting a college education, and this inspired me to become even more dedicated to my studies. Helping others was incredibly rewarding, and I have since decided to pursue a career in medicine so I can continue to help other people. Today, I remind myself to be thankful for many things I used to take for granted and regularly seek out volunteer opportunities in the local community.


Who: Mario Calabria, Class of 2017, Mechanical Engineering major, International Spanish minor
What: A study abroad program “as far away from numbers as I could get”
Where: Valparaiso, Chile
When: Spring 2016
Why: Follow in the footsteps of a friend who studied abroad in Chile and came home with a new approach to life

Mario Calabria
"Chilean culture places so much emphasis, worth, and value on people-to-people time. It was beautiful. And so invigorating." —Mario Calabria

Chile has a human-centered culture. Part of that is showing courtesy. Whenever I was on the bus, younger people stood up and gave their seats to anyone older who got on the bus. They show each other honor and respect, and that’s important to me. People take breaks throughout the day to spend time together. You never eat lunch alone—it’s just not a thing. Being a part of that culture helped me become very clear about the currency my life operates on. Chileans make decisions based on happiness instead of money. The two things that fire me up, that make me happy, are service and teaching. I had always dreamed of being a doctor, but after my time in Chile, I realized the demands of medical school and the practice of medicine were not for me. They wouldn’t make me happy. I now have the goal of opening up a coaching school that teaches kids soft skills, like empathy, the confidence to ask questions, the ability to express emotions.

For me, the value of studying abroad was getting away from the mindset of pursuing success and gearing myself toward pursuing happiness. Success will not always guarantee happiness, but happiness will more than likely lead to success.


Who: Kara Jelley, Class of 2017, Engineering Management major, International Spanish minor
What: Studying abroad in Spain—for the second time
Where: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain (about 40 minutes south of Barcelona)
When: Now
Why: In a smaller Catalonian town, you’re immersed in the Catalan culture and language. It’s difficult and challenging, but I’m not a tourist—I’m part of something.

Kara Jelley
"Every time I travel abroad, I grow." —Kara Jelley

The first time I studied in Spain, I was new to Europe. I took two classes that included a lot of excursions and museum visits, but when I wasn’t in class, I was on my own. It was a crazy experience, and I knew I wanted to go back. Barcelona is in Catalonia, where they speak mainly Catalan, but because it’s such a large city, there were a lot of Spanish and English speakers. When I decided to study abroad a second time, I wanted to be away from the city. I wanted to be part of a smaller community.

I’ve joined a club at the local university that does a Catalan activity called Human Towers—people stand on each other’s backs and create towers. There’s also a week-long carnival here—Vilanova Carnaval—with events every day. The biggest and most famous event is Comparses, and a few classmates and I were able to participate. We dressed up and danced and paraded around the whole town. At the end, all participants met in the town square and had a candy war. My shoes are still a mess from that day.

I’ve never been one to have a dream career where I know exactly what I want to do. When I studied abroad, it opened up a whole new perspective. I realized how much I love the culture, and that’s why I went back. I want to expand that and continue being abroad and learning.


Who: Peter Winegar, Class of 2017, Chemistry major, Computer Science minor
What and Where: A study abroad program in Prague, Czech Republic, followed by a research internship in Berlin, Germany
When: 2016
Why Prague: One of my favorite book series as a kid, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, had scenes set in Prague. It’s also centrally located in Europe—I was able to travel to Poland, Germany, Slovakia, and Austria on bus or train rides that were never longer than 10 hours.
Why Berlin: I wanted to see a research lab and the research mentality in another country.

Peter Winegar
"My experiences in Prague and Berlin showed me that if I'm able to succeed in places where I don't speak the same language as everyone else, I will be able to succeed back home where I do." —Peter Winegar

I spent the spring semester in Prague learning the Czech language, Czech cooking, Czech literature, Czech history, and European Union history. There were weekly cookouts where we made traditional Czech food, and weekly hikes where we took trains to various spots throughout the country and hiked. My favorite experience was getting to ice skate on the Vltava River. It hadn’t frozen in years, but during the winter I was there, parts of it did.

My Berlin research experience was through the Research Internships in Science & Engineering (RISE) program and was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). I spent 10 weeks working in a chemistry lab in Berlin at Paul-Drude-Institut, which is associated with Humboldt University. The program places students from the US, Canada, and the UK in labs across Germany for a summer. The highlight was getting to work in a clean room lab for the summer. There was also one weekend where all the RISE students met in Heidelberg, Germany, and I was able to present my research to the other students in the program.

I got to travel to 13 countries while abroad: Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden. It’s 14 if you include Vatican City.


To see more Huskies abroad, follow mtu.international on Instagram.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.