Scott Vanden Heuvel

IPE Peer Advisor

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Minor: International Minor for Engineers!

International Experience: Universidad de Navarra, Tecnun - Winter 2017

Why did you choose to study abroad when/where you did?

I learned Spanish in high school and fell in love with the language and culture from my classes. I kept up with the language when I started university classes and knew that the best way to learn was to immerse myself in the culture. I heard about the food and language in San Sebastian and wanted to explore it myself; I had options between San Sebastian and Madrid and decided the smaller city experience was more my style. I chose the Winter of my sophomore year because I wanted a new experience early in my college and because the class equivalencies from that university closely aligned with requirements I would take in that semester at Michigan.

What was one of the most memorable experiences from your time abroad?

Travelling across Spain with a group of ten of my closest friends to many different cities and cultures. We put our language skills to the test and learned more about the Spanish lifestyle as we visited the traditional Semana Santa, or Easter, celebrations across the country. We also took this opportunity to visit some incredible landmarks, such as the cathedral and Real Alcazar in Sevilla, the great lookout of Ronda, and the Alhambra in Granada. It was difficult to travel with such a large group, but planning and organizational skills was something we practiced and improved upon during the trip.

What was one of the biggest surprises about the location, culture or other aspects of your program?

I didn't realize how much U.S. culture and events affected the rest of the world; many people I interacted with would ask me about U.S. current events and happenings and expected me to be an expert because it was my home country. I knew that the Spanish culture prioritized food, but each mealtime became an event that no one (rightly) wanted to miss. I loved the different flavors and styles that I simply can't find here in the U.S..

How do the skills and experience you gained abroad set you apart as a professional engineer?

One of the main skills I learned while abroad was the importance of effective and efficient communication. Communicating with every day people such as my landlord or local butcher required constant thought about how I communicated with them to avoid misunderstanding; group assignments with classmates gave me the practice necessary to talk about complex engineering concepts despite language barriers. The world is a global place and engineers need to know how to solve issues on a global scale that involve many different cultures and different types of people.

What advice would you like to give to a student interested in an international experience?

Do it! It may seem daunting at first to build a life for yourself socially and academically in a foreign country but the experiences that can be gained are second to none. There are many resources available to you that can be used to prepare yourself and ready yourself for the culture shock but all it takes is for you to jump in.

How did your time abroad impact your graduation timeline?

Because I chose to study abroad the winter of my sophomore year, and the MechE course outline begins a 5-semester class progression that same semester, I pushed that progression back a semester and am now taking a 9th semester to finish up all my degree requirements. I also added the international minor and am spreading out some of my classes to have a mildly lighter courseload each semester and using the extra time to do research and work during the semester. I chose the semester option vs. the summer abroad programs because I wanted to make a life for myself in another country for five months instead of feeling like a guest for six weeks. After coming back, I wouldn't have changed a thing.