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Go abroad, squared

Tomas Soltinsky

Astrophysics Student
The University of Edinburgh

​"Why would you apply for the study abroad program? You are already studying abroad!" asked a couple of my friends from my home university which is thousands of kilometers from my actual home in Slovakia. 

Well, why not? Looking for new opportunities is what led me to study in Edinburgh in the first place. Why not do it again? Turns out that the year spent at Caltech as an exchange student was the most important year of my life so far.

During my first year at The University of Edinburgh, I was somewhat closed to people and did not establish as many relationships as I could have. One of the reasons was that my English at the time was not that great. Using a foreign language all day every day was exhausting. Over time, my English skills improved and it shaped my way of thinking. Studying at an intense school like Caltech would have been impossible without this transformation.

Looking back, I have realised what a strong support network consisting of my peers and faculty I have built. Staying in contact with my family via Skype was important as well. In the US, it proved to be harder since the time difference between Los Angeles (LA) and Slovakia was nine hours, as opposed to one hour between UK and Slovakia. The experience in LA was overwhelming both in a good and in a bad way. I am grateful to my family and friends for lending me a hand in challenging moments. I guess it is possible to do it all by yourself alone, but the thing is that you don't have to.

I became open to new things without really thinking if I should or shouldn't try them. I just did. For instance, there was not much of a decision making process when I started skydiving. Is it safe? Is it expensive? Meh… Let's just do it! Now I know that voluntarily jumping out of a plane is amazing.

This can-do attitude led me to apply to the exchange program at Caltech, and once I was there, it led me to ask one of my lecturers if I could join his research group. In the end, I started working (for credits) in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) roughly nine months before its leading figures got a Nobel prize for Physics for detecting the gravitational waves sourced by two black holes colliding with each other.

To give you a piece of advice: do not over-think your decisions about trying things. As Shia LaBeouf would say: "Just do it!" If you don't find it fulfilling, you can stop. On the other hand, it might result in something as exciting as studying abroad while studying abroad.

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