Willa Brenneis SEAS'22

Students walking on beach

Stepping Out of my Comfort Zone

Willa Brenneis SEAS'21

"My primary motivation for embarking on a semester abroad was to experience something different, which is the same motivation that pushed me to attend college out of state."

My primary motivation for embarking on a semester abroad was to experience something different, which is the same motivation that pushed me to attend college out of state. I love the adventure and excitement that surrounds a new environment and culture, and I was eager to take full advantage of my time at Columbia by spending a semester in a new place. I was able to find a very fitting program at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where I was able to continue my engineering curriculum while experiencing something very different.

Upon arriving in Hong Kong, I was welcomed into a group of fellow international students and made instant friendships, which ended up being the most rewarding part of my experience. I made friends with students from across the globe, with whom I am still in touch. I learned about their experiences and home countries, and even had the privilege of serving a group of Scandanavians their first peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Because I was in a completely new environment, I found it much easier to get involved in student groups such as the swim team and a school-wide hackathon. My weekly routine was highlighted by energetic team dinners and exploring hidden gems of Hong Kong with my local teammates who knew the city better than any tour guide.

At HKUST, I pushed myself and enrolled in a Cantonese language course. I will never forget the astonishment of the fruit and dim sum vendors in street markets when I ordered my lychee and dumplings in Cantonese.

By taking advantage of every opportunity, I got what I was after during my semester abroad. Though the differences were sometimes challenging, they were overwhelmingly rewarding.