GRIP, Research Abroad Important Lessons

January 13, 2020
By Selene Li, CAS '22

Campbell Lab at University of Tokyo - Japan

Penn Abroad Leader Selene Li, reflects on her experience and offers key lessons and advice for making the most of your time abroad.

Make the most of each day

When I compare my eight weeks in Tokyo with my two semesters at Penn, I realize how much better I now know Tokyo compared to Philadelphia. Despite not speaking the language and only staying there for a limited amount of time, I can probably tell you how to get from UTokyo’s Hongo Campus to the Pokemon Center in Ikebukuro, with directions through an underground shortcut that I discovered, and the path that contains the best cheese tarts you will ever taste. In contrast, I still can’t figure out how to SEPTA from Penn’s campus to Center City without some serious Google Mapping and several frantic messages to my friends. Looking back, I realize how much I pushed myself to really explore and take advantage of my summer. I knew in the back of my mind that the GRIP internship was the one time in my life that I would get such a unique and exciting experience, and I did not want to waste any of it sitting around in my room and watching YouTube. Now that I am back at Penn, I want to bring some of that adventurousness back into my life and really get to explore Philly more.

Walking is a great way to explore and an even better way to bond with friends

During my freshman year at Penn, I’ve had quite a few lazy moments. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I can think of at least two instances where my friends and I called an Uber from Hill to 39th street. Granted, it was absolutely freezing those two times, but looking at it now, six blocks is laughable. Hearing this, it may come as quite a surprise to learn that in Tokyo, my friends and I decided to walk 6 miles one day to sightsee in between running a 4 hour PCR in the lab. While we could have easily taken the subway, we decided that we could see more of the city if we just walked the 3 miles both there and back. Along the way, we took pictures, enjoyed the scenery, made dinner plans, and talked about our hopes and plans for the future. That “quick” stroll remains one of the most memorable days of my summer. I am also proud to say that walking is now my preferred mode of transportation.

When in doubt, just smile

Over the summer, I had the interesting experience of living in a country where I could not speak, read, or write the language. Needless to say, communication got difficult at times. While Google Translate helped me get through most of my summer, there were times when even that could not save me. As a result, I turned to the most basic and universal of actions: smiling. With a smile, people know you don’t mean any harm and are trying to seem approachable. While neither party understood each other, at least the Japanese people around me knew I was just a confused foreigner who needed help. As a result, they would try their best to aid me. Being friendly and amicable towards people who I didn’t even know was really important in getting me through the summer. It also made me realize I probably looked really cold and serious all of freshman year.


The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce. Placements and funding awards are available.