The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a long way from Andre' Tharp III’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. But this fall, the junior in electrical and computer engineering, took his engineering education even farther by spending the semester studying in Valencia, Spain.
In Valencia, Tharp lived with a family and studied at Valencia Polytechnic University (UPV) – taking courses that included Engineering Communication, Probability and Intro Chemistry, but focused mostly on immersing himself in Spanish language courses.
Getting the experience of living in another country and learning another language is something Tharp believes will be a benefit once he graduates and begins his engineering career.
“This is the farthest I have been away from home, so it was the perfect time for me to grow,” said Tharp, a recipient of the Ndamukong Suh Scholarship that provides funding to an aspiring engineer to study in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering. “I did not speak fluently and hadn't spoken much Spanish since my senior year of high school, when I had four years of experience. I was still fairly conversational when I arrived, but it was still nowhere near my level now.”
Before Tharp returns to the United States, he answered a few questions about his experience this past semester and his decision to study abroad:
How difficult was the decision to take a semester to study in another country?
“The decision for me wasn’t difficult since it has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. However, it was hard deciding which programs to do and where to go. I wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking to continue my language learning journey. Originally, I wanted to go to a Latin America country but the program in Valencia started later giving me more time to work over the summer.”
How did you arrive at this opportunity – to study this Fall Semester 2021 in Spain?
“I have wanted to study abroad since it was first brought up to me in high school. In my freshman year, I went to the Study Abroad office, started arranging my classes and narrowing down possible locations. I was supposed to go during the spring of my sophomore year (2021), but COVID had other plans. Luckily, I was able to go abroad this semester. This was the last chance to go abroad because next semester I will need to start taking strictly major-related classes.”
What were your living arrangements in Valencia? What did you learn from that experience?
“I chose to do a homestay, so I live a with a Spanish family here – my host mom (Ana) and dad (Ricardo) as well as a dog brother (Cooper). I made a great decision by staying here because they give me tons of Spanish practice, make tons of traditional Spanish food, and as locals provided me with plenty of things to do as well as history of not just Valencia but Europe as a whole.”
How has this experience helped you grow as an engineer?
“Being abroad definitely has let me travel more and see how different another country’s engineering programs are. This experience has helped me grow my communication skills and with my professional engineering class I have learned more about business abroad.”
How has it helped you grow as a person?
“I have become more independent and have been able to meet even more people here. My confidence in Spanish and even myself has grown exponentially while I’ve been here. Being in Europe gave the opportunity to travel a lot as well and opened my eyes to the vast amount of history Europe has compared to the U.S.”
How has it changed your career goals and career path goals?
“I realized while here that I could pursue a master's degree abroad. I still don’t have an emphasis and don’t know what I would want to study deeper, but the idea of getting the degree abroad definitely makes me want to consider the option more.”
What are some of your favorite memories from Spain?
“My favorite memories in Spain so far have been riding the bikeshare bikes (Valenbisi) around the city with friends. That is my main source of transportation here besides walking. I have had plenty of fun memories with friends at the clubs around Valencia as well.”
How important was it to know the language before you arrived?
“I did not focus too much on learning the language before I went more than what I already knew because it is easier to learn when you are immersed rather than by myself on my own time. Even knowing the language somewhat there are times when people make speak to fast or with an unfamiliar accent so sometimes you just ask to repeat or rephrase it but typically people here are more patient with you than an American would be to a non-English speaker.”
Why should students who aren’t fluent in another country’s language consider studying abroad?
The main reason, I would say, is to learn that language, but if that is not important to you there are plenty of historical and cultural aspects that you just can't and won’t experience without traveling to the country and living through it yourself.”
Ndamukong Suh has said that having a scholarship made his educational experience much more positive. What has the scholarship meant to you and your academic career?
“Being able to do things like study abroad in a different country is something I had been waiting to do for years and being able to do it while only worrying about minimal costs has allowed to fully take advantage of the travel opportunities here. Having the scholarship has allowed me to devote my focus to classes and taking care of myself.”
Are there other things students should know about your semester abroad?
“If you have the opportunity to study abroad, you should! No matter where you go and what you study there will be a program for you. The experience is something you will never forget and will grow so much from. If I could study abroad again I would.”
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