Zach spent his entire sophomore year in Cape Town, South Africa with the InterStudy program. As a chemical engineering major, his experience was not easy to plan, but Zach felt that the hard work was well worth it for a year of new horizons.
Zach felt that academic planning was essential to the success of his experience. Leaving the University of Minnesota for a year meant fulfilling both liberal education requirements and prerequisites for his major abroad. “I really think that you couldn’t plan ahead too much for a study abroad experience,” he said.
Zach challenged himself by taking courses that were completely unrelated to his major. Graduate level African studies courses, for example, were a chance to really learn something new. "That was really worthwhile. It was really hard, because being an engineer you normally don’t get that writing background. This class was social science research at a pretty high level. It was a lot of work, and really different, and that was a good experience for me. My final paper actually got published in a journal, which is pretty exciting, especially for an engineer. We’re not supposed to be able to write."
During the summer break, Zach worked for a research group at the University of Cape Town, testing catalysts for oil companies. "It was very real and tangible, hands-on work. The changes we made on our little rig would go out to the industry, and they would make changes on a five-story tall rig, so it was making a real difference. I’d only had three semesters of school, none of which had actually been in my major, so that was really exciting. It was a big challenge, but I think they were happy with the work that was done."
Zach found that the post-apartheid environment had some interesting impacts in terms of his coursework. Mandated integration of universities has brought together students from very different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. “A lot of teachers would purposefully teach around the textbook so that students who could afford it wouldn’t be advantaged. You’d have homework questions that the textbook would teach you about, but you couldn’t get the actual answer out of the textbook. You had to get it from a TA, or going to the library.” This and other experiences helped Zach remain true to his philosophy of no expectations. “I didn’t know what to expect, and I put a lot of work into not establishing any expectations. That served me well, because had I had any, Cape Town wouldn’t have met them, and it would’ve surpassed a lot of others. The importance of arriving there with an open mind was emphasized to me while I was there as something critical to enjoying it.”
Check out programs available in South Africa.