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  5. Alumna’s desire to learn and help reaches well beyond the classroom

Alumna’s desire to learn and help reaches well beyond the classroom

The view at night overlooking Budapest, Hungary.

For recent UW-Madison College of Engineering graduate Kaitlin Schluter, the importance of different cultures and perspectives extends well beyond her study abroad trip.

Schluter, who graduated in May 2014 with a degree in Civil Engineering, joined the Peace Corps. In July 2014, she began living in Namibia and teaching secondary science.

According to Schluter, the time she spent abroad in Budapest, Hungary, in fall 2013 solidified her choice to join the Peace Corps.

“It showed me that experiencing and integrating myself 100 percent into a different culture was the right path for me after college,” Schluter says.

Schluter traveled to Budapest through the College of Engineering International Engineering Studies and Programs office. She says the office was great, as they helped ensure that all the classes she took abroad would count towards her degree in the College of Engineering.

In August 2013, Schluter arrived in Budapest, where she participated in Erasmus, a European exchange program. Her participation in Erasmus was unique, as it is a program meant for mostly European students. This made her love the program even more, as she got to meet and study with students from all over the world.

Students in the program had to find their own housing and Schluter chose to live in an apartment in the heart of the city with two students from Portugal and one from Spain.

Schluter said every UW student in the program chose to live with international roommates—and her time living with international roommates only added to her experience in Budapest.

“As an engineer, it was a great experience to hear new perspectives on anything from technology, infrastructure or sustainability challenges to cultural differences” Schluter says. “It opened my eyes to new approaches towards problem solving and the importance of being open to new and different ideas.”

Schluter’s small classes in Budapest also fostered this type of dialogue. She took courses with Erasmus students. Her construction management class allowed her to learn how people across Europe approached and handled construction.

Schluter (right) and a friend with Budapest, Hungary in the background.

For Schluter, it was all about perspective. By spending time with students from all over, she was able to understand different outlooks on the world.

Outside of the classroom, she and other students would walk around the city, have picnics in the park and travel to neighboring cities.

“We would talk to the locals, try new food and ask about life in the city,” Schluter says.

Schluter also had the opportunity to travel before and after she studied in Budapest. She visited Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Spain, Italy, Copenhagen, Denmark, Sweden and hiked in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia. However, it was important to Schluter that she spend most of her weekends in Budapest throughout the semester, allowing her to get to know the city where she studied.

Her favorite memory was from the middle of the semester, when she and 40 other friends, only six of whom were American, gathered to celebrate an American Thanksgiving.

Each student prepared a different dish. Schluter was so happy to be able to share Thanksgiving with her international friends.

“It was a nice exchange of traditions,” Schluter says.

For Schluter, learning to appreciate different cultures is key.

“People were so intrigued to learn about different cultures,” Schluter says about the people she encountered in Budapest. “It made me want to continue exploring new cultures and make an effort to learn the local languages.”

This is an idea that has always been extremely important to Schluter. While at UW-Madison, Schluter was extremely involved in the student organization Engineers Without Borders, which sends students around the globe to design and implement sustainable engineering solutions to community driven challenges. She traveled to Rwanda three times and acted as a project manager for two of the trips there. “I saw how much a civil engineering degree can really do,” Schluter says.

Whether in Rwanda, Budapest, Namibia or anywhere else in the world, Schluter aims to couple her cultural interest with her desire to serve people. “I want to give back and experience how people live with what they have—and if the skills I’ve learned can be of help, I want to contribute them," she says.

Jasmine Sola