Caleb Han, Study Abroad ’15 & ’18, Northwestern ’19
M.S. Civil & Environmental Engineering
B.S. Industrial Engineering & Psychology
Coming into Northwestern, study abroad was a consistent yet unfamiliar concept I had heard repeated many times as a component of one’s “typical” college experience. What started as a curious search through various programs my first quarter freshman year quickly sent me off into China the summer after, where I spent several weeks in Beijing and Hangzhou studying energy and sustainability. As fulfilling as my time there was, I could feel the impact of the experience on myself continuing even after the program ended, as I left with a larger worldview of my own heritage and culture. Growing up as a Chinese-American, I went through the usual motions of any ABC (American Born Chinese): Saturday morning Chinese school, the occasional holiday celebration with overseas relatives, and the natural home conversations that sounded like intense arguments to my friends. These were all moments in my life I never fully appreciated until my study abroad experience.
As opposed to the majority of my classes in Evanston, one of the greatest benefits I found through the Wanxiang Fellows program was that it was not simply an in-class experience moved thousands of miles away. In additional to cultural trips to national grounds or local shops, many of the subjects touched upon in class were complemented with an academic excursion. In Hangzhou, that meant taking a two-day trip to visit a hydroelectric plant or going through company headquarters to explore a solar panel field. Being able to accompany a lecture with a hands-on experience, all while touching upon various cultural points, became a central part of my study abroad experience.
I, along with others who have studied abroad more than once, can attest to the diversity of options Northwestern has to offer. Several years, an engineering co-op, and many classes after coming back from China, I found myself left with an open summer. I knew I wanted to take advantage of what Northwestern could still offer, and a quick decision led me to the GESI program in Uganda, where I worked with a team of two other students (from Weinberg and Medill) to implement an economic empowerment initiative that helped increase income for local communities. Having worked in mostly engineering groups on campus, being part of a multi-disciplinary team exposed me to other thought processes and methods of approaching various issues. Outside of work, I took every chance I could to explore Africa for the first time and feel the differences from my first study abroad experience.
While in China, all students were housed in an international dormitory, attended language and subject lectures, and had all of the offerings of Beijing at our doorstep. In Uganda, each student lived with a local host family, some several kilometers away from their nearest peer, and worked to assist in sustainable development. In between the differences of these two polarizing experiences, both on opposite ends of my college spectrum, there was one common theme: to garner an increased worldview on international cultures.
As cliché as it may sound, being able to interact and understand a wider breadth of cultures has compelled me to keep exploring, such as by pushing my career into international settings. Thanks to the people I met along various parts of my journey, I now have a bed to crash on in Geneva, a friend and guide in Islamabad, and many homes in Uganda and China. In the end, these connections would not have been possible without study abroad, an enduring part of my Northwestern experience.