Student experience - Harry Lucas
Harry Lucas has completed five Study Overseas programs. His first was a Civil Engineering study tour to China, followed by a placement in the USA, an internship in Germany, an internship in Switzerland, and an exchange to the Czech Technical University in Prague.
Harry studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), majoring in Mechatronics, and graduated in 2019.
Harry was born in the United Kingdom and moved to Adelaide when he was five years old. Before his first Study Overseas program, he had never travelled overseas without his parents.
"My first international program was to China. I wanted to be outside of a culture which I knew. I had heard so much about China – mostly about their contention with the USA and their massive economy. The media around China is always so fear-driven and adversarial. When I went, I saw a whole other perspective on the Chinese people, and it changed the way I looked at the world. They were so kind and excited to show me their country. This later guided my decision to select the Czech Republic as my exchange destination. I knew that I would be visiting Germany to work for six months, and decided that any exchange program I have after that should be a new cultural experience. I found the Czech Republic in GLAS and after doing some research I was very quickly sold. I knew nothing about the culture, it’s incredibly cheap, and it’s centrally located in Europe. The prospect of living in a country where you don’t speak the language and know nothing about the culture is terrifying, but it’s also immensely exciting and – as I’d soon discover – extremely rewarding."
"The world is such a diverse place, and each trip left a distinct and utterly independent mark on me. China taught me to not judge a book by its cover, and to always take the road less-travelled. Germany showed me how to connect with people, taught me how to deal with anxiety, and helped me learn to trust myself. The Czech Republic has taught me to be honest with myself, and to spend less time thinking and more time acting. To try and compare these experiences wouldn’t do any of them justice!"
"The first part of my current overseas trip was 4-5 months I spent working at the European Space Agency as a trainee. I worked at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and was doing research and development. I worked closely with a number of European astronauts. Leaving Cologne was one of the most obscure experiences I’ve ever had. I had been travelling a bit for work before I left Cologne to move to Prague, and I woke up at 5am that morning to board a 7am flight at the airport. It was snowing really heavily outside and I was alone, walking through the snow with my bags in the suburb of Porz, where I had spent the past 4 months living. As I walked down the street I could feel the weight of everyone I knew sitting on me. All of the friends I had made through work, professional relationships, friends, and everything in between. I had come to perceive Cologne as my home city, and I felt safe there. I had also learned quite a bit of German, so it felt as though I was leaving a place that had taught me so much. To be moving from Cologne to Prague (where I had never visited before) was like leaving home again, but for another place I didn’t know. My idea of home fundamentally shifted that day. I don’t really think of home as a specific place anymore. My home is a mindset, and right now it’s my dormitory in Prague. There were certainly sad elements to that feeling, but it wasn’t a wholly negative feeling. It felt exciting and I felt more human than I ever have before."
"I think most of all I learned to love myself. Not in an egotistical way, but I look back on some of the challenges along the way, and I’m so proud to have overcome them that it almost brings me to tears at times. As a teenager I had an anxiety disorder and very low self esteem. I really did dream of the life that I’m living right now, but I never thought it would be possible. Coming overseas and having to support myself meant that all of those little issues in my mental health became amplified, and I’ve managed to overcome them as they’ve presented themselves. Like everyone else, I’ve felt at times like I’m not enough, or that I’m doomed to failure, or that other people don’t like me. Having to be honest with myself and face these issues head-on has been the really impactful change for me while I’m here.
"I’ve discovered something of a 'snowball-effect' from international programs. Every time you add a new country, or program, or work experience to your list, it becomes easier to add the next. I believe this occurs for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, you build a better network, and you can leverage that network in interesting ways to achieve the outcome you want. Secondly is something of a chicken-and-egg scenario where people begin to trust you as they perceive you as more confident. This could be because they respect the fact that you’ve supported yourself through these character-building experiences, or it could also be because you’re actually more confident as a result of supporting yourself through those experiences. I still don’t know for sure, maybe it’s a bit of both? I also had the fantastic opportunity to rediscover my interest in languages. Despite studying Engineering at uni, I had terrible maths scores as a child. I was always much better at English than maths. I’ve found since coming overseas that I had completely neglected this interest all my life, and in the eight months I’ve been here I’ve gotten to B2 level (upper-intermediate) speech and writing in German."
"I have received a couple of offers from employers and PhD programs and I think that these are largely attributable to my overseas experience. I will be working for a Swiss Investment Bank over the European Summer and I really believe they are mainly hiring me due to my overseas studies. The official language of the workplace is English, but there are German, French, Spanish, and other language speakers on the team too. In this environment, I think it shows that you can work with different cultures. Furthermore, it takes a certain level of craziness and risk-tolerance to do this kind of extended travel. I think everyone has that within them, and I think modern businesses really want that calculated risk-taking behaviour. It’s the internet-age, and they don’t just compete against multinationals anymore, their existential risk is being brewed up in a dorm room somewhere in a country they’ve never heard of."
"I can’t overstate the value of working overseas – everyone has so much respect for it as they know it isn’t easy. You really get fully integrated into the culture – you eat lunch with your colleagues, you rely on them for your job, you live with other people who are working too. While I’ve loved my exchange, I definitely feel more separate from the locals than I did while I was working. I’ve had to go to great lengths to get involved in the business community in Prague in order to 'scratch that itch' per say. It’s very easy to fall into the party-every-day-every-night trap with exchange. To go to a foreign country and become a working contributor to their economy though, I think people really respect that."
When speaking on advice on using overseas experience in job interviews, Harry recommends talking about overcoming cultural differences: "I have had some interesting misunderstandings that have happened as a result of these cultural differences and have become a more understanding and open minded person as a result of it. In my family, hugging is a very normal, friendly thing to do – but apparently French men find it a little uncomfortable to be hugged by other men (I’ll spare you the story)."
"I would like to complete my PhD, and then I would like to run my own technology business. There’s something I really like about starting something myself from the ground up, as opposed to working for an employer. I have previously worked in startup business, but I think the major impact was my trip to the United States and also my time in Prague, both of which were previous Study Overseas experiences. In Adelaide, engineers graduate and begin furiously applying for jobs. Lucky people get jobs and most move interstate, many don’t get jobs at all. In the USA, engineers are essentially worshipped for their ability to create products which add economic value. Every engineer dreams of running a startup. In Prague, there is such a heavy demand for technical workers that almost all Czech students are employed part-time in their field of study after their first year. This means they leave university with years of professional experience, as well as a nice paycheck. It became clear to me from these experiences that the problem isn’t getting a job – there’s just not enough people making the jobs. I would like to do that."
Next, Harry would like to live in the USA for a while: "I think the work culture there is really cool and I’d like to build a stronger network. In terms of a place to visit on a holiday I’d really like to see India, I’ve heard brilliant things about it and I could definitely see myself looking like an idiot trying to speak Hindi with someone."
"When I reflect on my degree, all of the truly valuable experiences are those I had while on Study Overseas trips. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that a degree gets you a job, but studying overseas gives you a life. When I was studying in Adelaide I studied hard, but I always felt like my life was on hold for my study. Since coming overseas I can say with certainty that the life these experiences have given me feels like the foundation I need and was searching for when I enrolled at the University of Adelaide in the first place. I have connections all over the world, I have worked in multiple countries and will soon be a researcher in another country. I can speak another language and have entirely new ways of seeing life. I’m so happy and content with my life and it’s direction – I’m so glad I decided to make this leap."