GRIP, Penn Global Seminars

Q&A with Simran Chand, CAS '21

June 10, 2020
By Shreya Naraparaju, Penn Abroad Leader, CAS ‘22

Simran Chanda rising senior studying Biology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies on a pre-medical track, has been abroad twice during her time at Penn: first, to Spain through a Penn Global Seminar (PGS), and immediately after, to Sydney, Australia as part of the Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP). We sat down with her to learn more about her many fascinating experiences, including seeing parts of her textbook come to life in Spain, interning in a field unrelated to her studies at a medical marijuana company in Sydney, overcoming homesickness while abroad, and even meeting a famous celebrity while having dinner in Seville! 

What incentivized you to go abroad in your freshman year to Spain?
The reason I chose to do a PGS was because I thought it would be really cool to be able to take a course where I could learn something at Penn for a semester, and could then travel and actually see the things we were reading about in our textbooks. The class I took was a history course on the different religions in Medieval Spain. One thing we heavily focused on was architecture, and how it changed as each religion occupied the space and conflicted with each other. So when we went to Córdoba we could actually see the Great Mosque, and when we went to Seville, we could see the different buildings that we learned about in class and the clashing of the different religions through the architecture. It was an amazing experience to be able to connect that real-life image with the theoretical knowledge that you learn in the classroom.

What then motivated you to go abroad the second time to Sydney?
Actually, both of my trips were back to back. I went to Spain for two weeks, flew home for two days, and then immediately went to Australia for two and a half months. It was amazing! My reason for going to Sydney was because I came into Penn knowing that I was pre-med, and that from sophomore year on, I would be preoccupied with meeting med school requirements. I knew that the summer after my freshman year was the only summer that I could do what I wanted to do and try something different and that it would be difficult for me to go abroad at Penn being pre-med and a double major. So I decided to go abroad during freshman summer, and I applied for GRIP and got it. It was one of the best summers of my life.

Could you talk more about what you did during your internship in Sydney?
Yeah! I worked for a medical marijuana company in Sydney - Oz Medicann Group - doing marketing for them. It was really cool because I got to do something tangentially related to health care, so I was reading scientific journals and research articles about medical marijuana, but then my actual job was all social media marketing, which involved social media campaigns and doing things like photoshoots all around Sydney. It was really cool to be able to do something completely unrelated to my field. To be completely honest, what I found most valuable from GRIP was not my internship, but being in Sydney and getting the chance to live and work abroad, and learning about what Australian business culture is like. Sydney was a part of the world I had never seen, and after three months, I felt like I could call it home.

What were your favorite memories while abroad?
I have two really great ones from Spain! One was when my entire class went to this flamenco show, where we got this giant table and a full three-course meal. I remember our professor laughing with us, enjoying the performance, and pointing out the outfits and the different dance styles that we literally read about a month prior while sitting in our classroom in Van Pelt Library. Just sitting there and being in awe at the food, the dance, the culture that was surrounding me - it was one of those “aha moments” that you'll never forget in your entire life.

The other memory was when my professor took us out for dinner in Seville one night. We're all sitting at this big table, eating paella and gnocchi, and someone is like - “Hey, is that Rupert Grint?” We thought they were kidding, but after doing a few fake trips to the bathroom, we figured out it was actually Ron Weasley from Harry Potter, and we started freaking out. So our professor decided to send him over a bottle of wine and say that this is from a group of students at the University of Pennsylvania and that we love your work. And five minutes later, our waiter comes back, and is like, Mr. Grint would like to offer you all drinks as well. So, here I was, in Seville, at a little restaurant with my class, and Rupert Grint was buying me and all my friends drinks. It was really crazy.

That sounds like a surreal experience! Do you have any memories that stick out from your summer in Australia?
I did so many things! I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, I sat outside the Sydney Opera House and ate pastries, I went to Melbourne and had every coffee possible. Literally every moment there was like a dream.

One crazy memory was when I went to Queenstown, New Zealand, and rented a car and drove three hours to Glenorchy, which is where the Lord of the Rings was filmed. At one point I drove over this really muddy area and got stuck in a ditch - we literally could not move. Thankfully, another car was driving by and they stopped and helped us push our car out of the ditch. But 20 minutes later, when we’re 20 minutes away from Glenorchy, a herd of sheep comes in front of us and refuses to move - it was both comical and terrifying. We were sitting there, waiting for them to move for two hours. I somehow made it back in one piece and the next day we went paragliding and I jumped off the top of a mountain. There were so many crazy stories during that trip.

How was being abroad different from being at Penn?
They’re two completely different and separate entities in my mind. At Penn, it feels like you’re doing a full-time gig - you're here to study, you do your homework, you have your social obligations, you have your extracurricular obligations and you just do it all. And you have a routine, whereas, in Sydney, there was no structure - I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted outside of my nine to five job. I worked nine to five every day during the week, but I could take days off here and there and take trips. I went to random places on the weekends, and every evening was my own - whether I decided to walk around Chinatown, or hang out at the Opera House or go to a comedy show or book a spontaneous trip to Melbourne, or go to a surf camp and learn how to surf. It was literally anything and everything that I wanted, and it was exactly what I made of it. So, I think it's just an entirely unique experience, and even different from a semester abroad because you still have classes and you still have homework and things you have to do. Here it was like, outside of my workday, my time was completely my own, and it was in a different country on a different continent. It was amazing!

What was the most difficult thing you had to overcome during your abroad experiences?
Strangely enough, I got homesick - I didn't think it was going to happen to me because I've never been homesick before, even at Penn. But for some reason when I was in Australia, I really missed home and I missed Penn. And I think the reason for that is because at Penn, you still have your friends, you have your social networks, you have a familiar face when you walk down Locust. In Sydney, I was in this gigantic metropolitan city on a completely different continent, and when I walked down the streets, I knew nobody. It happened mainly towards the end of my trip. I think part of that is because I did back-to-back trips in Spain and Australia. But it was such an interesting obstacle because I didn't expect it. But I think that happens to a lot of people, and everyone has their own ways of dealing with it. For me, I just kept myself busy and tried my best to make friends in Australia, whether it was people who I was abroad with, my fellow interns, other abroad students, my colleagues, etc. Also, I was trying to focus on the fact that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I shouldn’t spend my time being sad.

What advice would you give to another student looking to go abroad where you went?
I would say make the most of every moment you have abroad because you only get to do it a few times in your life. And I think it’s really easy to get tired or distracted or homesick as I did - but just tell yourself that this might be the only time that I get to spend two and a half months living in Australia, let me make the most of every moment I have. I rarely ever sat in my room and watched Netflix because outside of my apartment, there was a whole sprawling city that was waiting to be explored. Why would I not make the most of that and take advantage of it?

So, where do you want to go next?
So, unfortunately, I don't think I can fit any more abroad experiences into my time at Penn unless I get accepted to another PGS program if it fits my schedule - we’ll see. But my next bucket list places to travel are Greece and Peru. I really want to do Machu Picchu and explore all the islands in Greece. One thing that I think I might undertake is in a gap year between undergrad and med school. I would really love to volunteer or work abroad for a year, and I am also considering applying to med schools in Sydney because I loved Sydney so much and I want to go back. So, it’s very up in the air, but we'll see what the future has in store.

Rapid-Fire Questions

Now it’s time for some rapid-fire questions! What was your favorite food that you tried while abroad?
I had so many soup dumplings - definitely dumplings.

What’s your favorite local slang?
For Australia, “keen” - like “I’m keen on this.” Also “good on you” and “how you going?” - “how you going” was a big one for me. I also say “reckon” and “loose as” a lot.

Do you have a favorite souvenir from your trips?
For Australia, I lived there for three months - you don't really need a souvenir if you lived there, because it's part of who you are. I would never need a souvenir for Philly because I live here. It's not like it’s a vacation that I need something to remember it by - I'm always going to remember it.

Finally, what are three words that you would use to describe your abroad experience?
Probably adventurous, illuminating, and thrilling.

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Simran (left) with fellow students in Spain