The NSAC Team members all have one thing in common – the desire to explore the world and its many opportunities. In this post, we get to follow the stories of three team members that followed their dreams and went abroad. These stories all have their own unique path, and represent the fact that there is not only one way to reach the final destination of abroad studies. Read the stories of team members Natasha, Joshua and Theodor!
Where are you from?
– I am from Jutland in Denmark, from the town called Vejle.
Where are you studying now?
– I’m studying at UC Berkeley as an exchange student, so I am enrolled at the University of Copenhagen doing my physics degree. I’m doing my third and final year of the degree at UC Berkeley. I will be graduating this summer!
When did you first think of studying abroad?
– I think the clearest moment for me was when I participated in the International Chemistry Olympiad in Moscow in 2013. There were four hundred people from more than one hundred different nations. Each and everyone was really talented, and talked about studying abroad. I heard about people having offers from Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, and I thought it sounded really interesting. So I participated at the olympiad, and then applied for the NSAC Conference immediately after in order to fulfil this dream. Right after the conference I applied for Cambridge. So basically the olympiad opened my eyes to the possibility of studying abroad, and also realizing that being a part of the people at the olympiad might also qualify me for good schools. It went both ways.
How did you end up where you are now? Tell us your story!
– Basically, I started my physics degree in Copenhagen, and realizing that I wouldn’t be going abroad for my full degree, I decided to try and make the most out of the degree I had in Denmark. I still wanted to pursue studies abroad. So I set up internship places as Harvard for my first summer, applied for an exchange for the third semester, which is the earliest that anyone have ever done it. I then went to Germany for half a year, and enjoyed being abroad so much I decided that I had to apply to go abroad once again. So I applied to go to California for my fifth and sixth semester, so I basically had my full semester away from Denmark. And that’s how I ended up at Berkeley for my second exchange program, which basically allowed me to take half of my undergraduate degree abroad even though I was enrolled in Denmark.
What was it like studying your degree in German?
– I had taken classes in German for two years in elementary school, and then I studied physics in German, nothing was in English, and I basically didn’t understand anything the first few weeks. But then you slowly get a hang of it, and then a few months later you are able to speak it, and then when you go home you’re nearly fluent which was a pretty unique experience. However, now I have forgotten everything again. Studying abroad is the coolest way to learn a language. Studying in the US now is not a big deal language-wise, however, learning a language is always so much easier when you are forced to do it.
What have you gained from studying abroad?
– You gain a global perspective that gives you the understanding of different cultures, of what’s normal where, what’s normal to do in what situations. You also gain an incredible network of friends- I’m travelling to eight different cities the next three weeks and I pretty much know someone everywhere. And because I know people there, I’m paying for like two hotels in twenty one days, which I think is pretty amazing. I think personal development has a big say as well, being in a new environment makes you push yourself to work harder and learn more. Being in a new environment at the same time as you’re studying is a pretty unique combo.
What will you be doing in the future? What are your dreams?
– I’m going to study a Ph.D. in applied physics, either in the UK or the US, beginning this summer. For long term goals- I’m really passionate about both research and entrepreneurship, and how we can combine the two to create a better world… It’s unclear to me whether I will end up in academia doing research, or if I’ll end up working for a start up. I think working for a start up would be really cool- pushing forward for new material for new interesting electronics, photonics and quantum computing. Actually making quantum computing work could be one of the groundbreaking things within our lifetime. Being on that journey I think could be really fun, to actually impact the world with science. Science is fun, but science is only great if you actually do something with it.
Number one tip to people that want to go abroad?
– Do your best to figure out what opportunities you have. Figure out whether you want to do a full degree, and it that case where you can do that and what you need to do in order to being able to apply for full degrees. If you don’t want to do a full degree, figure out what opportunities you have for doing studies abroad. Find it out ahead of time- What are the deadlines, and what do I need to do to fulfil the requirements? Generally, just be ahead of time and plan efficiently. I also want to emphasise the importance of grabbing every opportunity, to do anything that might be remotely interesting, just try to pursue it. I mean, you can always say no if you get an offer for something. I actually had an offer for doing my exchange program in Singapore for my fourth semester, so I could have done my third semester in Germany, fourth in Singapore, and fifth and sixth in Berkeley, but it overlapped and would’ve been a big mess. It is important to be aware of the fact that you can turn down an offer. But being ahead of time, that really is my number one tip. I’ve been preparing my Ph.D. applications since before I started my undergraduate degree. That’s how much preparation I put into it. The reason to do this is that for the application you need research experience and recommendations from three different professors, and they should ideally be able to recommend the research you did, maybe in their lab. So I knew that throughout my three year degree, I needed to work with professors that would be able to give me three different recommendations. You don’t need all of them to be within research, but at least one is a must, two is good and three is the best. That’s why I did one summer of research at Harvard already before I had started university. Then I could prepare to go back to Harvard for the next summer and do more research, and get involved with research in Copenhagen from day one of my university program. I knew that that was what I needed for a successful Ph.D. application.
Theodor received offers from Cambridge, Yale, MIT, Northwestern, UC Berkeley and University of Copenhagen. This fall he will be studying at Cambridge.