Posted by Melanie Maurer
When I first joined the McDermott program, study abroad seemed daunting…as a biomedical engineer, what was there for me to do abroad? Where could I go without being fluent in another language? But when my first study abroad opportunity came up after my sophomore year at UTD, I was thrilled to explore the world! Before summer of 2013, I had never left North America. Since, I’ve embarked on a world tour of self-discovery, visiting 12 countries on 4 continents.
I will never forget my first day abroad- stepping off of the plane in Germany and finding myself surrounded by foreign language. I remember braving the grocery store and waking up from my first jetlag with the realization of how far away I was from home. I spent the summer in Dr. Katja Schenke-Layland’s lab at the University of Tübingen working with cancer technologies. My time in Tübingen was incredible: I made friends of all nationalities, immersed myself in German lifestyle, and watched Germany win the World Cup! On weekends, I traveled to Stuttgart, Baden-Baden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Heidelberg, and when I finished my work, I spent three and a half weeks backpacking to Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Salzburg before heading home. I returned from Europe with the travel bug and promised myself that next summer would be spent on a new continent.
On the Neckar river in Tübingen, Germany.
In May 2015, my urge to travel again was finally fulfilled as I flew to the Solomon Islands to participate in the Marovo Medical Foundation’s mission trip. Flying into a third-world country was a shock. Never before had I been weighed on a rusty scale before flying on a 16-seat prop jet (covered in duct tape of course) to make sure that the plane was light enough to take off. Not to mention arriving on a mud and grass landing strip at a one-room, rickety cabin-like, airport at Seghe in the Marovo Lagoon (see image above).
A village in the Marovo Lagoon.
For the next two weeks, I took a daily boat ride to villages around the Marovo Lagoon to provide health clinic services to local villagers, who may have had to paddle a full day in a dugout canoe to reach the sole, undersupplied hospital. I picked up a little Pidgin as I did lab testing, worked as a makeshift optometrist to distribute reading glasses, and formed some incredible bonds with villagers. Every day, the highlight for me was playing with the village children, teaching them games, and taking their pictures as they struck pose after pose. I am truly enchanted by the Solomon Islands, and I hope that someday I can return!
On my way back from the Solomon’s, I spent six and a half weeks in Australia. I backpacked up the east coast from Brisbane to Cooktown, conducting an environmental independent study. I learned permaculture basics through several WWOOF experiences, helped build an art instillation out of bamboo at a festival in the rainforest, and participated in an earth building workshop where I helped build a house off-the-grid from natural materials. This was my first solo travel, and I know that I’ve become more confident and independent as a result. I did a lot of self-reflection in those six weeks alone!
My first Aussie friend!
Which brings me to today. As I write, I am just a few hours from my next study abroad! I will spend three weeks doing yoga and meditation in Israel. Much of this time will be spent in silent self-introspection and soul searching as I battle my way through my first 10-day silent meditation retreat. As I face my last semester at UTD, I am excited (and nervous) for more self-exploration through my last study abroad experience and am interested to see the me on the other side of my silent retreat. Will I be able to deal with what’s deep inside when there will be no one to share my thoughts with? Will I figure out what I want to do with my future?
Hopefully to be continued…