Incoming Exchange

Q&A with Suhaib Abdurahman

January 29, 2020
By Lisa Chang, Penn Abroad Graduate Assistant

Suhaib Abdurahman is an exchange student coming to Penn from Free University of Berlin in Berlin, Germany. Suhaib is studying at The College of Arts and Sciences for the 2019-2020 academic year. We sat down with Suhaib to learn more about him and his exchange experience so far. 

Why did you decide to come to Penn?

I am currently studying Psychology and am particularly interested in social psychology, as well as its intersection with marketing and business. There are more teams in the U.S. doing research in this particular field, so I thought it would be a good idea look into Ph.D. programs here by first doing an exchange at Penn. There are two Penn professors doing research in exactly what I want to do, and I’m currently conducting research based in computational modeling on human decision-making for Professor Bhatia in the Psychology department.

Suhaib in front of Love statue

It seems like you have a lot of different academic interests. What kinds of classes have you taken so far at Penn and which one has been your favorite?

I’m in the College of Arts and Sciences so I’ve taken a few psychology classes but I’ve also taken a Wharton class and some engineering classes, including two or three computer science classes. I basically looked through the course catalog for every single department for interesting classes. However, I would say it’s important to plan well for your classes and always have back-up options, especially if you’re not sure which classes are harder to get into. A lot of classes I initially wanted to take required a permit, which wasn’t always given to me, so last semester, I wasn’t even enrolled in any classes on the day of the add/drop deadline. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end.

My favorite course has been an integrative product design class. It was a mix of engineering and art design, connecting objects with experiences. Assignments included designing an electronic pet, mini-games, a tower viewer, the list goes on. It was really cool getting to see all the creative designs other students made. One of the professors would even stay up with us until 3 am in the studio.

Suhaib at Harvard

What are you involved in outside of academics?

I’m in a few clubs, including Black Student League, National Society of Black Engineers, and Penn Undergrad Psychology Students. I’ve attended events about interviewing, American work culture, and various seminars and lectures.

One thing I’ve noticed from participating in these conversations is that many discussions about social justice or inequality are often based on race, which is not exactly the same in Germany. There are much fewer minority groups, and people of African descent make up only around one percent of the population. So, when talking about social issues in Germany, we frame our conversations more around socioeconomic issues and migration backgrounds rather than race specifically and I feel that I’m not affected by my race to the same extent as in the U.S. I have also never seen an Asian student union or Black student union in Berlin, whereas here in the U.S., it is obvious that racial groups are quite segregated. It’s easy to see why though, given America’s unique history with racial inequality. Now that I’m in the U.S., I see how race affects me, so I think it’s beneficial to join affinity groups that you identify with.

What things did you not expect at Penn?

When traveling through the U.S. in the past, I noticed that Americans are much more open and easy going than Germans, so I assumed that it would be very easy to make friends with Americans at an American university, but it’s actually not as easy as expected. All my American friends are Freshmen or Sophomores, ones who are more open to making new friends, and 90 percent of my friends are exchange students or Internationals. I understand that this might be unique to Penn, since students here are very focused on their academics and career. I’ve still met so many amazing people and made a lot of good friends. We have also traveled together a lot, such as to Florida, DC, Baltimore, New York City, and Arizona.

I also didn’t expect food to be expensive, especially produce and healthy foods. It hasn’t been hard trying to stay healthy though, since I try to cook for myself and cook with friends.

On the plus side, I’ve felt very safe around campus and around Philly. People often say how South Philly or West Philly is dodgy or dangerous, but I have never felt that way or noticed anything. Just make sure to walk with one or two people especially at night and you’ll be fine.

Suhaib at a Penn game

Do you have any closing words or advice for other exchange students?

I would say to explore Philadelphia as much as you can. It can be easy to be affected by other Penn students, who seem to prefer to stay on campus, but there are so many things to discover.

Suhaib