Tag Archives: Expat Life

One Girl’s Guide to Engineering School à la française

You are in for a real treat today – my colleague and dear friend, Tamara, is here to write about her engineering study abroad experience in France. She’s a smart and extremely talented woman and I am sure you will enjoy her story as much as I did…

When I took my first French classes in 7th grade, the term “engineer” conjured an image of a suspenders-wearing man who helped drive trains. There are other types of engineers (though driving trains is quite impressive and important, that is not the type of engineering I’d like to tell you about today)…


Fortunately, thanks to the Penn State Women in Engineering Program’s outreach to high school students, I later learned that engineering is a very broad profession with many disciplines. Engineers can work in many different industries (medicine, food & beverage, energy) across many different geographic areas – including France.

I think I’ll always remember listening to a Penn State engineering student talk about her internship in France. At the time, I was still a high school student trying to decide what major to put on my college applications.  Yes, I liked science and math. Yes, I had fun building robots. However, hearing this student describe living and working in France was different from the typical “sales pitch” to potential engineering students. You could combine an interest in a foreign language with engineering.  Incroyable!

I had loved studying French (as well as math and science, bien sûr) all through middle school and high school. When I heard the engineering student talk about her French internship, the message I came away with was music to my ears. You don’t have to trade your French/English dictionary for a graphing calculator….you can use both.

I think you can compare engineering to a little black dress – great by itself, but even more fun when you can accessorize to your liking with business, law, or even a foreign language.

I accessorized my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering with French classes, an energy industry internship, a pharmaceutical industry internship, and a semester abroad at an engineering school in Nancy, France.

As I had continued to study both French and engineering, I decided that I wanted to apply my foreign language interest and technical skills together. Through online research, I found out about the Global Engineering Education Exchange, and selected three French Engineering schools, including l’Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL, or National Polytechnic University of Lorraine), located in Nancy, a small city in Eastern France that I knew essentially nothing about beforehand except that 1) It was in France 2) It had an engineering school.

Although I was woefully under-informed about the city I would come to call home for a semester, I would soon also learn 3) Nancy was a gorgeous city full of lovely parks and promenades, architectural treasures, cobblestone roads, and open air cafés in the warmer months. 4) Nancy was also home to many other international students, though far fewer Americans than larger French cities like Paris.

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

 Now a note on cultural differences and culture shock:

As a foreign exchange student, you may be welcomed by the host country, but you won’t fit in. In my opinion, that’s kind of the point – you step outside of your comfort zone both culturally and linguistically. You struggle to understand and be understood, gaining a new empathy and respect for the international students who face this challenge for their entire academic careers back in the U.S. In facing these often-frustrating challenges, you learn not just about your host country, but about your home country too. The experience will force you to think critically about your own definitions of “normal.” I think that’s a wonderful and powerful personal lesson.

So anyway, engineering school in France. Off to Nancy I went and learned how to perform chemistry lab experiments in French:


Chemistry lab in French seemed to me fairly similar to lab coursework I had done in the U.S., although there was a pesky difference where they sometimes use commas for decimal points (example: 20.8 is written as 20,8).  Oh, and of course, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so I became accustomed to thinking about temperatures in Celsius and lengths in centimeters and meters.

One of my fondest chemistry-lab related memories actually occurred during spring break. I took a train to the Alps to take a ski lesson (en français, of course) and work on my organic chemistry lab report from my bed & breakfast in the evenings :

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

Yes, engineering classes are demanding and require even more time and energy when they’re in French. However, as in U.S. university studies, I think it is important to make time for the unique extracurricular activities and events available. Enjoy the people, places, and celebrations for their unique character, even if (or perhaps specifically because) you are sans doute an outsider. I was some combination of lucky and open-minded, and had fun participating in French student life.

The school within INPL that I studied at was called l’École Européenne d’Ingénieurs en Génie des Matériaux (EEIGM), which translates roughly to “European School of Materials Science and  Engineering.” One of the events EEIGM hosted was le Tournoi des 4 Raquettes or “The Tournament of 4 Rackets.” TD4R was part team costume competition and part tennis/squash/badminton/ping-pong tournament.


Studying in Europe is not all cathedrals and alpine skiing – both European and American college students enjoy any reason to wear ridiculous costumes. One of the funniest memories of my semester abroad turned out to be taking French public transportation from my apartment to the TD4R tournament dressed as a zebra.

That being said – the cathedrals were incredible:

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Taking technical coursework in French was challenging, and my semester abroad threw me off-sequence in my undergraduate curriculum, delaying my graduation. It was a time-consuming and expensive accessory to my education. I pursued the experience because it was a very important goal of mine on a personal level, and that made it worthwhile to me.

I emphasize the personal aspect of this time and fiscal resource-consuming pursuit because my message to a student reading this is not “Please take my experience and hit ‘Ctrl+C’.” My intended message is that you can and should seek out opportunities that are meaningful to you on a personal level based on your own values and interests. After all, it’s your little black dress!

Math + Malaria: Correlating Passions

I am very excited to have Amanda on the blog today – she is a great example of someone who pursued a degree in one of the STEM subjects that have not yet been featured on the blog – she was a math major! She has a really interesting story because she was able to combine her aptitude for math with her desire to help people. I have no doubts you’ll really enjoy reading more about her and I hope you can find a way to do this yourself – combine your passions and pursue a career in that direction! 

My name is Amanda Brown Marusiak and I am currently a Public Health Associate at a large oil and gas company. My day to day job involves helping to develop programs to protect our workers from and educate them about infectious disease risks, from malaria to the flu. Our team monitors current outbreaks of disease worldwide to be prepared for what potential illnesses could come into our work facilities located all around the world. We also collect and analyze data about e effectiveness of our prevention and response programs in all our locations. You may wonder exactly how I ended up in this role, and it wasn’t the most straightforward path, but I have enjoyed every part of it, and have found a unique way to blend my passions and skills to benefit others.

Amanda Intro Collage

Although I knew I liked math, mostly because I was good at it, I entered Elon University in North Carolina as an undecided major. A couple of my professors helped me settle on mathematics, but I honestly had no clue what I would eventually do with my degree. Most people who found out I was a math major would ask me if I was going to be a teacher, which was not my ideal career path. Little did I know, I would have a seemingly un-math-related experience that would change everything.

My freshman year, I was accepted into a global service organization where I found my passion. It was a group of students working to build a health clinic in rural Ghana, west Africa, for people who had little to no access to health care. This was accomplished not by simply just raising money, but by learning about the culture of the people and understanding their needs and how we could best help them help themselves. It was a “teach a man to fish” sort of philosophy.

Amanda Ghana Collage In my sophomore year, I had an epiphany moment where a faculty mentor of mine proposed an idea that would combine both my skills in STEM and my interest in global development. I began a three year grant-funded research project to mathematically describe how malaria spreads between people and what prevention methods were most effective at protecting the most people. I felt like I had found the ultimate way to combine my skills to make the world a little better.

Amanda College Graduation, Reserach Cert

I ultimately decided my next step was to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in epidemiology (the study of disease patterns) at the University of Texas in Houston. While studying there, I secured an internship with the company I currently work for and was able to write my master’s thesis using data from the company’s malaria control program. After graduation, I dreamed of working for a non-profit to do some type of information analysis that had to do with infectious disease. Though I still have this hope, I have been lucky to be able to work in a similar role having an impact on a large amount of people in the private sector.


My advice to aspiring women in STEM is that you are not alone if you aren’t sure what you want to do yet. It takes time to really figure out your purpose, and that’s ok. Many people in their 40s, 50s and beyond are still searching. What I do know, however, is that pursuing a STEM degree opens so many more doors for you, because companies want and need diverse employees (women!) who are competent in a technical field, especially in today’s global economy.

Try to seek out ways that you can merge your skills with your passions – I know someone who was passionate about baseball and wanted to pursue a career in statistics, which could make for a match if you think about it. Your skills and passion may meet outside of the office, like for my husband who loves to design and build things as a mechanical engineer, but has a heart for dogs, so has found joy in helping the local dog shelter plan and eventually build a play and training area in their new facility.

Last, but not least, take every opportunity you can to travel. You will learn and grow in more ways than you could ever imagine. One of my favorite quotes is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” While in college I had the opportunity to go to London, South Africa, and Ghana, which changed nearly my whole life perspective.

Amanda SA & London Collage I have now had the travel bug my entire adult life, because these college experiences inspired me to learn about other cultures and ways of life. Since then I have traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean, Central America, and now Asia. I am currently living in Ulsan, South Korea, with my husband who was also a STEM major, which gave him the opportunity to live and work here, and we enjoy almost every moment of life abroad. We even brought our two dogs with us – check us out at www.minnieandmurray.com!

Amanda Personal Travels

Good luck in your journey!

Acupuncture Adventure!

This is from last year but I thought it was worth sharing as it was an interesting experience. I was training for a half marathon last year and my knee kept bothering me once I got beyond 5 or 6 miles – I tried a lot of different things and nothing seemed to work so since I was in Asia, I decided to do as the Asians do and try acupuncture. I had heard from others that Korea is one of the best places to get acupuncture – their doctors who practice it go through a lot of medical training and although I’m not a big needle person (read between the lines…I can’t stand needles), I thought I’d give it a go.  Ryan came with me the first time which means we have some pictures of the process…

First, they talked to me about what was bothering me and then took me to a hospital bed (in Korea, this is basically a table) where I laid down and they put a heating pad on my knee…

Heating Pad

Then came the needles (check out the reluctance in my face!)…

AcupunctureNext, she added some incense buds and stuck them to my knee and told me to push my buzzer when I felt heat because it meant the incense had all burned up and it was time for the next step…I’m not sure what was in the incense but I was certainly more relaxed by this point.

Incense Acupuncture Step Then she put these cups on my knee and they started shooting little electric pulses onto my knee…it was a weird sensation but didn’t really hurt at all.

Acupuncture 2

The next step was to put these bulbs on my knee and then she sucked out the air from them.

Acupuncture 3Finally, she gave me an injection of bee venom – this part was a bit painful. At the end, she gave me some packets of herbs, including ginseng, and told me to drink two per day. I walked away with my knee looking like this:

Acupuncture AftermathIt was certainly an interesting experience and my knee did start to feel a bit better so maybe there’s something to the acupuncture craze….you’ll have to try it out for yourself and see!

Happy Halloween!

Halloween isn’t a big deal in Korea – in some bigger cities, such as Seoul, you’ll see more Halloween stores and things but on our little island, there is none of that. This means that being an expat, you have to get creative when celebrating this fun holiday. Our friends were hosting a Halloween party, so we decided to dress up as….

Kendrick Foxes Roof Top

Yup, foxes. Our friend was really into the song, “What did the fox say?” and so we decided to dress up as the Ylvis music video. He was the main fox in front and we were his fox back up dancers…if you’re totally confused as to what I’m talking about, check out the music video.  Here is the whole fox crew…

Foxes - Rooftop Group Shot 1

Rachel did our make up (orange bronzer, white foundation, and eye liner – she’s so clever!) and I think we turned out looking pretty convincing as foxes if I do say so myself.

Foxy Ladies

At the end of the evening we did a performance and it was a big hit.

Fox Dance

And to end the night, we took a group picture with the only true furry creature there – our friends’ dog, Jody.

Group Pic with Jody

What costumes have you come up with when you don’t have a Halloween store at your fingertips?

Teaching English

The majority of foreigners our age living in Korea are here to teach English – in fact, we often get asked if we are English teachers and we have some good friends who are here for that very reason. For most of our time here in Korea, our answer has been “No.” That was until some people that Ryan works with gave us the opportunity to turn that answer into an affirmative. Several of the Korean engineers asked Ryan if we would be willing to give them English lessons a couple of times a week and we said, “Absolutely!” We were excited to help them out, but we were not sure where to start. Luckily they had a book which we use to guide our classes. It’s really fun and it’s great to watch them learn some of the intricacies of our native language that we take for granted. Some examples are using “a” or “an” in front of words – I ate an apple, I need a pencil, etc. Also how and when to use she, her, him, and his. These seem simple for us but there isn’t really anything comparable in the Korean language so they usually leave these out when they are speaking in English. They already know a lot of vocabulary, so we spend quite a bit of time talking through these things because it’s the little things that make a difference in their language skills. I really never realized how confusing our language is sometimes – there are rules but those rules aren’t always followed…it’s much harder than I expected, but we ended up really enjoying it. We had a wonderful few weeks of lessons and are continuing when we can. To thank us, they took us out to dinner – we have a great group of students!

English Class Dinner 2013

One of the toughest parts has been answering their questions as to why things are said a certain way – especially when it is something that just sounds normal to me. The hardest question I’ve had is: “If you are supposed to use was with I (example: I was happy, I was running, etc.), why does Beyonce say: ‘If I were a boy?’” My gut response: “Because it’s Beyonce and grammar doesn’t apply to her.” The actual words that came out of my mouth: “Hmmm….good question!” How would you answer that?

Skiing in Korea

We both love to ski and usually get to do it at least once a year. Luckily for us, this year was no different! One of our friends helped organize a ski trip for a bunch of us who wanted to go. The bus picked us up at 5 AM and got us to the MuJu Ski Resort. We got there and got in line for our ski gear – boots, skis, poles…they even have jackets/pants for rent so that you can look extra good! The ski outfits that a lot of the Koreans wear are particularly colorful and they all match – color coordination seems to be an important aspect to their style. We got in line and headed up on the mountain…it was much colder than anticipated: -10C aka super cold!
Skiing in Korea
The lines were really long but we got a few runs in before breaking for lunch – Korean soup…delicious! After that warmed us up, we headed back out and enjoyed a fun day of skiing!
After a great day, the bus took us home and we could all cross Skiing in Asia off our bucket list.
Group Skiing Pic Jan 2013

First Christmas Abroad

As expected, Christmas time in Asia brought some new changes to our surroundings – the grocery store started playing Christmas music (it was the same song over and over again which was funny), some of the coffee shops were decorated with snowflakes and snowmen and the churches had Christmas lights up. We weren’t prepared with our own holiday decorations, but wanted to be in the Christmas spirit so luckily, the big grocery store had just what we needed! We purchased a  5 ft tree with lights and some ornaments. It was really fun to have our own little tree! In fact, we kept it up a little longer than normal because I loved how cheerful it looked.
Our little Christmas Tree

Our little Christmas Tree

Due to some changes at work, they asked us to cancel our holiday vacation so we didn’t get to do quite as much exploring as we would have liked to. We still made sure to make the most of it and fulfilled our favorite holiday traditions which included having a delicious dinner and watching A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve and then enjoying baked french toast Christmas morning…I had to improvise with a couple of the ingredients but it still came out tasting pretty darn good!
Baked French Toast on Christmas Morning

Baked French Toast on Christmas Morning

Then, we got together with friends for dinner at one of the Italian places near by. We spent the rest of the time hanging out as a group and enjoying the holiday. It was a fun Christmas and certainly unlike any other Christmas that we have had in the past. The most exciting part of this time of year were the special visitors that were coming just a few days after Christmas and we couldn’t wait for them to get here! :)

Samsung 5K

Since coming here to Korea, Ryan and I have started running more and we’ve been really enjoying it! Our friend told us that there was a 5K sponsored by the other shipyard on Geoje island (about 20 minutes away) and so we signed up. I originally signed up for the 10K and so did Ryan, but my calf had been bugging me so I changed it to the 5K the day before the race. Since I had changed the distance, I had to run with someone elses’ bib (Rachel). We got to the race to check in and missed the memo that we were supposed to wear white long sleeve Samsung polos that had been provided (this is primarily because we don’t work in their yard).

After a little while, there was a dance performance – it was literally a dance team that was performing on the track. There was also a guy yelling out a lot of things in Korean who looked almost identical to the newly internationally famous PSY. Finally, they signalled for all of us to spread out and do some stretches before the race. Once we had all spread out, they started blaring Gangnam Style and had a choreographed routine of stretches led by a woman on stage to the song and of course it involved the horse dance…it was hilarious!

Everyone all lining up for stretches on the field

They had everyone line up for the race on the track behind the starting line and then they started giving us directions in Korean…of which we didn’t understand but we figured it out watching all the Koreans start to follow his instructions. They all lined up in single file lines and starting massaging each others’ shoulders and then he yelled and everyone turned around and started massaging that persons shoulders…totally goofy. Then they started playing some music and everyone started jumping and clapping and then they started yelling for the 10 seconds before they fired the gun for us to go.

Ryan and I with our friend Kristie – all geared up and ready to run!

The race was a neat course because it went through Samsung’s shipyard which we hadn’t seen before. I was feeling pretty good during the race (very surprising because my calf was killing me the weekend before) but I decided to sprint the last 300m to the finish line. It was funny because a few of the Korean men that were running next to me tried to keep up yelling, “Ohhhh, you so fast!” As I hit the finish line, a group of Koreans came up to me and put something around my neck…finally someone came over to explain to me that I had gotten second place for women. I couldn’t believe it and I was pretty excited!

Ryan finished his 10K like a champ and they offered us some celebratory kimchi and tofu which I declined politely. Luckily, we found a tent that had some fruit and juice instead so we munched on that.

A bunch of the Samsung employees got together and performed a dance song to…I bet you can guess which song! Check out the video…it was pretty good (the little kid in the green trying to dance like them makes the video even more fun)!

We thought that we had some time before the award ceremony, so we went for a walk. As we were walking back to the track, we heard some award sounding music but I thought the 5K would be the last award because it was the last to start. As we rounded the corner, I heard “Rachel” and I realized that I was supposed to be on stage because I had run under that name in the race. I ran up there and joined the other 7 ladies that were standing there already and they gave me an award (certificate and trophy are both in Korean) and made us turn around and wave to the “crowd.”Ryan took a picture of me at the finish line with my trophy – all in Korean – certainly an interesting souvenir for us!

Typhoon Bolaven

Over the weekend, we started hearing on the news that there was a typhoon that was heading our way. We knew that a typhoon was basically a hurricane in the eastern half of the world but it was our first one none the less so we were secretly a little excited about it. Just to be safe, we went and got some extra food from the grocery store and monitored the storm online….these are the kinds of pictures we were seeing…it looked giant! Satellite Picture of Typhoon Bolaven

On Monday afternoon, they told us that the offices would be closed on Tuesday because of the storm = Typhoon Tuesday!! We woke up the next day to a lot of howling wind and some rain but it was fairly anti-climactic – we kept expecting the power to go out, but luckily we were completely safe and sound from the storm. The storm was so anti-climactic in fact that they opened the offices after lunch and we headed back in to work. At least now we can check: “Experience a Typhoon” off our list of life experiences without too much trouble. :)

First Tastes of Korea

When we first got to our apartment, one of our good friends had left us a fruit platter and I was surprised to find that tomatoes were included in there…they definitely took the definition of “fruit” literally! They also left us a pound of strawberries, too, and they were the most delicious strawberries I have ever had! So far, I’ve found their fresh fruit and vegetables really great! I’ve learned that they do not import any fruit and vegetables, so they grow everything seasonally here or in greenhouses which makes them much more expensive. We’ve found that our grocery bill has increased significantly! We’ve had fun trying some of the new things that we find in the grocery store, though.We’ve been trying a lot of the restaurants in town as well. One of the places that we tried recently is called “Michael Jackson’s” – at this restaurant, they give you a pile of uncooked ribs and you cook them yourself on the grill at your table. To facilitate the quick satisfaction of hot ribs, they give you a white glove to wear so that you can pick them up hot off the grill…Michael Jackson’s is not the actual restaurant name, but it was nicknamed this by the expats because of the single white glove. So…funnily enough, they added pictures of Michael Jackson to the front of their restaurant so that the expats knew where to go. The ribs were great! :)

Ryan and I with our “Michael Jackson’s” grill gloves!

Ribs on the grill! They’re spicy but the secret is to eat the coleslaw that comes with it and plenty of beer! :)

We took a trip to one of the big stores in the next town over called Home Plus. They have several stories of shopping – groceries, clothes, shoes, electronics, etc. They also have a big food court! This is one of the menus for one of the restaurants…they have a model of each of the dishes and then you let the cashier know which one you want and then wait until your number shows up on the screen in front of the food court stand to get your food.

We decided to go with the pizza option instead of the choices in the picture…we wanted to see if Korea can make a good pizza or not and surprisingly, it was pretty good! It had corn on there and the sauce was a little sweeter which was unexpected but it definitely hit the spot that day!

One of the funniest finds was…Dunkin Donuts?! We couldn’t find one the 4 years that we lived in Houston but yet we find one in our first few days in Korea?! Haha…too funny. It was a great reminder of New England! Ryan was pumped as you can see in the picture! :)

Afterwards, we did our grocery shopping and got a lot of the things that we needed. I tried to check the receipt to see how much some of the items cost, but quickly realized I would not be able to for a little while…at least until I learn the language!

For our anniversary, we decided to go out to dinner (celebrating 2 years of marital bliss!) and be adventurous. So, we headed into town and picked a restaurant as we were walking by – the woman did not speak any English and they did not have a menu with pictures, but we decided to try it anyway. We discovered that she did know one word: “pork” – so guess what we had? Yes, we had pork and then pointed to a couple of other items on the menu which turned out to be noodle soup and then plenty of side dishes. It was a lot of fun!

I’ll be sure and post plenty more pictures of the fun foods that we have been trying! We’ve also checked out the open air market – I’ll bring my camera next time and blog about it because it’s a completely new experience and very interesting!

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