Harry Lucas has completed four programs through Study Overseas, and is on track to complete another. His first program was a Civil Engineering Study Tour to China in 2014, followed by a placement in 2015, an internship at the start of 2018, and an exchange for a Full Calendar Year in 2018. Harry is on track to complete another internship in Winter School 2018.
What are you majoring/specialising in (if applicable)?
I am majoring in Mechatronics Engineering, although I did have a brief stint in the Computer Science double degree.
Where have you studied overseas?
China (Harbin + Beijing), the USA (San Francisco + Seattle),
Germany (Cologne), Czech Republic (Prague), and soon
How many programs have you completed through Global Learning?
What drove you to apply for the first program?
My first international program was to China. I took part in this program because 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 6 months, and decided that any exchange program I have after that should be a new cultural experience. I found the Czech Republic in the GLAS application system 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.
Had you travelled before (prior to the first program)?
I was born in the UK and moved with my immediate family to Adelaide when I was 5 years old. I returned to England for holidays 3 times during my youth, and we got to see a few other countries along the way, like Singapore and Japan. Before I went to China, however, I had never travelled without my parents.
Which of your multiple programs did you find to be the most beneficial?
I really don’t think that I can contrast the experiences fairly. 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!
What were the highlights of your overseas study/what experiences stand out in your memory?
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 the 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.
One of the other highlights was definitely when I was providing covering fire to one of the Italian astronauts when we were playing laser skirmish. She used to be a fighter pilot, and trust me, she
knows how to shoot.
What did you learn about yourself from your experiences?
So many different things, but 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 for me to live it. 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.
What opportunities did the experiences give you?
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 and 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 8 months I’ve been here I’ve gotten to B2 level (upper-intermediate) speech and writing in German.
Has studying overseas given you an advantage in finding other opportunities once you finish your
Absolutely, I think the key was that I blended an exchange program with a couple of work experience placements. I can’t overstate the value of working overseas – everyone has so much respect for it as they know it isn’t easy. While any overseas experience is good, I think working overseas is quite unique. You really get fully integrated into the culture to which you are visiting – 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.
Did you talk about your overseas study in any interviews for opportunities (internships, job
interviews, university applications, etc.)?
Yes, definitely. 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. I have worked as a programmer before, but so have many other applicants. The team I’m joining is made up of pan-European employees. 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.
How would you sell yourself using your international experience?
I would speak mostly about my experiences working with people from different cultures. 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).
Do you think that completing the experiences helped you to stand out from other candidates?
Definitely! I think that few people get the opportunity to do this kind of travel during their study and it has implications across my whole work life. It’s taught me how to add a work-life balance to my
life, and how to live a more fulfilled life. All of those qualities are sought after in employees, because workers who burn themselves out don’t perform well in the long term! Furthermore, it makes for some excellent lunchtime stories!
Tell us your thoughts on the benefits of completing multiple overseas study opportunities.
There’s something of a synergy that occurs when you complete multiple programs overseas. The act of completing one program makes it easier to get into the next program – and it makes it easier to sustain the experience. When I first arrived, money was a major concern – I didn’t have enough to last until the end of the trip. However, over the course of the experiences I’ve met a lot of people, as well as had a lot of experiences, which have made it easier to make money and sustain my trip. Furthermore, the relationships you make are useful for you later on. I was recently accepted into
Oxford University for my PhD, and I’m currently using some of my connections from my trip to China in order to obtain funding for my 3 years of Doctoral study.
Are you still friends with/do you still keep in contact with anyone from your overseas study?
When I went to China in 2014 I met Wang Tian Lu, who goes by the English name ‘Godric’ and was our guide around the city of Harbin. I stayed in contact with Godric over the years and he is helping me to get funding for my PhD. He is currently living in Zurich completing his PhD in the same field as me. We will be meeting up when I am in Switzerland and surely reminiscing on our time together in Harbin!
What are your plans once you finish your current overseas experience?
I have been offered a job with an Investment Bank and will probably spend some time working there before I start my PhD in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. I will be doing research on Cognitive Computing and its uses in actuation and control of robots.
What is your aspiring career path?
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.
What lead you down that career path?
Well 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 Global Learning 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.
What have you discovered about yourself since taking part in your first two global experiences?
I shouldn’t undersell myself. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think it’s better to risk being a little overconfident than it is to be underconfident. Consider this – a person lacking confidence is their
own worst enemy. They will actually prevent *themselves* from taking a risk or trying something new. A confident person would go and try, and probably still make a fool of themselves. However,
the confident person can laugh it off and spend time learning from their failures. I try to walk this line. I’m certainly not perfect and there are times when I am overconfident and other times where I lack confidence, but all I can do is apologise to people if I offend them, laugh at myself when I screw up and always try to do the best for the people around me.
What do you want to accomplish in the next six months?
I would like to complete this semester in Prague without any issues, and I would like to learn a lot and have a lot of fun while I’m in Switzerland. Since getting to Prague I have (surprisingly) fallen out
of the party-life, and I’d like to continue to improve my fitness. I’d also like to get myself to C1 in German by the end of the year.
Where would you like to visit next?
I’d really love 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.
How has the overseas study you took part in through the University of Adelaide helped you get to
where you are now?
When I reflect on my degree, all of the truly valuable experiences are those I had while on Global Learning trips. Honestly, I know how to answer this, but putting it into words is quite difficult. 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.
What is your favourite destination you have ever visited?
Seattle, Washington. When I arrived it was just below zero degree celsius. We left the airport terminal and I could smell the pine forest around me, it was a crisp cold and I could see the snow-topped Mount Tacoma in the distance. I would love to work there for a while. They have an excellent technology industry, so that may well be possible.
How many countries have you visited throughout your overseas experiences?
China, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, France,
Czechia, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Ireland and Switzerland.
So 12, if I’ve recalled all of them.