Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents It's not about what’s left behind, but what remains…

June 14, 2022
By Ricardo Del Rio, SEAS '23

ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Ricardo is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing his experience abroad during the Spring 2022 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed. 

Most of the experiences I have heard from people going abroad is that they returned being a completely different person. They would tell me that the experience had completely shifted the way they behaved and how they saw the world. Now, thinking back on my time in Switzerland, I can say, proudly, that I didn’t change (that much).

I don’t mean this as a bad thing, of course, but rather, a realization that what remains is what ends up defining who we are, and my time in Zurich helped me to think and reflect on it.

When the pandemic started, many of the things I believed were set in stone were challenged and I just learned to adapt to change, to embrace it, and, in a certain way, to get used to it. I think that by now, I am very accustomed to change. In the past 3 years, my educational experience could not have been more diverse: I took online classes from Mexico and online and in-person classes in Philly and Zurich.Two train cars at their connection point.

That is why it was relatively easy to adapt to a new place because I had dealt with it a couple of times in the past. I won’t pretend that I didn’t have to adjust, as you must every time you get to a new place - I felt like a freshman again asking everyone where my classrooms were or what the best dining halls were – but I quickly adapted.

Over the course of my time in Zurich, I asked many questions about why things are how they are, from very simple things like why do we measure liquids in milliliters in Latin America when in Europe they use centiliters (spoiler alert, there’s no good reason for any of them) to why is it that people agree and cooperate to recycle everything in Switzerland while we still struggle to even get some people to do it in America. I also questioned myself in more profound ways, since being in a new environment prompts you to do so. 

And it is here that I reached this magnificent realization. Studying abroad didn’t change me, but rather helped me to understand and build more of who I am, what I value, what I want, and what it is of me that remains, no matter what, no matter when, and no matter where.

In a sense, I see change now as the norm, so change remains, and it is with me. Being able to experience a whole new life gave me the opportunity to spot the important parts of this. So, besides a possible chocolate addiction, I might have gotten, I can say that I remained, and this… this is what change is all about.

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.