A Week in the Life of an Engineer Abroad

Drexel’s 10-week quarter system may be an awkward fit for semester-based programs elsewhere, but that has not stopped College of Engineering undergraduates from increasingly going abroad to sample technical courses and broaden their perspectives. In 2017-2018, over 70 College of Engineering students studied internationally.

Drexel’s Office of Global Engagement and Education Abroad offers well-established academic options at some of the world’s top engineering schools, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to the University of New South Wales in Australia to KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.

“We have a number of exchange partners around the world that are strong engineering schools. A few are even engineering-only partnerships,” said Study Abroad Advisor Lisa Shen. “With adequate planning, engineers will not be delayed in their path of study.” Shen added that, with some forethought, students can arrange their schedules so the coursework translates to Drexel credit-for-credit.

Undergraduate Michael Barsoum recently spent four months at the Technical University of Denmark, with whom CoE has a longstanding exchange agreement. Barsoum–who developed a love of travel alongside his father, Michel Barsoum, distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE)–found little to differentiate the courses abroad from the rigorous work here at Drexel.

Below, Barsoum breaks down an average week in a six-month European semester that included English-speaking classes, a cast of international students, a convenient apartment with two other CoE undergrads, and weekend trips throughout Europe.

Name: Michael Barsoum
Year: Pre-junior; Class of ’21, BS in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Went Abroad to: Danmark Tekniske Universitet in Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
When: August to December, 2018
Classes: Barsoum took four, including a metals class and a polymer technology class


“Classes are four-hour blocks, which is pretty brutal. They started on Monday at 8 a.m. Since my class was an hour from the university, I got up at 6:50 a.m. I got ready, grabbed my lunch, and then biked about five-and-a-half miles, which was 45 minutes on a good day. There are bike lanes with no cars on both sides of the highway. That’s one of the things I really miss – the bike-friendly culture.”

“The Statistical Design of Experiments class was very challenging as I had not covered introductory stats (a pre-req for the course). We covered a number of different statistical testing models, and I learned a lot about how we can run only a few experiments and learn so much from them.”

“After stats, I usually went to the library for lunch. Normally I just packed a sandwich. But when I did eat the Scandinavian food, I would have smorrebrod, which is a very dense rye. They usually put things on it to hide the flavor, like lox or cream cheese. In fact, they call cream cheese ‘Philadelphia.’ ”

“Anyway, it was rough on Monday. But luckily the second class was a two-hour lecture, and then a recitation. The second class finished at 5 p.m., and then I would bike home and cook dinner. We liked cooking. Our apartment was the only one that had a ‘full’ kitchen – which was mainly two hotplates. Rent was the main expense apart from normal Drexel tuition. All scholarships apply when you are abroad; you just cover airfare and lodging.”


“On Tuesdays, I just had the morning class from 8 to 12. Then afterwards, we would usually go down to Copenhagen and go sightseeing.”

“I did work on one group project for my metals class, writing about the history of the Samurai sword from an engineering standpoint – what gives them their mechanical properties, what are the processing steps, how were they manufactured, what in the microstructure is giving them their strength, and why they are so much better than other swords made at this point.”

“One huge difference in studying there was that there were no in-term assignments; there was one exam at the end of class. Preparing for that was a totally different experience. It was really nice for the first two months because it was like, ‘This is great!’ and for the last two it was like, ‘Oh no!’’’


“I’d have my History of Technology class, and we took field trips. We went to the oldest brewery and a historical village.”

One resource I found very helpful is that they would give us all the back exams, the last 10 years’ worth of exams. I would recommend definitely working through those. The professors were very friendly, very approachable. We were all on a first-name basis.”

Thursdays and Fridays

“On Thursday and Friday, I had no class. Thursday to Sunday were travel days. It happened to be that way because of the classes being four hours long, and that’s one of the things I really liked. At Drexel, it’s hard to have such an open schedule. There, it was easier to consolidate.”

“All of our trips were fairly last-minute. I wouldn’t say we were great at planning. We always bought plane tickets the week before, which I wouldn’t recommend. The flights were pretty reasonable. I think the cheapest we got was $30.”

“We went to Oslo on a boat cruise, with two nights on the boat but three days there. We went to Munich for Oktoberfest. We went to Stockholm. We went to Prague and Budapest, and then met a friend in Athens. And we went three parallels into the Arctic Circle in Norway, where we rented a car and got to see the Northern Lights.”

Takeaway Message: “When you’re here at Drexel, you’re in this vacuum and you feel like what you’re doing is so different from everyone else. But I went to a university across the ocean where English is not their primary language, and yet I thought I was perfectly well-prepared. It’s all the same. They were different experiences, but it was remarkable how similar the engineering courses were to courses here.

“I would say, though, that you should plan carefully. I found all these courses that I’d be able to take, and then when the course calendar opened there were some things that weren’t available until the next term, and I had to scramble to fill them. I contacted my advisors here, and they helped me find other classes that worked.”

 “Most engineers think study abroad is not going to work because our schedules are so aggressive and we have to take so many technical classes. But I would advise to just go for it – you’ll figure it out. Use all the resources that we have at Drexel. The Study Abroad office is very helpful; your academic advisors; even the professors if you think you’ve found an exchange for one of the courses but you’re not sure. Just ask them. I emailed my professors and said, ‘Do you think this looks like your class?’ I had two professors send something back and say, ‘No, try this - this looks more like it.’ ”

“It’ll work out no matter what program you want to pursue. You can make it work.”

Photos by Rayna Newkirk, CoE  pre-junior.