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Imagine this: You’re sitting on a warm beach, the salt spraying in the air. You lay back and bask in the overwhelming warmth of the 90 degree weather. Does this seem like a fantasy right now? It doesn’t have to be.

One year ago, that’s where I was. I wasn’t at Pitt experiencing below freezing temperatures and I wasn’t bundled up in a winter jacket running to class before my hair started freezing. Instead, I was relaxing on the beach in Melbourne, Australia, having the time of my life.

Second semester of my freshman year I knew that I wanted to travel. I just didn’t want to pay for it and I didn’t want to get behind in my classes. I looked at the study abroad website and found two options that mentioned Bioengineering classes. I was disappointed, but not discouraged. Instead, I walked into the study abroad office and asked for a list of the schools that offered Bioengineering. Suprisingly, I was handed a list of 20 different universities that were available. All of these schools offered the classes that I needed and were exchange programs, meaning that I paid Pitt tuition. All my scholarships and financial aid applied which was exactly what I was looking for. I ended up with super cheap housing too, so my semester abroad ended up being cheaper than what I was paying at Pitt!

I eagerly researched the schools and decided that the University of Melbourne was the perfect fit for me. With their extensive Biomedical reputation, I was eager to see the opportunities awaiting me. Dr. Patzer was very happy to accommodate my requests and helped me choose classes to fulfill requirements (Actually, this is super important, make sure that your classes will count for credit!). The best part of the whole deal was that as an exchange student, my grades abroad would not affect my GPA! So, I packed my bags and set out on the trip of a lifetime.

And in all seriousness, it was the trip of a lifetime.

During my time in Australia, I experienced some of the most amazing moments of my life. I experienced how strange it can be to walk onto a foreign campus and not understand what people are saying due to a different accent. Similarly, I learned from other international students how much harder it is to walk into a classroom when you’ve started learning English a year ago. I learned that while Sydney has nice beaches, it’s highly overrated. Also, if your name happens to be Sidney and you’re in Sydney, everyone’s going to joke about it. I learned that kangaroos are scarier than they seem and koalas are softer than they look.

I learned that taking risks and talking to that person next to you is well worth the payoff. I met some of the nicest people I have ever encountered in Australia. I joined a couple clubs and had a blast meeting and socializing with all the members. My classmates were just as inviting and I became good friends with a number of them. I even ran into a faculty member who worked at Carnegie Mellon! We bonded over Primantis and how much we loved Melbourne.

I also learned how to be a global engineer. Technology has allowed us to connect easier than ever before and collaborating with people in other countries is a valuable resource. I have experienced how to work with people of different backgrounds, English knowledge, time zones, and skill levels.

But the most important things that I learned while studying abroad were a lot of things about myself. I learned what my priorities are in life and what I expect to do in the future. I talked to exchange students from all over the world and I was surprised to see what other options there are for me outside of the United States.

I was so heartbroken when it was time to leave. After good food, great coffee, and amazing people, I knew that I would miss the land down under. Although it was only a semester, studying abroad changed my perspective on classes, friends, and my involvement in activities. Since I have been back, I have a much better ability to adapt to new or strange situations. I have learned how to assert myself in a group of strangers and I have already experienced the benefits of these new skills.

The most important advice I can pass on is don’t rule out study abroad just because it seems like Bioengineering has so many requirements. I am still ahead in the curriculum while balancing a part time job and researching. If I can do it, so can you! Just go in and talk to Diane in the study abroad office, she’s a lifesaver. And let me know if you want any more information on study abroad. I believe I’ll be able to convince you because it was, without a doubt, the most amazing four months of my life.

Sidney Cannon-Bailey is a junior bioengineer with a concentration in BioImaging and Signals. She is pursuing an Electrical Engineering minor. Sidney hopes to go into industry and is extremely interested in working with Functional Electrical Stimulation as a means to cure diseases. In her spare time, Sidney enjoys reading, drinking tea, and working out.

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