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Going the Distance

From the wide open spaces of Australia to the intellectual eminence of Oxford, engineering students are adding a global perspective to their studies. Alastair Hoyt ventured halfway around the world to study at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia. “The things you learn traveling are just as worthwhile as the things you learn in school,” he says, “and often more fun.” Read what Hoyt and other students have to say about going the distance.

Exploring Wide Open Spaces

Alastair Hoyt, a senior in biological systems engineering from Williamsburg, Va., always wanted to travel. Australia’s unique geographic features and animal population interested him, and he knew he wouldn’t have trouble with the language.

From February to August 1999, Hoyt studied abroad at the University of Wollongong (the “Uni”) in New South Wales. Wollongong is about 60 kilometers south of Sydney — an easy hour by train.

The Uni is a residential college modeled on the British educational system. Most of its students come from Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa. Uni students take three or four classes for a full load. They are expected to do more self-directed work rather than a lot of tests or short-term assignments.

In Hoyt’s biotechnology class, for example, there were only two required lab reports. But the labs took half a semester to complete and generated a 25-page report. Class discussions and outside reading led up to a three- to four-hour comprehensive exam at the end of the term in each course.

Tuition, books and residential college expenses were financed through scholarships Hoyt had at the University of Nebraska. He took classes in Australian history, communications and biotechnology for a total of 12 credits.

Classes were held during the first three days of the week, allowing travel on four-day weekends. Hoyt traveled to Cairns for a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, to an oasis at Birdsville and to the city of Melbourne. He also went camping in the Australian Outback for three weeks after school was over. His American driver’s license was good for six months, and he adjusted to driving on the opposite side of the road.

Hoyt says Aussie engineers are completely removed from the prevalent nerd stereotype in America. They are seen as educated construction workers: loud, boisterous and hard drinking. He found Australians to be laid back and enthusiastic about sports, going to the beach and downing a pint at the pub.

“After three years of engineering classes, studying abroad was the perfect change of pace,” he says. “I think every undergrad should study abroad. The things you learn traveling are just as worthwhile as the things you learn in school —and often more fun.”

— Gail Ogden

Oxford Scholar

What’s it like to be a student at one of the world’s most prestigious, historic universities? Brian Magnusson, a senior in agricultural engineering, wanted to go to Oxford to find out for himself. “It was phenomenal,” he says. “I’d encourage anyone interested in a summer study-abroad experience to apply for this program.”

The intellectual eminence of the University of Oxford draws more than 16,000 students yearly from 130 countries. With a teaching tradition dating back to at least 1096, Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university in the world, educating scholars and world leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Margaret Thatcher and Edmund Halley. The opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these gifted men and women, if only for a few weeks, was something Magnusson couldn’t pass up.

His study-abroad program went from mid-July to mid-August of 2000. Magnusson worked the first part of the summer and traveled in Italy for a week before classes started. He helped finance the trip with scholarships from the Office of International Affairs and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. The four-week program was sponsored by the College of Business Administration.

Magnusson chose his courses carefully, hoping to take advantage of Oxford’s faculty expertise to foster his own intellectual development. World-renowned economist Martin Holmes taught his economics class. And, “since Oxford is perhaps the best place in the world to study Shakespeare,” he elected to take a Shakespeare and Theatre Performance course. The six credit hours transferred directly to his engineering program.

Although the courses were excellent, Magnusson says he learned just as much, if not more, outside the classroom. The Oxford students worked off steam by punting — propelling a long, narrow boat with a long pole — and playing croquet on the expansive, green commons of Mansfield College. They took frequent trips to London after classes were done for the day. On weekends, the students ventured into the English countryside and went mountain biking through the Scottish Highlands.

“My courses were extraordinary,” he says, and “being submerged in a new and foreign atmosphere taught me a great deal about interacting with people of different cultures.”

— Deb Derrick

European Tour

Mark Rentschler, ME ’01, wasn’t sure how to swing a semester abroad without throwing a wrench into his academic schedule. The six-week summer automotive engineering exchange program at the University of Technology at Belfort-Montbeliard, France, was a perfect fit.

Originally from Atkinson, Rentschler was eager to learn about other cultures. He applied to go overseas the summer before his senior year. Financial support from his department helped cover tuition expenses.

Rentschler spent a few days in Paris before taking the train to Belfort. Belfort is a 17th-century fortified city of about 53,000 tucked away in the French countryside. Rentschler and classmate James Andrews, ME ’01, were among 30 students enrolled in the program from the United States, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and France.

Classes started in mid-June. Students were required to take eight courses in mechanical engineering plus an additional course in cross-cultural communications. They also participated in field trips to industries and in meetings with French engineers and managers. All classes were taught in English by professors from the various countries involved in the program.

Campus dormitories were fairly comparable to those at UNL, says Rentschler. With a Eurail pass, he and Andrews visited places such as Rome, Cannes, Versailles and Lake Lucerne in Switzerland on weekends and at the end of the program.

Rentschler says the French have a more relaxed attitude toward life than we do. “We are very informed and diligent about what we are supposed to be doing,” he says. “In France, people think ‘It will happen when it happens.’”

He says his time abroad was educational and exciting. “Before this experience, I hadn’t thought about working in another country. I would now.”

— Deb Derrick

On the Trail of the Vikings

Suzanne Ebert, BSE ’99, wanted to add a global perspective to her engineering studies. Her study abroad experience in Denmark left her wanting more. Two years later, she started a two-year master’s degree program in water resources engineering in Germany.

Originally from Hickman, Ebert participated in the Denmark International Study (DIS) program during the 1998 spring semester. To help finance the trip, Ebert received scholarships from the DIS program (which reserves scholarshis for UNL students) and from International Affairs.

The program offered two housing options: living with a host family or in a student dorm. Ebert chose to live with a family in Birkerød, a northern suburb of Copenhagen. It was a great way for her to be immersed in the culture and learn about Danish customs and society.

Ebert says one of the attractions of the program was the number of classes offered in English. All students received a short intensive class in Danish. Overseas, communication was easier than expected since so many people speak English.

Her classes in Russian Politics and Society and European Nationalism and Minorities counted toward a minor in European Studies. Ebert also studied Russian and fluid mechanics. Institute classes were similar to those at NU, she says, although more writing was required. Her engineering course required students to work independently. For example, professors did not have an attendance policy or give homework.

Using a Eurail pass, Ebert traveled throughout Europe during spring break and at the end of the term. She returned to Denmark for a visit a year later.

Ebert feels a strong connection to the country and its people and talks enthusiastically about her overseas studies. “I definitely recommend students to study abroad for at least a semester. One year would be ideal. It goes by faster than you think.”

— Gail Ogden

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