Abroad-en Your View

By Humphrey Lin | SQ Staff Writer | SQ Online (2013-14)

For Mary Jade Farruggia, studying abroad during her spring quarter was anything but ordinary. Stepping out of lecture halls at UC San Diego and into tropical rain forests like Monteverde in Costa Rica, Farruggia embarked on a unique academic journey that would forever mold her academic career.

“I honestly feel that I learned more in this one quarter than I have during the rest of my time at UCSD,” Farruggia said. “Standing knee-deep in mangrove muck learning about mangroves, or observing monkey behavior by chasing them through the jungle and seeing what they do is a much more memorable lesson than hearing someone speak about these things on a few powerpoint slides.”

“I came to Costa Rica to find las ranas (the frogs), and found so much more than I ever imagined I would. I caught, held, and released a bat, chilled with a poison dart frog, camped on a beach on an island with mangroves and a pair of scarlet macaws, saw a sea turtle, poked a ctenosaur, met pretty much everyone and their brother in the city of Monteverde, and ate myself pudgy.”–Mary Jade Farruggia, on her blog, July 8th, 2013

According to annual reports, 22 percent of UCSD students have studied abroad, and among them, almost 15 percent are Biology majors.

“The Division of Biological Sciences is very supportive of the study abroad program,” Programs Abroad Advisor, Rachel Rigoli said. “As a Biology major, you have a lot of programs available to you.”

The Programs Abroad Office offers three programs: Education Abroad Program (EAP), Opportunities Abroad Program (OAP) and Global Seminars (GS), through which students can participate in a study abroad experience. Students also have the option to choose between immersion programs, focused programs, and research and internship programs.

Immersion provides a more traditional classroom setting, while focused programs narrows the area of study to a particular focus. Research and internship programs, on the other hand, provide students with hands-on lab or field experience with top experts in the field.

Stephanie Tsoi, studying human biology, had the chance to experience just that when she studied Medical Practice and Policy in Copenhagen, Denmark in Fall 2012. During a trip to the Center of Anatomy, Tsoi had the chance to perform what many pre-meds could only imagine doing.

“I was expecting Powerpoints and 3D models, but instead I found myself gowned and standing next to a cadaver,” Tsoi said. “The most incredible thing was holding the human heart and putting my fingers through the chambers to find the mitral and tricuspid valves…they were actually there in their two and three part selves just like the textbooks had diagrammed.”

Even beyond practical field knowledge, the students learn invaluable life skills.

“I gained a great sense of independence, and an awareness and respect for the…culture,” Farruggia said. “Living with a Tico family helped me see the different ways people view the world, which is invaluable not just as a biologist, but as a person.”

The cross-cultural skills that students develop by navigating through a foreign country are beneficial for anyone looking to go into the medical field.

“Just because you never plan to leave California doesn’t mean you won’t need to communicate with individuals from all over the world,” Rigoli said. “As a doctor, global competence is very important.”

For both Farruggia and Tsoi, the study abroad experience helped them choose a career path.

“This was the first moment in my life where I realized that becoming a doctor was not just something I wanted to do, but something I knew I could do,” Tsoi said.

Farruggia found a similar passion for beginning a research career.

Junior Mary Jade Farruggia wades through the mangrove forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Mary Jade Farrugia.
Junior Mary Jade Farruggia wades through the mangrove forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica. | Photo courtesy of Mary Jade Farrugia.

“Studying abroad in Costa Rica set me on a career path.Before going on this program, all I knew was that I liked biology, and had little direction as to where I wanted to go with it,” Farruggia said. “After experiencing fieldwork and designing and conducting my own research, I have moved toward wanting to enter research, and possibly herpetology.”

Whether trekking through the splendid ecology of Costa Rica or dissecting a cadaver in a Danish medical facility, the study abroad experience is one that leaves an impact both academically and personally.

“As a student, nothing is more rewarding than experiencing a lesson, rather than listening passively to a lecturer,” Farruggia said. “You will gain lifelong friends, mentors, and probably some weight, because the food is delicious.”

For more information regarding Study Abroad programs and opportunities, visit http://icenter.ucsd.edu/pao/index.html

To read more about Mary Jade’s experience from her perspective, read through the archives in her blog, “Frogs, Fungus, and Fog.”