PALs 2022 - 2023 Q&A with Ricardo Del Rio, SEAS '23

November 21, 2022
By Lindsay Park, SEAS '25

Ricardo Del Rio, a senior studying electrical engineering & robotics, studied abroad for a semester at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. During the 2022-2023 academic year, Ricardo is serving as a Penn Abroad Leader, Penn Abroad’s student advisory board focused on special projects and supporting fellow students interested in global experiences. Fellow leader Lindsay Park sat down with Ricardo to discuss how he decided to spend a semester abroad in Switzerland, some of his most memorable experiences, and things that gave him a different perspective on life.

What global experiences did you participate in, and why did you choose them?

I spent a semester abroad in Zurich, Switzerland during my junior spring. I had two options but ultimately chose Zurich because I knew about ETH* through a TED Talk featuring acrobatic drones. I am also doing a Penn Global Seminar (PGS) in Latin America covering sustainability this semester.

What was a highlight from your experience abroad?

Student standing in front of snowy mountains (the Swiss Alps)I organized a team of 14 students for a 114-kilometer relay race around Zurich. I reached out to a broad audience spanning friends from classes, total strangers, and friends of friends–by total strangers I mean I cold-called/messaged people for this event, which is something I’d never done before. We were all stationed at a different segment of the route, and it took us 9 hours to complete the race. It was rewarding and gratifying seeing the event come together in the end!

How do you think your abroad experience may impact your career at Penn and your goals for the future?

At ETH, I took courses on computer architecture and hardware accelerators for machine learning. I found these topics new and interesting as I was aware of them but didn’t have a class about them prior to this experience, which has shifted my academic career at Penn. Later down the line, I would love to work in Europe, Switzerland in particular. During my semester abroad, I interacted with some fascinating tech companies that are not present in the United States.

Is there anything you wish you knew before going abroad?

I wish I was aware of the varying timelines in the United States and Switzerland for exams (more about this below). They didn’t quite match up and it took extra coordinating on my end to make sure everything was in check. I was also surprised by how early things closed and how efficient everything was. I lived 5 minutes away from the train station, which expends throughout Switzerland.

What advice would you have for your fellow students planning to go on your program(s).

I would advise you to do extensive coursework planning to make sure you can get the Penn equivalent abroad. Also, classes run from February to June, which is later than in the United States. Even though it was online, I still had an exam in August while I was back in the US. The internship took intensive planning because of the slight mismatch in the countries’ timelines. If you are interested in this particular program, be aware of the scheduling and planning that goes into it!

Reflect on how you have developed as a global citizen at Penn in ways that extend beyond physical travel. How are global experiences important as part of a Penn education?

You learn about how other people live and how different things are important to different people. For example, sustainability in Europe is more heavily prioritized than in the United States. I’ve also noticed differences in workplace environments between Europe and America. There is a rather stressful culture in the US where things are heavily professional and career oriented. In Europe, things were more relaxed as people made more time for leisure despite their workload. In the classroom, I focused less on my course evaluation and more on following my interests. I’ve enjoyed this different learning experience and came back to Penn with a different perspective in terms of work-life balance and refined academic interests. It was refreshing stepping beyond my comfort zone and seeing my point of view evolve.

*Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) – or “ETH”

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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.