I participated in the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program (RSAP) focused on civil and environmental engineering in South America. I learned about this program through a mentor in the Galipatia Living Learning Community. I learned a lot about the cultures in Ecuador, Chile, and Peru while brushing up on my Spanish, interacting with locals, and doing a service project in Lima. We toured universities and engineering facilities. I learned about approaches to engineering abroad, for example, how engineers in Ecuador try to overcome piping placement issues. Since the terrain is very mountainous, construction requires deeper excavation and more material in order to meet regulations. Another example was how Chileans took a problem—that their largest city, Santiago, is on a fault line — and designed buildings in a new way to combat these issues. In Chile, a majority of new buildings have devices called isolators. Isolators separate the basement from the rest of the building. When the ground shakes, the part of the building below the isolator will shake with the ground while the upper levels remain in place. It was a great example of seeing a problem and designing a solution.

We were given a lot of freedom within the countries and I truly appreciate the things that I learned from being pushed to go out and explore on my own. I learned so much by completing simple tasks: buying Band-Aids from la farmacia by requesting them from behind a counter (similar to picking up prescription medications in the U.S.) or haggling for goods at markets all while speaking in Spanish.

Before this trip, I wanted simply to be a civil engineer. I had not thought past that goal. After participating in RSAP, I realized that I want to make a difference globally. I plan on opening my own firm in a lesser developed country and working towards building up infrastructure to help modernize areas in need of help. I still have a lot of planning to do, but I am so grateful that my experience abroad gave me a strong path to follow. I know that someday I will travel back to South America and will experience more of the cultural side of the countries we visited.