When in Rome, do as the RPI students

My bet is that maybe 10 students on campus know about RPI’s International Scholars Program, which is now in its third year of existence. Though the program is nearly unheard of on campus, I was lucky enough to find out about it right before graduating (without any real plans following May 29). So, what better way to follow up an RPI undergraduate education than with a graduate one?

Now what, you ask, is ISP? Well, it is a 10-week summer semester run through Rensselaer at Hartford. During the program, students and RPI professors travel abroad and experience the course materials firsthand, in addition to having lectures and discussions in the typical classroom setting. Students have a choice of two tracks to study while abroad: Global Management or Energy Systems. The Management track focuses on building business relationships in the context of globalization and international markets; delivering goods and services in cross border business relationships; and macroeconomics in dealing with international exchange rates, monetary and fiscal policy, and trade. Meanwhile, the Energy Systems track focuses on the latest renewable energy technologies, developing sustainable business practices, and discovering what kind of energy policies and regulation exists in various countries. (Those who would like more information on the ISP program may visit its website.)

And something I kind of glossed over before: students are taking these classes while spending four weeks in Rome, followed by another four weeks in Shanghai. Now, don’t get any ideas that this is just a sight-seeing trip; we are kept busy from 9 am–4:30 pm with classes Monday through Thursday and have plenty of homework. In addition, Energy Systems students have weekly visits to industry sites, such as the Alessandro Volta power plant, Sunray Photovoltaic facility, or Gamesa Wind Farm, while Global Management students visit facilities abroad such as Kodak, Best Buy, IBM, and the Banca d’Italia.

In the energy track, I find the classes extremely interesting since they focus on current and continuously developing technologies, concepts, and policies. The takeaways from class are ideas we can actually use in the real world instead of just an abstract concept, providing a perfect follow-up to a very theoretical undergraduate education. Many of our professors come from industry and thus provide valuable insight into the fields we hope to enter.

In addition, all students are assigned to a team project, and each works with a different company: the management students are split between IBM, Kodak, and Best Buy, while the energy students work with the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration for Clean Energy (or JUCCCE). Though each team has a different assignment within each project, all the companies provide students the opportunity to contribute to a worthwhile project and essentially garner internship experience.

Overall, I think the study abroad experience in Italy is great so far—albeit a little tiring at times. Walking to class each day past the Piazza Navona and knowing that the Vatican City or Colosseum is only a 10 minute walk from class is a somewhat incomprehensible experience the first couple weeks that you’re here. Being able to absorb a new culture and language at the same time as seeing firsthand some of the renewable energy technologies that Italy has implemented is the experience of a lifetime.

Unlike typical study abroad, the education isn’t much of a culture shock since the professors are from RPI and it’s not a class at an international school; however, the trick lies in managing your time between being in a new place and wanting to explore and still making sure to get the massive amounts of homework done.

Now, I don’t mean to scare everyone when I say we spend most of our time working—we do occasionally escape the confines of the classroom and homework. In the first weekend in Rome, many of us saw the typical tourist sites that are on everyone’s list, such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Vatican City. The second weekend was spent in the North of Italy; after a set of lectures in Milan, we were free to travel, if we so chose to. Though much of the group took the train to Florence, a trio of us decided to visit Lake Como; it’s so close to the Swiss border, you can see the Alps on a clear day. The trip was a lot of fun, though I didn’t get to stake out George Clooney’s villa as I had hoped.

Another culturally enriching experience was watching the World Cup. The game was played in many restaurants and pubs across the city, and people even gather around outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the score. Being surrounded by people from all over the world that are brought together by the game gives you a firsthand view on the way soccer (or “futbol” over here) has some crazy fans abroad; I’ve never seen such a show of national pride! It was sad, however, to see the Italian population so devastated at their loss to Slovakia.

But now that our time is dwindling in Italy and we’re getting used to our patterns (mine involves a café with delicious cappuccinos and lots of spinach and mozzarella paninis), we are all keeping in the back of our minds that China’s bound to be a world away from what our experiences are now. But I say, “Bring it on!”