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Foreign excursions combine intense cultural experience with academics

Five men and three women jumping off a stone fence with mountains in the background.

Students on the Summer 2012 study abroad trip to South Africa take a group photo near the mountains in Eastern South Africa.

Engineering majors’ rigorous course schedules may seem to make studying abroad out of reach. But with a plethora of short-term options through the College of Engineering’s study abroad office, that’s no longer the case.

Since trips began in summer 2010, about 150 engineering students have studied abroad in Thailand, South Africa, Kiev and Ireland – among others. Kaylie Vogt, a junior in electrical engineering, is one of the 13 students who went to Ireland last summer for a course in circuit theory.

“I definitely feel like it was the class I got the most out of in engineering,” Vogt said. “I would definitely suggest it to other people.”

The course, held at University College Dublin, fulfills a core requirement for electrical engineering majors but can be used to fill an engineering elective requirement for other engineering undergraduates. It is taught by Bob O’Connell, an MU professor of electrical and computer engineering who has dual citizenship in Ireland and the United States.

“You could tell he loved Ireland. He was in his element teaching there,” Vogt said.

The first time Vogt met O’Connell was at the airport. “We just went straight to a pub. We only got breakfast, but still,” Vogt said. “It was a lot more of a personal experience.”

The classes for the month-long experience are held four days a week, allowing time for students to take trips elsewhere in Ireland. Vogt and the other students visited Belfast, toured a castle, saw a hurling match and explored the city of Dublin.

“It’s good for interested students to know you can be a tourist on the weekends, you don’t have to stay at the university,” Vogt said. Vogt took advantage of having to pay for her plane ticket for the trip, to spend a month before the course traveling in Europe. “You’re already there. Why not pay a little more to go see awesome cities around Europe?”

The Dublin Circuit Theory study abroad program is being offered this summer and in 2014. Other study abroad trips planned for the spring and summer include a trip to Germany, a research program at Shanghai University and a new program focused on transportation to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

The Austria trip is led by Charles Nemmers, director of the Transportation Infrastructure Center in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“We’ll get to experience transportation in a wide variety of forms in that part of the world, and at the same time eat delicious food and experience magnificent culture,” Nemmers said. “We have great stuff here in the U.S. but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn great things in Europe.”

The two-week trip will start with a visit to the Vienna University of Technology, where Mizzou students will get to spend time studying with Austrian students at the country’s largest technical university.

Participants will have the chance to learn about the Austrian autobahn system directly from ASFiNAG, the company that manages the country’s highway system. The Austrian system has automatic speed enforcement and innovative traffic flow management.

“We’re looking at a country that has a really different system,” Nemmers said.  He added that he hopes learning about such different systems than those they know about will encourage students on the trip to use “breakout thinking” and look for innovative solutions to problems.

A visit to the construction site of a tunnel under the Alps is also scheduled. Students will also learn about the city transit system in Vienna, a hydroelectric power company on the Danube and the European train systems.

In addition to learning about transportation systems in Austria, students also will go to Budapest to learn about water commerce, and to Prague to experience a different culture and learn more about transportation.

A large part of the trip is cultural, with visits to well-known sites. A visit to the Spanish Riding School where Lipizzan stallions are trained, Melk Abbey, Salzburg, Schönbrunn Palace — which Nemmers describes as “Vienna’s answer to Versailles” —  and that’s just in Austria.

“They’ll visit a beautiful area, see all types of transportation systems, experience a culture that ranges from the fall of the Iron Curtain to the Sound of Music and see innovative engineering techniques while having just have a wonderful time,” Nemmers said.

Upcoming study abroad trips that students can apply for include Nemmers’ trip and the South Africa trip. A trip to Germany was recently completed over spring break. For more information about study abroad opportunities, contact Director of Study Abroad, International and Diversity Outreach JR Swanegan: (573) 884-8508 or SwaneganA@missouri.edu.