Studying Abroad, Seeing the World: Meet Lucia da Costa

If you want to travel widely, see the world with your own eyes, eat unfamiliar foods, imbibe foreign cultures, see great buildings and observe the modern wonders of the world -- NJIT will help you do that.

NJIT students can spend a semester or a year studying abroad.  They can choose from countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Australia or Denmark. 

Consider, for instance, Lucia da Costa (class of 2011), an architecture and civil engineering major.  She recently spent a year studying in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The NJIT Study Abroad Office arranged the trip, while her Honors College scholarships financed it.  

She not only loved studying in Denmark, but while she was abroad she travelled to 15 countries. 

“My year abroad was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” says Lucia.  “I’m so grateful to NJIT for giving me the chance, at such a young age, so see so much of the world.”

In this interview, she talks about year her year abroad, which she also chronicled in her blog:

Did you study at a university in Denmark?
The program I was in, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) has its own learning facilities. And occasionally we would work in other universities around Copenhagen that the Institute had agreements with.  For example, we did projects sometimes with Danish architecture students from the architecture academy.

Why did you want to study abroad?
I wanted to live in Europe and to acquire an international perspective. I was born in Portugal but my parents moved to America when I was three. I was raised in a two-culture family and wanted to learn about more cultures.  It’s also extremely important for architecture students to study different buildings – historic buildings especially.  The program I participated in -- the Danish Institute for Study Abroad – emphasized travel.  We students took short trips during classes, longer weekend tours and even week-long trips.  I definitely learned and saw more than I could ever have expected.

Did NJIT make it easy for you to study abroad?
That would be an understatement. Scott Kline, from NJIT’s Study Abroad Office, helped me with all aspects of the study abroad program in Denmark. And Paul Dine, the Assistant Dean at the Honors College, gave me great advice and encouragement.  He wants the Honors students to see the world and be at home in foreign cultures, which he says broadens our intellects and makes us more marketable when in the global marketplace.   

Where did you live when you were in Denmark?
My program was for American students, and most of them lived together in dorms. But I chose to live in a kollegium, an independently run residence hall that housed Danish and DIS students. European universities usually do not have campuses – the kollegiums are shared between many Danish universities and thus allowed me to meet even more students from many backgrounds. It also gave me the chance to get to know the city of Copenhagen. When you travel, you want to immerse yourself in the culture. Not stay with Americans.

Did they teach architecture differently then NJIT?
The big difference is that in Denmark half the classes are lectures, and then the classes go outside and sketching buildings and landscapes.  First we’d sketch by hand and then do it on the computer. Sketching is a major part of all their classes, not matter the level, unlike NJIT, where only the first few years involved sketching then the students used CAD.

What was Danish culture like?
Denmark is a small country with a large world view. It has a rich architectural history.  It’s part of the European Union and the Danes are worldly and multi-lingual. They learn English in school so they can communicate with the English-speaking world. They follow what’s happening in America, politically and culturally and they are liberal- minded. When I was there, Obama was running for president and they loved him.

How did Denmark differ from American culture?
The culture of Scandinavia is very different from the rest of the world and especially the rest of Europe.  It is one that needs to be experienced to understand.  It is very hard to become accepted by them, but once they befriend you, it’s a strong and trustful relationship. They are also very humble.  There are unwritten laws saying that everyone is equal -- that no one is better than the other.  Showing off, especially excessive wealth, is looked down upon.

Did you visit other countries as part of your program?
We had to take trips to other counties, it was mandatory.  During my first semester abroad, I went to Germany and the Netherlands. For my second semester, I visited Sweden and Finland. For a student of architecture, this was invaluable. We’d visit five to seven sites a day, modern and old buildings. We’d sketch the buildings by hand and go to concerts and museums. I visited a sauna in Finland when snow was on the ground and after the sauna we jumped in a frozen lake.

What countries did you visit on you own and what was your favorite?
I traveled to Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria as well as all over Denmark. My favorite country was probably Turkey, because I love the architecture and the mosques. The Hagia Sophia was the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen.

What’s the worst thing that happened to you abroad?
My bike broke on the way to class.  Everyone in Copenhagen bicycles.  It is really efficient.  The city is small enough so it is actually faster to bike than to take the bus or Metro.  So when my bike collapsed on the way to school, it was so upsetting.  Of course, I was late for class which was very, VERY not “Danish”.  They are always on time.

When will you graduate from NJIT and are your plans?
I aim to graduate in 2011 with a dual degree in civil and architecture. I’m not sure what I’ll do after I graduate. I love both of my majors and can’t decide which field I’d like to work in. I’d be happy to have a job that calls upon knowledge of both of my majors.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)