Skip to main content
Cover Story

Let's go.

Around the world ... Mountaineer style

WVU has worked hard to accommodate our diverse student population by providing a plethora of international opportunities.

a beach

At WVU, offering unique, educational and rewarding international opportunities to students is a top priority. Many students believe that studying abroad can help them gain a competitive edge when searching for a job after graduation. With this in mind, WVU has worked hard to accommodate our diverse student population by providing a plethora of international opportunities. 

The University boasts programs in more than 50 countries, all of which vary in length, means of transportation, destination and subject of study. Popular options include traveling on short faculty-led programs, or independently for up to a year through the WVU Exchange program. There are also many other opportunities for students to participate in undergraduate research abroad, immersive language learning summer schools or international internships. 

Each semester the University hosts multiple study abroad information sessions that are designed to give students an overview of the international opportunities available to them. Education abroad regional coordinators are also available to guide students through the study abroad process. As study abroad continues to grow in popularity and practicality, the University has shown that it is committed to making it easier than ever for students to find programs that suit their education goals. 

The Statler College also hosts a number of its own programs, featuring engineering-related opportunities in locations such as Mexico, Germany and Bahrain. Students participating in these programs can earn credit toward the College’s Certificate of Global Competency, which is given to students who have demonstrated the ability to work effectively across cultural and linguistic barriers while focusing on engineering and computer science issues that transcend their own culture. 

On the pages that follow, five students share their recent study abroad experiences in their own words.

student on hill in australia
Students rock climbing in Australia

Australia: January 8-May4

Various scenes of students in Australia

Developing a new mindset

Matthew Keaton - Computer Engineering and Computer Science

“When I left WVU and my home in Morgantown to travel 24-plus hours by plane to Melbourne, Australia, I started to really think about what spending a semester at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and this new continent were going to mean to me. I have always been interested in traveling and seeing as much of the world as possible, and I was excited to immerse myself in a culture that was somewhat foreign to my own. I knew that being an outsider in a new place would allow me to gain some world experience and learn a lot of new things, and still my expectations for the trip ended up being completely exceeded. 

My experience in Australia grew into much more than I ever imagined, and I’m certain that it will have a lasting impact on my life.

Through my university, or ‘uni’ as Australians call it, I was able to meet people from all backgrounds, as almost half of RMIT’s student base is comprised of international students. When classes started, I probably learned more about other cultures than I did Australia’s, something I hadn’t expected but certainly welcomed. I also met a lot of people by joining several clubs. Australians tend to be much more outdoorsy than Americans and RMIT’s outdoors club had a huge following so I decided to join. I was able to experience driving on the left-hand side of the road to several different nearby towns, national parks and beaches where I enjoyed hiking, rock climbing, swimming in icy water, petting kangaroos and wombats and enjoying stunning views. I even went to an Australian football game. Go Magpies! 

There was always something new to explore, but the courses at RMIT were equally interesting. One of my favorite classes was Introduction to Australian Society, which focused on the complexity of Australian culture, from food, to sports and lifestyle, to the country’s diversity and the indigenous Australian population. The course helped me to learn and understand more about their culture than I ever could have learned on my own. As a bonus, most of the courses I took were also a continuation of my computer engineering and computer science majors at WVU, which meant I wasn’t falling behind while studying abroad. 

Through all of these different experiences, I was able to obtain a well-defined picture of Australia and its culture. I had heaps of fun during my stay in the land down under but the real takeaways are far beyond the good times. I came home with a new mindset that allows me to appreciate the small differences in other cultures and have a better understanding of the similarities that make us all human.”

Male student digging a ditch

Nicaragua: Spring Break 2018

A variety of images showing students working in Nicaragua 

Newfound perspectives

While some students travel home or take vacations during spring break, others see this time as an opportunity to serve people in underprivileged communities. The latter is the case for members of the WVU Global Medical and Dental Brigades. The cross-disciplinary program brings together students from various backgrounds and majors to provide free healthcare, medical access and education for under served populations and indigenous communities in Latin America. 

In the past eight years, more than 300 students from WVU have traveled to Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua to improve the quality of life for individuals living in rural communities by providing medical supplies and basic dental and medical care to community members, who sometimes walk for more than two hours to attend the clinics. Engineering students work with community members and volunteers to improve the infrastructure within citizens’ homes by constructing eco-stoves, latrines, water storage units, showers and concrete floors. The projects and services offered by the students are essential to preventing common illnesses that often plague their communities. 

During spring break 2018, 49 WVU students and four faculty members worked in Nicaragua for nine days, serving more than 2,600 patients. The group set a Global Brigades record for the highest number of participants from a single university on an individual brigade. 

Mountains in Nicaragua

Various images of students working in Nicaragua 

Shani Waris - Biomedical Engineering and Economics

“I was born in New York and lived there for a majority of my life before moving to Charleston. Having spent most of my early developmental years in the robust and diverse environment of New York, I was exposed to people from all walks of life, which taught me a lot about culture, acceptance and understanding. I also frequently visited Pakistan to see my extended family, which allowed me to become fluent in three additional languages.

My background inspired me to become involved with Global Brigades, an organization that aims to eliminate international health and economic disparities by empowering communities to end the cycle of poverty. The first time I traveled with WVU Global Medical and Dental Brigades to Nicaragua was in spring of 2016. I became enamored with the vision of the organization, the work they did, the people we met and the loving culture of the picturesque nation. As soon as my first trip ended, I knew I had to go back and stay involved. During spring break 2018, I traveled back to Nicaragua for a third time with more than 50 other WVU students and faculty members. 

The first day the group arrived in the Brigade’s compound in Matagalpa, we organized more than $110,000 in medical and dental supplies that we had fundraised for throughout the year and brought along with us for the clinics. The group worked with 14 local medical professionals to provide healthcare clinics throughout the region. Students engaged with patients in various stations including triage, consultation, dental and pharmacy. Students educated patients on hygiene and wholesome health habits through unique games using a tooth model and even employed a Spanish song on how to properly brush one’s teeth. We recorded patients’ vital signs and personal medical and family history, and shadowed doctors, pharmacists and dentists to learn about the unique healthcare problems facing developing regions of the world and to dispense medications to the patients. In just four short days, we were able to serve nearly 2,700 patients.

For the next three days, we worked in the public health and water sectors to tackle the root cause of healthcare issues, rather than solely treating the symptoms. We constructed sanitation units for six different families. We also dug more than 200 yards of trenches as part of a clean water project aimed at providing hundreds of families access to this basic necessity. 

Global Brigades has provided me with the most rewarding, incredible and humbling experiences. The experiences we have abroad are not solely defined by what we learn academically. By far, the most beneficial moments of my most recent trip came through interactions with the locals from our beloved translators, bus drivers, medical professionals and coordinators to families, who opened their homes to us, and the incredible friends we made while exploring on our last day in Managua. Talking to the locals is where I believe we can truly learn the most about the country and its problems. They have provided me with newfound perspectives on what it truly means to be privileged, on how fortunate we are here to have the opportunities we have. My experiences have opened my mind to always assume the best in people, because you really don’t know what someone is going through. 

Though physically and emotionally taxing, our trip to Nicaragua wasn’t all work. Every evening we engaged in deep talks over nightly group reflections. We played soccer on an incredible field overlooking the city of Matagalpa. We visited El Chocoyero, a nature reserve with monkeys, birds and waterfalls. We also explored a beautiful boardwalk along Lake Managua, where we made friends with some amazing natives of the city. 

Being part of Global Brigades has brought out the best in me and allowed me to grow so much as a person. 

In my three years serving in Brigades, we have provided free medical and dental care to more than 5,650 patients and clean water access for more than 400 families.” 
Female student standing in front of building in Bahrain

Bahrain: Spring Break 2018

Making a tangible difference in the world

In November 2016, West Virginia University launched its  first global portal in Bahrain, partnering with the Royal University for Women to offer the University’s first degree program offered overseas.

WVU’s partnership with RUW dates back to 2009, shortly after it was founded by four WVU alumni with the goal of increasing women’s access to high-quality education in the Middle East. The founders, four brothers who graduated in the 1970s and 80s, looked toward their alma mater for a partnership focused on creating opportunity, developing cultural understanding and advancing access to quality education. 

WVU enrolled the inaugural class for its civil engineering program taught at RUW in fall 2017. Students are taught in newly constructed facilities and classrooms with state-of-the-art laboratory equipment; they also benefit from courses and labs instructed by WVU-affiliated faculty. The program is co-educational, and all students admitted to the program enroll in a preparatory foundation semester in English and mathematics. Career support services are available to assist with job placement upon graduation. Graduates will earn an ABET-accredited degree from WVU. 

Since its inception, more than 50 WVU students have studied abroad in Bahrain, with dozens from RUW coming to WVU. Components of the program include an annual student debate on women’s issues; a series of workshops focusing on such topics as forensic accounting, cybersecurity, family business and occupational medicine; the collaboration of an annual conference on women’s issues; courses taught in leadership studies; and visiting lecturers and scholars in residence from a variety of disciplines. 

View of the Persian Gulf from Bahrain

Miriam Demasi with a camel      

Miriam Demasi - Mechanical Engineering

“Growing up in Wheeling meant that I didn’t have many opportunities to experience other cultures. My father had lived in Mexico for eight years before I was born and always encouraged me to seize any and all opportunities to experience other parts of the world. I always enjoyed listening to his stories about his travels and hoped that I would one day get to see the world. That dream didn’t seem like a reality until I received the Foundation Scholarship at WVU.

The Scholarship gave me the freedom to seek out study abroad opportunities, which led me to discover the WVU-led engineering program through the Royal University for Women in Bahrain. The program has a civil engineering focus and allows students to earn college credit toward their degrees. Although I am a mechanical engineering major and had never even heard of Bahrain, I was interested in the trip because I wanted to experience a culture completely different from my own. After careful consideration I decided that the program was the right choice for me and began packing my bags.

Upon our arrival in Bahrain, we were fully integrated into the lives of the students at RUW. We stayed in their dorms, sat in on their classes and participated in a variety of activities that allowed us to experience the authentic beauty of the country. We were able to go swimming in the Persian Gulf, visit a 1,400-year-old Soukis fort and ride camels in the desert, which has officially made me obsessed with these amazing animals. 

Getting to go on so many adventures with the students from RUW allowed me to get to know them on a personal level, which was the best part of the whole experience. The women at RUW are just like any other women; they love to go out with friends, enjoy watching American TV shows and have dreams of becoming successful lawyers, artists and engineers. Experiencing the cultural differences and similarities between us allowed me to gain a mutual respect and understanding for other cultures, which was further solidified after I was able to sit in on a women across cultures class at RUW. 

During the class we heard from a woman named Michele, who talked about feminism and women’s rights. It was shocking to hear that women in Saudi Arabia can go to college and become doctors and lawyers, but they aren’t free to choose basic things like their own haircut. She explained that she left the country following her father’s death so that she could finally be free to live her life the way she wanted. It was heartbreaking at times to listen to her story but also empowering to see how she became such a fierce and independent woman after overcoming so many obstacles. 

The words ‘life changing’ are used too often, but this was truly a life-changing experience for me. Learning about the struggles of women in the Middle East helped me realize that I often take for granted the freedoms I have simply as a result of being born in the United States. 

I have grown so much as a person since this one-week trip, and I feel much more culturally aware after gaining such a deep appreciation for the Arabic culture. 

I was so moved and inspired that I am now considering minoring in international and comparative politics at WVU because I want to be an engineer who has the ability to make a tangible difference in the world, like the women I met in Bahrain. 

I am so grateful to RUW and WVU for giving me this opportunity to grow as a student and to experience the most influential week of my life. I once thought that study abroad trips were out of reach for me but WVU has shown me that it can be surprisingly affordable and that there are so many resources available to help you every step of the way.”

Various images of students in Bahrain

Rooftops in Germany

Germany: Spring Break 2018

Plane at the gate.

When Todd Hamrick became a faculty member in the Fundamentals of Engineering program in 2011, he saw a need for an engineering-focused study abroad program that was tailored to accommodate new or inexperienced travelers. To fill the void, he decided to launch a weeklong immersive spring break experience in Germany that would expose students to engineering as a global profession while easing them into international travel. 

The program gives students the opportunity to see firsthand how manufacturing and research facilities operate. Rare behind-the-scenes visits to some of Germany’s largest companies, including BMW Automotive, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and Erdinger Brewery, give students a glimpse into what their future professions could entail. Students also experience some of Germany’s most significant historical and cultural sites through excursions to such sites as the Karwedelbahn cable car, Dachau concentration camp and the Deutsches Science Museum. 

To date, more than 50 engineering students have experienced the cultural and industrial wonders of Germany, and participation numbers are steadily increasing each year. To meet the demand and rising popularity of study abroad programs at WVU, Hamrick decided to pilot an extended two-week program to the United Kingdom this past year. The trip similarly blended both industry and cultural experiences, as students were able to learn about the mechanics of the London Eye, witness cars being made in one of the largest Mini Cooper factories and tour the studio where the Harry Potter movies were filmed. 

Due to the success and popularity of both programs, Hamrick plans to offer a two-week summer trip that combines stops in both countries next year. The extended trip will allow students to explore destinations beyond the main tourist attractions, which will allow them to gain a greater appreciation for the cultural differences between the United States, Germany and UK, and the engineering practices that make up each countries industrial economy.

Various images of students in Germany

Emma Dorsey holding Let's Go WVU flag on top of a mountain in Germany

Images of students in Germany 

Much more than subject matter knowledge

Emma Dorsey - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

I recently completed my freshman year at the Statler College and by far the most memorable part was participating in the study abroad program in Germany. I grew up in Forth Ashby and had never traveled outside of the country so I was eager to participate in a study abroad program. I was drawn to the weeklong trip in Munich, Germany, because it specifically had an engineering focus and the opportunity to earn three credit hours that could be applied toward my major, which was a huge bonus. Knowing that I would return home after a week helped to ease any concerns or hesitations I may have had about traveling to another country for the first time.

The week was packed with terrific experiences, including factory tours, museum visits, sightseeing and a complete immersion into German culture. We kicked off the trip with a factory tour at Rehau, a company that specializes in garden hoses, train rail, furniture components and car bumpers. We were able to watch injection molding and robotic assembly in real time. I was spellbound by how quickly and efficiently the machines worked and gained a strong appreciation for how evolved manufacturing processes have come since the days of human toil. We also toured a BMW factory, which was similar to Rehau’s robotics, but on a much larger scale. The robots moved with such precision that it looked like art. 

The tours were great learning experiences but this trip was not all about business. We were able to experience many other opportunities as well, such as visiting Mittenwald, where we learned about the mechanics behind the Karwendel cable car, which transports passengers 7,362 feet up into the Alps of Germany and Austria. Before hopping into a car, our tour guide taught us about the engineering that goes on behind the scenes. From the bottom, the cable cars appeared to be precariously climbing up an enormously daunting slope, which made me slightly nervous about the ride. However, our guide explained that the cable itself was larger than a human arm and that 44 tons of block made up the weight that secured the cable to the ground. The guide also explained that each cable car had multiple backup systems in place for emergencies, as well as the ability to generate its own electricity. 

When we reached the top, the view was amazing; all of Mittenwald could be seen below. The Alps reached into the horizon with their peaks covered in snow and the valleys contrasting strongly against the high altitude of the mountain, making it one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. I made sure to take pictures of everyone enjoying the view while holding the ‘Let’s Go!’ WVU flag because I knew this was a moment everyone would want to remember.

We were also able to visit the Max Planck Institute for Physics, where we were given a presentation on the science of nuclear fusion. Institute scientists are attempting to recreate the energy of the sun for unlimited power. The demonstration included a donut-shaped container that was heated to millions of degrees, allowing atoms to build up speed and eventually collide and become fused. This process produces energy that can be converted to electrical power. We toured the facility labs and viewed the huge equipment used to conduct various tests. It was a fascinating learning experience. 

This trip was one of the greatest adventures of my life. I gained much more than subject-matter knowledge and was able to experience firsthand some of the ways I could use my engineering degree in the future. 

The study abroad experience as a whole teaches you so much more than what can be learned in the classroom, however. 

We communicated with German people in our hotel, restaurants and various places of business. We traveled by plane, train and automobile. We were completely immersed in German cuisine and had the opportunity to see towns that were centuries old. When you study abroad, you learn from your surroundings every second of every day. 

City in Mexico

Mexico: Summer 2018

Students in the Industrial Outreach Program 

The Statler College’sIndustrial Outreach Program in Mexico is not your average study abroad experience. Victor Mucino, professor and associate chair for education in mechanical and aerospace engineering, launched the program 22 years ago out of a desire to provide students with a study abroad opportunity that blended both cultural and professional experiences.

IOPM allows WVU students to spend eight weeks in the summer working full time in Querétaro, alongside students from Mexican universities. Under the guidance and supervision of industrial engineers and faculty members, students from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds are paired together to develop professional projects at engineering companies in the region. The goal is for students to learn how to work with people from different cultures, obtain a better understanding of their strengths and discover the role they can play in a professional environment. 

To ensure that students are fully immersed in Mexican culture, they are placed in home stays with local families, who help them learn Spanish and become accustomed to the country’s unique traditions. Weekend field trips and sightseeing excursions also give students the chance to experience many significant landmarks across the country. Since the program’s inception, Mucino has provided more than 500 students with professional work placements in Mexico at more than 20 top companies and research facilities. The program’s extended success was recently recognized by the Council of Science and Technology of the State of Querétaro, an organization dedicated to promoting science, technology and innovation in order to generate long-term sustainable development. CONCyTEQ and WVU recently reached a five-year agreement that will provide support and financial resources to students enrolled in IOPM, as well as Mexican students interested in studying abroad at WVU. The objective of the agreement is to promote international academic interactions and the exchange of knowledge and educational opportunities for both researchers and students.

Up for the challenge

Graham McConnell - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Images of students in Mexico 

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, among a family of avid sightseers and hikers. We ventured all across the United States, visiting dozens of national parks, museums and historical sights, so the lure of traveling was instilled in me from a young age. Despite my many travels, it wasn’t until I went to school at WVU that I had the chance to venture outside of the country. 

I was enticed by the College’s summer study abroad program in Mexico because it offered a blend of cultural and industry experience. 

This program was unique in the fact that it was designed to expose you to the real culture of Mexico while working alongside native citizens to solve real engineering problems. It also allowed me to earn nine transferable credits upon completion, three of which count as a capstone class, which was immensely helpful for dual majors like myself who need two capstones to graduate. 

From the moment our group landed in Mexico City, I noticed several shocking differences. The streets were crowded with a combination of trucks and cars all quickly dodging in and out of lanes and driving erratically. There were several small favela or shanty town-style neighborhoods dotting the sides of the road, and street performers were walking up to cars stopped at red lights. There was also a noticeable language barrier that I knew would be challenging to overcome, especially once I discovered that my host family only spoke Spanish. 

Shortly after arriving, I received my full-time work placement at an aerospace engineering company called Safran Group. I was paired with a Mexican engineering student, and we were assigned to work on a top-secret project related to landing gear systems for commercial airlines. In the engineering world, projects can last for months or even years, but we were given only eight weeks to develop a prototype that would increase airline safety procedures. Although we knew it would be difficult working on a strict deadline to complete a project that neither of us had experience in, we were up for the challenge and got to work. 

While we worked full time during the week, our weekends were spent traveling to historic Mexican towns and archeological sites. My personal favorites were hiking a mountain trail at Pena de Bernal, a small town at the base of an enormous rock face with a lot of interesting markets and foods to try, and the pyramids of Teotihuacan, an ancient city that dates back to the time before the Aztecs. One weekend we even got to take a cooking class where we learned how to make corn tortillas and Pan de Reyes, a bread used in the ceremony of the Dia de Muertos. Most of my other free time was spent watching Mexico compete in the World Cup. There were several days I remember sitting in a restaurant watching Mexico face South Korea or Germany. The energy of the crowd cheering each time Mexico scored and celebrating after a win is something that is hard to forget. 

Within a matter of weeks my Spanish greatly improved and I was able to discuss my day with my host family and hold conversations with my new friends. I met many wonderful people from all over the world including Brazil, Oman, Rwanda, Mexico and the United Kingdom. It was great being able to share our different perspectives over dinner every night using a common language that we all worked hard to learn. 

By the end of the trip I was also able to communicate with my work partner using his native tongue, which helped us meet our project deadline. We managed to successfully design a prototype that would help detect foreign objects in airplane landing gear and were able to present it to our bosses at the company. They praised us for our hard work and innovative designs, which filled me with a huge sense of accomplishment. 

Working in a real professional environment helped me learn important lessons about prioritization, trust, leadership and teamwork. I found myself actively planning out each day and setting goals for the team, as well as prioritizing tasks that were the most important to the project and leaving the others alone. This program was designed to highlight your strengths, so I learned to trust my teammate and the strengths and knowledge he possessed, and let him control those areas, while I focused on the tasks where my talents were best used. This is something I believe every engineering student needs to experience firsthand in order to understand how to succeed in a professional environment. 

Although the program was challenging, studying abroad in Mexico was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. I gained a great understanding as to why persistence is such a beneficial trait to have as a professional and learned the value of immersing yourself in new cultures. I am confident that the lessons I learned will guide me during my career and that the memories I made will stick with me forever.”

Will Howard on Pike's Peak with a WVU Let's Go flag.

Senior Will Howard atop Pike's Peak in Colorado. Howard spent the summer conducting research with the National Institute of Standards and Technology through a National Science Foundation summer research fellowship.