NAME: Breanna Dulay
MAJOR: Art/Digital Media Art
PROGRAM: Germany – SJSU Exchange – Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd (Schwäbisch Gmünd School of Design)
My name is Breanna Dulay, I’m currently a senior Digital Media art student and I had my study abroad experience during Fall of 2022. I completed my exchange program at Hochschule für Gestaltung(HfG) Schwäbisch Gmünd in Baden-Württemberg, Germany for one semester. I took courses specializing in interaction design, but also got a chance to take courses from other sectors of design, from product to communication.
The first time I considered studying abroad, my interest was piqued by one of the many study abroad program booths at the welcome week for first year students. The students at the booth shared their experiences, how it enabled them to grow, what they learned, and about all the opportunities that their exchange program offered. This was already enough to reel me in, but as I continued my self research coming into my later years at SJSU, I developed more specified and concentrated reasons for wanting to study abroad. Although I enjoyed the courses I took at SJSU, the theoretical nature of my courses left me feeling stagnant and wanting to seek more practical, real world experience, a characteristic I found in the courses at HfG.
For me, the study abroad experience was a challenge of personal growth in which I could put myself in new situations and an new environment that would enable me to learn. Another opportunity that an exchange program offered would be the chance to meet and get to know people with vastly different experiences from across the world and learn from them, share and compare our world views, and network with them.
Ultimately I applied three times for this program, and got in all three times, however unfortunately the first time was canceled due to covid when I applied in 2020. The second time I had to cancel due to personal reasons, but fortunately the third time, my circumstances had aligned and I was able to go through my exchange semester last Fall and I am forever grateful that my persistence paid off so that I was able to go on this journey.
Reflect on how your study abroad experience and the skills, knowledge, or networking has enhanced or contributed to your life back on campus or home.
My semester abroad enabled the develpoment of both technical skills and soft skills, though I found it especially helped me sharpen my soft skills. For instance, I was able to substantially develop my skills in interpersonal communication due to the nature of my courses. The structure of these courses involved group work for the entire semester. This definitely helped with developing necessary communication skills as I was collaborating with different groups for each class multiple times a week. Just a few skills I learned included how to negotiate effectively, present ideas concisely, resolve conflict, and adapt accordingly. Fortunately, my program allowed many opportunities to build connections which enabled me to connect with many different people from across the world and I found this especially within the international group of exchange students that formed at the start of the semester. This also helped with developing my intercultural communication skills as there were challenges such as language barriers and cultural differences/norms in which the solutions were different for each person. Through discussion and by working with each other, we learned the nuances of each other’s cultures and built our understanding of each other which was also beneficial to how we communicated thereafter in our respective project groups.
Another soft skill I sharpened, was the ability to network effectively and with confidence, and I learned this largely by example. One groupmate of mine had a very effective way to network, to which she had gained three different internship offers just through conversation. I was in awe of this, especially when she told me that she had little relevant experience for any of these internships. When I asked about how she was able to do so, I was able to compare our manner of networking and note down what I should apply. The most important piece of advice she shared was to utilize the ability to reframe your experiences in a way that highlights one’s potential as a promising employee. Though effective networking is something I am constantly learning how to improve, I was able to utilize this specific advice to improve my networking skills, which ultimately did help me to get a referral towards the end of my program.
Alongside my soft skills, I was able to substantially develop my technical skills with the courses I took. HfG is a school that prioritizes practice over theory and prior to my semester abroad, my courses at SJSU had been mostly theoretical. Although it took me time to adjust to the different learning and teaching style, I developed and learned so much about current necessary skills/trends relevant to my academic and professional path. I was new to many of the programs and methods used in the courses, and there were more than a couple times where I had to learn a program and method on the go and apply it immediately to a project. Despite the stress of doing so, it ultimately boosted my ability to design and prototype projects effectively, to the point where I felt I had learned more about industry standards and techniques during this one semester than I had before.
Reflect on the personal, academic, and professional goals that you had set out to achieve on your study abroad experience?
As cookie cutter as it sounds, a big personal reason I wanted to study abroad was to be able to work on my self development. I knew that in an unfamiliar environment by myself, I would not just learn about the culture, but I would also get to learn about myself without the outside influences I experience in my daily life. I could test myself in situations I had never been in before, such as living alone, learning where to look for help in a new environment, or how to find solutions for issues I have never had.
The major driver behind my reason for studying abroad, was the chance to take courses that were more specialized in a specific subset of design and courses that were taught in a way that would be close to gaining real world experience in an academic setting. When I was still researching universities to study abroad at, HfG was always at the top of my list due to the nature of the courses offered that aligned with my academic desire to experience more practical and design focused courses. My experience in these courses ultimately helped me hone my concentration for future plans of my academic and professional journey.
As for professional goals, I set my goals prior to focus on networking, learning from a mentor, and to try for an internship or chance at a referral. Specifically, I wanted to learn how to reframe my view as an applicant and how to improve my portfolio for specific careers. Though I ended up not going through with my goal for an internship, I was able to get a referral from one of my mentors which has helped my professional goals.
What I felt had the biggest impact on me was the opportunity to connect with many different people across the world. During my time abroad, I was able to have discussions with many different people which exposed me to a wide variety of opinions, backgrounds, and cultures. This gave me the chance to learn and reflect on opinions and ideas I had never really spent the time myself to consider or even challenge before. I feel very fortunate to have met the people I did as every conversation we had or time we spent together gave me the chance to learn a little bit more and challenge my world views.
Share what courses you chose to take abroad and the strategies you used to ensure your academic success. How has the experience impacted your academics now that you have returned to SJSU?
I am a Digital Media Art student at SJSU, but at the Hfg I took courses that specialized mostly in interaction design. list courses briefly and explain here. Mention strategies for academic excess, but note that it varies among colleges/countries. I will admit that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to return after my exchange semester due to a couple factors. One being the difference in semester end/semester start dates(sjsu started before the end of hfg’s semester), living situation(some complexes will only allow fixed cancellation dates), and work schedules. Ultimately I do not regret staying longer as it is also something I anticipated and was ready for in the event that I had to postpone my original graduation date.
Again I feel very forunate that my program offered a welcome week and formed an international student group because this allowed all exchange students to form a little community that became very close knit over the semester. There were a lot of discussions that took place that deepened my perspectives on the world because I and everyone else was eager to share their experiences and opinions with each other. Overall, there was a very welcoming and mutual want to understand and learn about the other. It helped me push past “first meeting anxiety” which helped me become more open to other people, especially if they are new because I’d like to extend that kindness onto others. As a commuter to SJSU who is also working and attending full time, I don’t get to participate that in community activities outside of my personal life or my workplace, so being in a community of people who are similar in terms of being in the same program/field, yet varied, was definetely a welcome experience.
Studying abroad has been an experience that has helped me grow immensely, personally, professionally, and academically. Being put into new situations and experiences in a foreign country has helped me mature, sharpen my skills, and learn in and out of the classroom. Besides sharpening my soft and technical skills, my experience abroad has prepared me by steering me in a direction in which I can focus on and has helped my personal path become clearer than before. One of the most important parts of my experience was getting the opportunity to participate in specialized and practical courses. My experience in these courses has developed my interest in the specific sector of interaction design and specific careers in that field, which has helped shaped important decision for my future, career wise and academic wise, as I search for internships and look into secondary programs after I graduate from SJSU.
To a future study abroad student, I can advise the following, starting with the importance of a backup plan. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a step by step back up plan, but it is likely that not everything will go 100% according to plan, and having a backup plan can still establish some control over your plans. I feel it is also important to keep in mind that even if things don’t go according to plan, it is also fine to understand and accept it as a learning experience.
A general piece of advice regarding travel is that if you want to go travel something or do a specific activity, to just do it as soon as you can. Time passes by very fast and it can be common to postpone it and plan a trip/activity for another time. I’ve done this myself and by the end of my program experience, I realized there is a high chance that you will not actually go do it later on, in my case due to a lack of time and proper scheduling.
The last piece of advice I would give which I would argue is also the most important, is to read everything very carefully and even if you feel it is annoying to do so, it is better safe than sorry to check more than once. This especially applies to things such as rental agreements, because your landlord might say one thing while the website or contract says another, and if you don’t adhere to those rules, complications can definitely arise.