International Opportunities for Undergraduates

APOC programPenn Bioengineering strongly encourages undergraduate students to have an international experience through Service Learning, Study Abroad and many of our International Internships. Please take time to read through the many programs we offer, and contact us with any questions.

Service Learning

Penn Engineering’s global and local service learning programs aim to improve human lives through sustainable engineering in all corners of the world. Students have used their engineering skills to provide sanitation infrastructure, prosthetic devices, computing support and meet other critical needs in areas around the world.

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Study Abroad

All Bioengineering students are encouraged to study abroad for a summer, a semester, or even a full year.  The courses that students choose to enroll in can be used towards their BE degree requirements, if pre-approved. Therefore, students do not have to worry about falling behind in their studies.

Students pursuing a BSE, a BAS, or a dual degree and/or fulfilling premed requirements are all encouraged to explore the Penn Abroad programs.  It helps to start planning early. Note: Premeds cannot fulfill premed requirements abroad.

Commonly asked questions about studying abroad include:

When do most students go?

Junior year is most common, for one semester or a full year.

Where are some of the frequent places Bioengineering students go for Study Abroad?

  • ETH Zurich
  • Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
  • Koc University in Istanbul
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Melbourne
  • Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble
  • King’s College London
  • Saint Louis University-Madrid
  • National University of Singapore

While these are popular programs for Bioengineering students, you can find many more oppurtunities on the Penn Global search page.

How do you get started?

There are very clear steps and guidelines to do Study Abroad. Please look here for more information and a step-by-step guide on how the study abroad process works.

How do students finance Study Abroad?

Whether or not you receive financial aid from Penn, you may be eligible for financial assistance during your term abroad. Explore scholarship opportunities to find your match. For information about scholarship deadlines, consult the relevant offices/Web sites.  Please also review Penn’s financial policies for study abroad.

Study Abroad Advising

During Fall 2016, Dr. Gershon Buchsbaum will be advising all Bioengineering undergraduates interested in studying abroad. Students must meet with him to approve courses to be sure that they satisfy degree requirements. For logistics and any other approval, you must go to Penn Abroad.

International Internships

Penn’s Global Research & Internship Program provides opportunities for outstanding undergraduate students to intern abroad for eight to 12 weeks.

Below are additional opportunities for our students that we can recommend, based on what we know to be quality and reliable sponsors. Penn Bioengineering does not have an established relationship with these organizations, although they have hosted many Penn BE interns in the past. See links below for more information.

Student Spotlights:

Cassandra Cederholm, University of Edinburgh

Cassandra CederholmTell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Cassandra Cedarholm. I’m originally from Minnesota and I’m studying bioengineering, concentrating in biomechanics, and minoring in Engineering Entrepreneurship. External to BE, my academic interests lie within my Arabic classes and nutrition courses! Now, I’m submatriculating into the Bioengineering Master’s program.

When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I studied abroad during the fall semester of my junior year. I went to the University of Edinburgh and joined their biomedical school.

What did you learn about your field of study from your study abroad/short-term abroad experience? What did you learn about the culture in which you had your experience?
In regards to Bioengineering, the university did not have a distinct undergrad bioengineering major, so I ended up joining their Bioelectronics Master’s program for a few of my classes. This was a great opportunity since their Master’s courses were all very small, and almost all had a hands-on component, which really appealed to my learning style. I ended up learning a lot more about bioelectronics and circuit design than expected. In regards to the culture, it was impossible not to learn about and enjoy the Scottish culture! The university fully embraced Scotland’s heritage by throwing cèilidh dances and Scottish balls for the students, as well as organizing pub nights for international students. Through these experiences, plus living with the Edinburgh students in the dorms, I picked up the British lingo and learned all about Scotland’s history. Overall, I discovered that Scotland is an incredibly warm and welcoming place with a fascinating history.

What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I discovered that I love doing triathlons! At Penn, I got so caught up in the professional atmosphere of doing OCR, networking at events, working on extracurricular boards, doing research, etc., but while abroad, I got a complete break from those things. So outside of class, I suddenly had all this free time, and I decided to join the triathlon club for fun. I ended up traveling around Scotland to compete in different triathlons, meeting other athletes, and getting to see a unique side of Scotland by biking and running through it. I brought my new interest in triathlons back home and now participate in a few every summer.

Give an example of an experience you wouldn’t have had if you had not studied abroad.
While abroad, there’s a whole host of new experiences that you cannot have anywhere else. Some weekends, I would decide that I wanted to study on the beach, so I’d fly to Portugal for a few days to do problem sets in the sand, whereas others. I’d stay in Edinburgh to throw together a picnic with friends and do work on Arthur’s Seat, which is a mountain in the city’s center that has picturesque views of the city. The most impactful experience was when I met up with an idol of mine. A few years ago, I briefly met a doctor who works for the WHO, and I had always wanted to pick his brain and learn from his career path, but I never had the chance as he is based out of Geneva. Once I realized a flight to Geneva was $20 for a weekend, I reached out and asked if I could meet him. On the spur of the moment, I flew out to tour his office and got to have a full one-on-one day with someone who has great experience in a field that I’m passionate about. I learned a lot from him, and because of that day, he is now a great mentor to me and still provides me with guidance and connections.

When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
Coming into Penn, I knew that I wanted to study abroad, but I didn’t know how to go about making it happen. I discovered that I didn’t need to start planning for it until the fall semester of my sophomore year because most abroad applications are due at the start of the spring semester in sophomore year. I was personally nervous about taking all the required BE classes abroad, so I started communicating with the Study Abroad office in the fall, but after my Cairo experience was cancelled, I picked Edinburgh within a matter of days during the spring semester. The main planning that requires forethought is meeting with the office staff to confirm your choice, as well as filling out the application’s short answer essays.

How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
I accidentally stumbled upon the Edinburgh program. Originally, I planned on going to the abroad program in Cairo in order to use my Arabic language skills, but that program was shut down due to the unrest in the area. I was then left with two options: apply last minute to another program or stay at Penn. Without much time to do research, I quickly checked which programs that would allow me to take all the Bioengineering classes I needed to stay on track with my peers at Penn. Second to that, I wanted a school that finished exams before Winter Break and allowed me to have a normal-length summer break (so I could still have an internship). Finally, I wanted a place that wasn’t as popular for Penn students, so I could branch out and meet new people! This all led me to Scotland!

What advice would have for students interested in studying abroad or a short-term abroad experience?
I would encourage you to not be held back by the stereotypical fears of going abroad! Many people say going abroad is too expensive, or it puts you behind in classes, but I actually got ahead on my core classes while abroad and had the same fees as I normally do to attend Penn. I’ve also heard of fears about being alone in a foreign city, but at least at Edinburgh, they had a great international student office that coordinated bonding events and extensive buddy systems that matched me with local students. Edinburgh also had the Brown-Cornell-Penn Center that catered specifically to students abroad from those schools, so I got to meet other Brown and Cornell students, and I felt safe with that supportive staff behind me. I also highly recommend that you plan early with your adviser and attend the info sessions that the Penn Abroad office puts on! They have a lot of good information to put your mind at ease and help you plan.

Rohini Kopparam, International Internship in Guatemala

Rohini KopparamTell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.)
My name is Rohini Kopparam, and I am from Irvine, California. I am majoring in Bioengineering and am also pursuing a minor in Chemistry and Bioethics.

When and where did you study abroad/do your short- term abroad experience?
During the summer of 2014, I interned abroad in Santiago Atitlan, a rural, indigenous town in the highlands of Guatemala. I participated in the International Internship Program offered by Penn.

What did you learn about your field of study from your study abroad/short- term abroad experience? What did you learn about the culture in which you had your experience?
I learned a great deal about health care in developing nations. Though there isn’t a way to encompass everything, the most important thing I learned about living abroad is to go without assumptions. A big mistake is to assume certain facts, in my case, about the health care system, which could negatively impact my research. The indigenous Maya community within which I was living has strong ties to their spirituality, so it was really interesting to learn about the spiritual causes of disease that biomedicine often ignore .

What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I learned a great deal about relating to different kinds of people. Not only did I learn a lot about connecting to the narratives of a developing community, but I also learned to abandon any preconceived notions about health care that I held. Working with a group of eight other Penn students in such close proximity also forced me to rationalize all my decisions efficiently. What this means is that when 9 Penn students get together to decide travel plans and research goals. I t can be difficult to arrive at one outcome easily, so I learned that, if I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish, we’d be one step closer to agreeing on a satisfying goal.

Give an example of an experience you wouldn’t have had if you had not studied abroad.
If I didn’t intern abroad, I would never have been able to improve my Spanish language skills. Also, I never would have met some of my fellow Penn students doing amazing work. Finally, I wouldn’t have been able to jump into a beautiful lake almost daily and travel so inexpensively in a country where the history is exposed for us to soak it in.

When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short- term abroad experience?
I started thinking about applying for an abroad experience in the winter before my internship. I knew that I wanted to experience living in a foreign country during my college career, but I also knew that, given the extensive requirements of the BE curriculum, I didn’t want to devote an entire semester away from Penn. I think the International Internship Program (IIP) was a great experience because I received funding and was able to explore my interests outside of BE, including women’s public health .

How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
I had applied for many research programs, but IIP was the only international experience that I applied for. I was choosing between a lab research program and IIP, and having already worked in a lab for a summer, I decided IIP would be better. IIP is offered through Penn Global and provides placements all around the world in different fields, such as business, social impact, and health care. I specifically chose the Guatemala Health Initiative because I am really interested in Latin American cultures and could improve my Spanish through this experience.

What advice would have for students interested in studying abroad or a short- term abroad experience?
I would suggest applying to as many programs as you can possibly find. Though the deadlines are all really close together, you can usually write up one application and modify it for specific programs. Also, apply for IIP — it funds programs all around the world and takes place during the summer, so you won’t be missing out on a semester of Penn.

Joshua Ng, Penn Global Biomedical Serivces trip in China

Joshua NgTell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Joshua Ng. I’m from Hoover, Alabama. In high school, I was super-interested in biology; I spent a lot of time camping and doing stuff outdoors, so the complexity of nature always fascinated me. On the other hand, I also really liked tinkering with technology, from things like building robots and programming to photography. Bioengineering was a perfect fit for my interests. Another reason bioengineering appealed to me was the focus on creating something of use for other people. I’m passionate about helping other people, especially people who may not have been as lucky as I have been in life. I’m currently studying to attend medical school after undergrad, and although I’m still not sure what specialty I want to pursue, I hope that I will be able to apply it to developing and remote communities. As far as research, I’m interested in most fields that have a translational aspect. I’ve worked in a biomaterials lab developing electro-spun materials for therapeutic purposes and am currently in Dr. Dan Huh’s biomimetic microfluidics lab working on modeling asthma on a chip. I intend to continue research in whatever career I pursue. My uncle told me once that being a practicing doctor allows you to directly affect a lot of people’s lives, but is ultimately limited by the number of patients you can see; research, although not as direct, has the possibility of helping many more people than a single doctor could. I hope to find a balance between these two worlds in the future.

When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I was a student on the Penn Global Biomedical Service (GBS) trip in the summer of 2013, when we went to volunteer at a rehabilitation clinic in Yangjiang, China. We helped diagnose and fabricate orthotics for children with cerebral palsy. I was lucky enough to return as the student leader of the GBS trip in 2014. On this trip, we helped make orthotics for children with cerebral palsy in Guangzhou, China, and helped make prosthetics for recovered Hansen’s disease patients living in the Shaoguan, China, leprosy village.

What did you learn about your field of study from your study abroad/short-term abroad experience? What did you learn about the culture in which you had your experience?
On the surface, we learned a lot about biomechanics, gait analysis, and the process of creating orthotics and prosthetics. However, I think the experience was more valuable in allowing us to see how different the world is outside of our small local communities. We saw that not everyone in bioengineering has state-of-the-art facilities to work in, and patients don’t always have easy access to basic health care, let alone good health care. But even though we were serving people in less than optimal conditions, in our hot and humid open air “clinic,” the patients and their families were the most appreciative people I have ever met. I learned that, although it is easy to get caught up in classes, grades, and the like, bioengineering would be meaningless without the patients we are trying to help.

What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I learned that what really motivates me is patient interaction. I think we all struggle with determining why we are studying and taking hard classes at a place like Penn. During my freshman year, I lost some of my original motivation when things turned out to be harder than expected, but seeing the appreciation and happiness on the patients’ faces when we were helping them really showed me the reason why I was doing all of this. The reward of having an influence on others people’s lives really motivated me to try harder and learn more ways to apply my knowledge.

Give an example of an experience you wouldn’t have had if you had not studied abroad.
I think one of the most unique abroad experiences is making friends with the local people. Since we were working closely with a group of Hong Kong students for our entire trip, the friendships we made were especially meaningful. On my trips, I became great friends with Albert, one of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) students. I had always thought of him as a normal guy, but on our last night in Hong Kong, while we were talking about his career goals, he told me the most sincere reason I had ever heard for wanting to work in health care. He revealed that his parents had to work really hard jobs to allow him to attend school, and because of this, he felt incredibly grateful to have what he had. He only wanted to be able to give back to others, and orthotics was a career that would allow him to do that.

When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
I started thinking about study abroad when I found out about GBS when applying to Penn. The program was one of the many reasons I chose to come to Penn, but I mostly forgot about it during my freshman year until Dr. Rizk encouraged us to apply in our Intro to Bioengineering course.

How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
The orthotics aspect of GBS appealed to me because I was interested in biomechanics, and the rural public health aspect was also a big plus. The location was also one of the main reasons since my family is from Hong Kong; I had visited many times before, and my aunt is a professor at PolyU, the school we partner with for the program. I was excited to visit Hong Kong again but also excited to visit more rural areas in southern China. The drastic difference in lifestyle and access to health care between Hong Kong and southern China was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

GBS allows Penn students to volunteer in southern China, helping to diagnose and fabricate orthotics for children with cerebral palsy. Penn partners with the PolyU, where they have a program specifically for orthotics and prosthetics. The professors and students from PolyU teach us basic orthoses production techniques and plan the itinerary for trips to clinics in southern China (with which they have lasting relationships). Over two weeks, we work alongside the PolyU students and Chinese clinic workers, seeing patients and making orthotics. Since the patients are usually children, “working” with patients often turns into playing with stickers and toys. Between workdays, there are days for exploring the local communities and sightseeing.

What advice would have for students interested in doing study abroad or a short term abroad experience?
It often seems like there’s no time for study abroad when you’re focused on classes and commitments during the semester. But I think if it is at all possible, it is worth making the time for a study abroad experience. It is truly refreshing to see what the lives of people outside of our community are like, and for me, it provided a lot of motivation to continue the seemingly arduous path that I was pursuing in school. Don’t be afraid to try the study abroad program early on; I went on my first abroad trip the summer after my freshmen year, and I think it allowed me to see the rest of my classes and experiences at Penn from a different and unique viewpoint.

Chang Su, ETH Zurich

Chang SuTell us a little about yourself (name, where you are from, academic interests, etc.).
My name is Chang Su. I grew up in Xi’an, China, which is the city where 13 dynasties established their capitals and where the Terracotta Army is. I moved to Calgary, Canada, when I was in high school. I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the romance of cowboys. I am interested in neuroscience, and I work in Dr. Dave Meaney’s research lab, which focuses on traumatic brain injury. I plan to become a physician after I graduate from Penn.

When and where did you study abroad/do your short-term abroad experience?
I studied abroad at ETH Zurich in Switzerland during the fall semester of my junior year.

What did you learn about your field of study from your study abroad/short-term abroad experience? What did you learn about the culture in which you had your experience?
I learned that the Penn BE curriculum is broader and better-rounded, compared to the engineering curriculums at ETH Zurich. The classes I took at ETH that would satisfy my BE requirements at Penn were offered through various departments, including biochemistry, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. I also learned that students at ETH generally do not take classes outside of their majors, whereas Penn Engineering students are required to take classes in the social sciences and humanities. Since, at ETH, most undergraduate classes are offered in German and most graduate-level classes are offered in English, almost all the classes I took were graduate-level classes. Also, the classes I took abroad were often very different from the equivalent undergraduate courses at Penn. For example, the Signals and Systems class I took abroad put a lot more emphasis on applications, such as signal processing through Matlab, than the class offered at Penn. I also had the opportunity to take classes that are not offered at Penn, such as Rehabilitation Engineering (which was not offered at Penn when I decided to study abroad) and Drug Delivery and Drug Targeting.

I experienced the layback yet efficient and punctual culture in Switzerland. For example, the Study Abroad Office at ETH is only open from 11 am-1 pm every day, but I never had to wait for more than 24 hours to have any of my questions answered, either in person or through e-mail. Another example was that I often saw people reading books or chatting at cafes for hours. However, I also often saw people looking at their watches impatiently and complaining if the train did not arrive within two minutes of the scheduled time.

I also experienced the drastic cultural differences among different parts of Switzerland. There are four official languages in Switzerland — German, French, Italian and Romansch — and the country is divided into different regions based on language. The food and culture of each region feel more similar to the countries that share the same languages than to other parts of Switzerland.  Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. All the signs and street names are in German, and the food and culture feel more like Germany than the French- or Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland, even though Swiss German sounds completely different from High German. Also, the second language of Swiss people is often English (instead of other official languages of Switzerland), regardless of the part of Switzerland they are from.

Many things I learned about Swiss culture and ETH are difficult to articulate, because culture, as an abstract concept, is often very subtle. A past participant from Penn BE who had studied abroad gave me a lot of advice and told me many things about her experience. However, it was not until I studied abroad at ETH myself that I started to embrace the culture. Therefore, I think that living in a place for an extended period of time is the best way to learn and experience the culture.

What did you learn about yourself from your experience?
I solidified my desire to become a doctor while studying abroad. Thinking about a future career while studying abroad may sound slightly odd. However, I had a lot of time think and reflect because I did not have a busy Penn-life to worry about.

In addition, I learned that I enjoy travelling and photography so much that I may one day want to become a part-time travel photographer. Travelling is not only about sightseeing but also about embracing new cultures, developing new perspectives, and meeting new people. I became great friends with a few people with whom I had the privilege to travel with while studying abroad.

Give an example of an experience you wouldn’t have had if you had not studied abroad.
I would never have lived in an international house with one shared kitchen for the entire building, so that I made friends from all over the world while cooking together. I would never have known how good chocolate and cheese fondue taste. I would never have been part of the team painting the decorations for the largest decorative ball in Europe, the Polyball, which is the annual year-end party at ETH Zurich. There are many experiences I would never have had if I had not studied abroad. However, one of my favorite moments was skating on the outdoor ice rink on Polyterrace, the terrace behind the main building of ETH. All the church bells in Zurich were ring when the clock struck six. I stood on the not-so-smooth ice and just listened. I wondered: If I had never studied abroad at ETH Zurich, would I have ever stood peacefully and watched the sun setting behind a city with thousands of years of stories?

When did you start thinking of studying abroad/participating in a short-term abroad experience?
I started thinking of studying abroad during the fall semester of sophomore year. I first researched programs and talked to past participants of programs in which I was interested. I did not actually apply until the spring semester of my sophomore year.

How did you decide on a program? Tell us a little about the program you chose.
Since I am an engineering student and since the only languages I know are Mandarin and English, the only study abroad programs I could attend were those in Hong Kong, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK. Since the Australian schools start in late July/early August, and I already had plans for the summer before going abroad, I decided not to study abroad in Australia. Since I am from Asia, and I think one of the main reasons why people study abroad is to experience new cultures, I decided not to study abroad in Hong Kong. After talking to past participants, I realized that ETH Zurich was the most suitable place to study abroad for BE students because of the wide range of classes offered at the school. I would be able to fulfill all my requirements for my junior year as a BE student at Penn, except for the BE labs. Also, due to the central location of Switzerland in Europe, I believed that I would be able to experience more of European culture. Therefore, I finally decided to study abroad at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Besides, who can say no to the Swiss chocolates and Alps?

What advice would have to for students interested in studying abroad or a short-term abroad experience?
Go. Just do it.  I do not know if it will be the best experience in my life because I am only in my 20s, but if I could relive my life a million times, I would choose to study abroad every time.