Did you know you can study abroad in graduate school? Chris McKenna, a graduate of the Boston University School of Public Health Master of Public Health Program, has done just that. Before going abroad through his graduate program, he studied abroad in high school and in college. Additionally, he actively attended conferences through Model United Nations and participated on Alternative Spring Break programs. I had the opportunity to interview him about his previous study abroad experience, travel inspiration, and advice to those interested in studying abroad in graduate school.
Describe your undergraduate and graduate study abroad experiences.
Studying International Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey provided me with the perfect opportunity to study abroad multiple times in a variety of locations. These programs provided me with an overview of different thematic areas, ultimately influencing my choice in graduate schools. The first university-level study abroad program I participated on was during my sophomore year at Ramapo. It was a short-term program in Beijing and Shanghai five years ago focusing on International Business within the context of doing business in China. This program was a great introduction to the world of International Business, and provided me with exposure to an area that I had no familiarity with. I would later return to China for a month of independent travel the year later.
The following two study abroad programs I undertook focused broadly on Public Health; the first to Sierra Leone focusing on Public Health in West Africa four years ago, and the second to Copenhagen, Denmark focusing on Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe three years ago. While I was familiar with public health domestically, these programs provided a great base for further study in graduate school.
Throughout my time at Ramapo, I was also significantly involved with the Model United Nations Club, participating in conferences in NY, DC, and Lille, France. These conferences provided a venue to synthesize many of the topics covered in various courses and interact with peers from around the world. I also had the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Spring Break program to Costa Rica with Ramapo. This program brought us to El Manantial, a macaw sanctuary in Aranjuez, Coata Rica.
These experiences helped broaden my worldview and give me the confidence to travel to less-visited areas. There is something to be said about the ability to enter a place that is completely unlike one you are familiar with, likely with a different language, and have the confidence/resourcefulness to navigate the area successfully. I was fairly well traveled going into my undergraduate career, but choosing international studies provided me with a way to contextualize much of what I was experiencing while traveling allowed me to study specific areas that appealed to me in depth.
What inspired your travels?
I was fortunate to have participated in a short-term summer exchange with a Gymnasium in Hamburg, Germany after my freshman year of high school. It was a program loosely focused around sport that was based in Hamburg, but we traveled through Germany and Austria as well. While this didn’t necessarily inspire my travels, it did build upon previous travels to Europe and had me completely hooked. It was a formative experience and stay in touch with friends that I met during this experience eleven years later.
What lead you to study abroad as a graduate student?
It was a given that I would be spending significant time abroad going into graduate school for International Health. I was not sure initially if it would be in the form of a practicum or coursework, but while researching graduate schools, I found that BU (at the time) offered a semester long exchange with University of the Philippines at Manila. Knowing that I was going into a globally oriented field, I knew that I would benefit me greatly to gain experience in an area which I was not familiar with (geographically and topically), to further prepare me for my career.
What advice do you have for those interested in studying abroad in graduate school?
It’s important to remember that studying abroad in graduate school is fundamentally different than during your undergraduate career. If you are interested in having a component of your graduate education abroad, look into programs with established partnerships/exchanges. There are many programs that offer a dual degree with a university abroad. One can also look into a program that requires or encourages a practicum/internship abroad; there are plenty of short-term options and longer-term programs such as the Master’s International Program with the Peace Corps.
Chris’s upcoming travels include a trip to Egypt in September and Iceland in November. “It has been a rather sedate year of travel, but that is in preparation for a possible move abroad in early 2016,” he explains.
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