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Incorporating Global Citizenship into a STEM Career Path

By Karl Satterlund | Published: March 13, 2018

Karl seated in a cubicle
Karl "on the job" at Pequot Tool & 
Manufacturing.

As a junior in college earning a degree in physics, I am convinced on a daily basis of the impact that technology has on people. However, I am also earning a degree in Scandinavian studies and have taken the time to study abroad in the beautiful country of Sweden. Through these diverse experiences, I became more aware of how important it was to develop a mindset as a global citizen early on in my career path.

I want to impress upon aspiring young students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) the life-changing importance of global citizenship in a STEM career. Although a career in STEM requires both rigor and logistical planning that can make it difficult to find the time to travel, taking time to travel early in life reaps endless benefits—not only in self-growth, but also in science. In fact, STEM majors have risen to represent 25% of all U.S. students who study abroad, just edging out business and social science majors at 21%, as reported in this year’s Open Doors Report on international educational exchange.

Karl in the Ice Hotel of Jukkasjarvi, Sweden
A stop at the world famous Ice Hotel
in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, near Kiruna. 

Diversity of interest and experience is the first outcome of study abroad. That’s true for students of any major, but notably for those in the sciences. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pursuing a secondary interest such as travel, learning another language, or immersion in another world culture. Taking the time to study abroad as a young adult is a truly intimate, maturing experience. Furthermore, it demonstrates patience: you are making an investment in your future by taking necessary time for personal development. Lastly, to be blunt, being a person with diverse goals simply makes you a more interesting person to future colleagues and associates. Whether a tech development team incorporates people of diverse talents may determine whether or not it is ultimately successful.

Confidence is another crucial trait developed abroad that resonates with a STEM major. Constantly being out of one’s element for an extended period of time makes coming home and ripping through a mechanics exam seem pretty painless. But along with this resilience in confronting adversity, one also develops the ability to make decisions in high-stress situations. This can mean owning up to mistakes or having the poise to follow through with what may seem daunting as a new experience. This confidence is developed through personal responsibility and accountability: not forgetting your passport, remembering to brush your teeth each night, or asking someone for directions when you are lost. Confidence is another bare essential in the world of technology.

Karl feeds a reindeer
Feeding reindeer in the mountains Jämtland,
Sweden, near the city of Östersund.

Arguably the most obvious skill developed by a global citizen overseas is communication. One learns the ropes of not just another language, but also social gestures such as respect, courtesy, and kindness. It is a humbling experience to learn to become a guest in another country. You learn to observe others and pay attention to the small details. Having an eye for the little things is a skill that is not overlooked in STEM industries. I can speak to that, after having been an engineering intern for the past two summers at a manufacturing company. But learning to become friends with new people is incredibly valuable. This can make the first day on the job, and those that follow, that much more enjoyable. The lifelong friends and memories created while studying abroad are priceless.

Equally important are the STEM-related benefits of being in a foreign country. Not only does one witness some of the most ingenious public works systems ever conceived, but you also get a chance to immerse yourself in a completely different way of learning. You may even have the opportunity to tour prospective universities and graduate programs for the future. Of all of these rewards of global citizenship, however, I believe the most valuable is inspiration—inspiration to approach challenges from different angles, to not back down from adversity, and to prove possible what you may have once believed to be impossible. 

About the Author

A headshot of author Karl Satterlund

Karl Satterlund is a junior with a physics and Scandinavian studies double-major at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. From the ages of 10 to 17, he spent summers as a villager at Sjölunden, the Swedish language Village. He has studied abroad in Sweden and incorporated his Scandinavian interests into a high-tech career path and a life rich with diversity.

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