Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. Move Away From Home!

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When I say “move away from home,” I don’t mean move out of your parents’ house. I mean that you should move out of the city/state you consider home at least once in your life. As someone who was born in Alaska, lived in Oregon from age 7 to age 18, spent six years in Boston, and now have been living in North Carolina for two years, I know a little bit about moving away from home. I made my first solo move away from home so that I could attend school at Northeastern. I remember during the first few months during introductions and ice breakers I would always have people say “WOW! You’re a long way from home!” They were absolutely right, 3000 miles is a long way from home, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t days where I missed home like crazy. But the excitement of getting on the roller coaster that is college was enough to keep me distracted most of the time.

As you can probably imagine, Boston was VERY different than anything that I had ever experienced in Oregon. Growing up I lived in the suburbs and drove everywhere, so living in the city and using the T as my main form of transportation was one big piece. Another big difference, that took some getting used to, was the speed at which life happened. In Oregon, life moved slowly. People got things done but didn’t rush, they NEVER used their horns while driving unless there was imminent danger, and it seemed like there was always enough time for life outside of work and school. In Boston people were always in a rush, I won’t even go into the horn honking, and it felt like I was constantly running out of time. It was easy to get sucked into that lifestyle because there were so many things I wanted to do in addition to classes and co-op. There were so many amazing opportunities around me all the time, that I often chose them over sleep and downtime.

At times this new lifestyle was exhausting, and sometimes I would get on the orange line to Arnold Arboretum so I could lie on a blanket in the grass and pretend the world was moving a little more slowly. But this new lifestyle also taught me things about myself. I learned that I work well under pressure and that while I’m a procrastinator I somehow always manage to get things finished on time. I learned that although I loved my time in Boston, it wasn’t somewhere I could see myself living for the rest of my life. Even though Boston wasn’t the place for me, I never would have known what else was out there if I had played it safe and gone to school in Oregon. I would never have learned that while I have the ability to work hard and play hard all the time, I prefer a lifestyle with more downtime built in. I’m sure there are people who achieve a slower lifestyle in Boston, but it wasn’t something I ever figured out.

Maybe for some of you, Northeastern was a move away from home. If you fall into that category, I hope you’ve experienced some of the benefits that I did, and I encourage you to try somewhere new if your first big move wasn’t to the right place for you. For those of you who haven’t moved away from home yet, I encourage you to do so at some point before life gets too complicated to uproot. It doesn’t have to be forever because even just a few years can completely change your views of yourself and the world that you live in. And maybe the place you grew up is ultimately where you want to call home. I’m not in any way trying to advocate against that. But I’ve learned from experience that getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new is the best way to learn about who you are, and who you would like to be. Boston was my home for six years. It was a different home than the one I had known growing up, but it was home nonetheless. Now after two years in North Carolina, I have another home. This home is teaching me all sorts of lessons about myself and about life, and while I do miss being close to family, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t challenged myself by moving away from home.

Katie Stember is a Northeastern Alumni (Class of ’13) who was very involved with Husky Ambassadors as a student. She is currently a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill studying an autoimmune disease called ANCA Vasculitis. She’s a proud cat mom and in her free time does volunteer photography for a local animal shelter. Feel free to contact her at

Want to Give Back to Your Community? Try Volunteering

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Have you ever thought of doing something different but not sure what or how to get started?  If yes, ask yourself how do you usually invest your time? When we think of doing something innovative other than what we do in our daily routine, like making plans to socialize with family and friends,take road trips and travel, wouldn’t it be great to invest our time differently, like learning and improving ourselves? Have you ever thought about investing your time to volunteer for a non-profit organization (e.g. hospital, animal shelter)?

How often do you volunteer or think about volunteering?
Experts say that focusing on someone other than yourself helps you reduce mental and physical stress.(Student-Life Community Service.) Isn’t that great? When I volunteer, I feel the satisfaction of being connected in this world and feel good about being able to do something for someone else. Everyone has a different purpose/reason to volunteer. I do it for personal growth and learning. Ask yourself why you do it. There are various non-profit organizations that are in search of active volunteers. However, it is also important to consider your interests, values, and topics that you care about. When you know what volunteer opportunity you want to get involved with, you may be able to address these values and interests in a meaningful way.

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community.
Personally, my volunteering experiences helped me improve my leadership and communication skills; it has also made me a potential contributor and a strong team player. So, volunteering has so many benefits, not only for our communities but for ourselves as well!

If you agree that volunteering is a great way to learn and want to give it a try, you may check out International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). As a committee member of ISPE Boston Chapter, I get an opportunity to network with international students and industry professionals. ISPE helps me grow professionally and gain recognition in the industry. You may also check out ISPE’s student chapters as well (Northeastern University, Boston University etc.) where students get a chance to develop themselves on an international platform and build a strong network by working together on campus.

Let’s unite and work together for a common goal and make a difference!

This blog was written by Heena Thakkar, a graduate student at Northeastern University majoring in Regulatory Affairs. She worked as a Research Assistant at Northeastern University and gained volunteering experience (NU ISPE,RISE 2016). She is currently working at BBCR Consulting as a clinical and regulatory affairs summer intern. She actively volunteers, networks and socializes. Feel free to reach her at 

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Pursuing an International Co-op

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When I was offered a research position at the University of Kaiserslautern I knew I had to accept it, despite my lack of travel experience and German language skills. This opportunity seemed like the perfect chance to explore the field of research and as much of Europe as I can afford. However, I’ve found that the idea of being here and actually being here are two very different things. While I don’t regret my decision whatsoever, this experience has made me think of questions I think all students should ask themselves before accepting international co-op positions.

1. Are you truly interested in stepping outside of your cultural comfort zone?

Working abroad for six months sounds like the coolest experience ever, and in a lot of ways, it is. Living in a different country will broaden your world view and give you countless opportunities for cultural immersion and travel. However, considering how you will cope with adjusting is crucial. If you’re a generally nervous person like me, you may feel really uncomfortable at first, especially if there’s a language barrier. Still, as long as you don’t let the discomfort rule you, you’re good. Making sure you leave your apartment every weekend and taking a different route to work every week are small ways you can work toward familiarizing yourself with your host country, but making sure you’re open to feeling out of your element at first is key.

2. Can you handle being alone?

Unlike a study abroad experience, being an international co-op might mean that you’re not surrounded by many peers. While your coworkers will hopefully be eager to make you feel at home, it’s likely that you’ll eat lunch alone every once in a while or get lost in town before you know anyone to ask for advice on getting around. It’s also important to figure out if you’re prepared to travel to your international co-op destination alone, since it’s likely that you’ll be going solo. While the prospect of traveling to Europe alone terrified me at first, figuring out how to make it to my destination built up my confidence and independence.

3. Do you speak the host country’s language? Is it a problem if you don’t?

Evaluating your language skills in terms of the location to which you’re traveling is essential, in terms of both your work life and social life. While it’s unlikely that you could accept a co-op position if you didn’t speak the language spoken by your coworkers, accounting for how well you’ll be able to interact with locals is worth considering. Because of Kaiserslautern’s proximity to a US Air Force base and Germans’ general tendency to know some English, I didn’t consider how little English I’d hear on a daily basis, nor did I realize how weird (and humbling) it would be to live in a place where I don’t understand what’s said around me most of the time. While everyone I’ve met thus far has switched to English after addressing me in German and being met by my confused, apologetic face, if English wasn’t so prevalent here, I’d be struggling.

4. Does the location align with what you want to get out of the experience, aside from the co-op itself?

While you might be tempted to follow your dream co-op to the end of the earth, it’s important to consider whether or not the location provides what you look for in a place to live before accepting a job. In my case, Kaiserslautern is ideal because it’s a quaint, safe city, but its local train station provides numerous travel opportunities for when I feel like venturing out. However, someone looking for a modern metropolis with a buzzing nightlife might find themselves disappointed here.

5. Do you tend to look on the bright side?

One skill that I’ve found invaluable so far is the ability to find the silver lining in all situations. Any of the potentially negative points that I mentioned earlier can be counteracted by positives. For example, instead of feeling lost over not knowing the native language, use the experience as an incentive to take language classes, or if you get a bit lost in the city, turn your blunder into a chance to explore.

Traveling and living alone abroad definitely come with some challenges, but the mindset you have will ultimately determine what you get out of your experiences. So, even if you answered “no” to some of the questions above, think about how you could possibly turn some non-ideal situations you imagine yourself in around. Though adjusting to life abroad has been a bit of a challenge, I have no doubt that it’s one that will end up being worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to take the risk!

This Blog post was written by Nicolette Pire, a junior Combined Linguistics and English major. She is currently pursuing her second co-op as a research assistant in the psycholinguistics group at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. An aspiring polyglot, she’s using her first international experience to immerse herself in as many cultures as possible while sharing her international faux pas along the way. Feel free to reach out to her at