At the heart of the study of physics is the investigation of connections in the world, between matter and energy, interactions between subatomic particles, and the line between cause and effect. Studying physics abroad can also introduce students to new kinds of connections, between language and culture, heritage and modern day people, and camaraderie with students studying physics in different parts of the world. Studying physics abroad can lead you to state-of-the-art research labs and innovative classrooms, and, outside of school, to new friends, new places, and new experiences. In the strict and calculating field of physics, studying abroad can usher you toward incalculable benefits.
Why Study Physics Abroad
When people hear “study abroad,” most think of history or international studies majors taking time to see the world, but a study abroad experience can be just as valuable to physics majors. Many physics majors fear they cannot fit study abroad into their rigorous course schedule, but with foresight and planning – two things every physics student gladly has in their wheelhouse – you can take your education abroad.
Physics is a universal subject, and one that has developed a language of its own over the years; this makes it unique in its ability to be studied anywhere, as the basic principles are identical no matter the country in which you choose to study abroad. Physics students, upon graduation, will likely become a part of the international physics study, where scientists all over the world work together to make discoveries and further physics research.
Physicists are united in their love for the subject they study, though many come from different continents, educational backgrounds, and walks of life. Studying physics abroad, even for a short period of time, can increase your ability to communicate with those from other nations, increase your appreciation of those who travel for their work or education, and bestow upon you a well-rounded education that focuses not only on science but on human interaction.
Choosing a location to study physics abroad is often the first step to making plans; many physics students choose English-speaking countries in order to further their education on an international level, unimpeded by a language requirement.
A number of the top physics labs in the world are located in the U.K. and Scotland. Studying physics in England, the country that gave the world Isaac Newton, can grant you access to laboratories studying astrophysics and planetary physics. Living in London or Manchester specifically can expose you to thousands of years of historical culture of British engineering and science. Scotland, the birthplace of physicist Kelvin, is a fascinating place to delve into the science of thermodynamics while experiencing the Scottish panache for education.
Switzerland is a popular choice for physics majors embarking on a study abroad experience. Switzerland is a top global contender in research into theoretical physics, including particle physics, the study of neutrinos, and condensed matter physics. Geneva is also home to the Large Hadron Collider, a physics milestone that has made headlines due to its controversy; physicists everywhere enjoy visiting the LHC to see physics research in action.
Australia and New Zealand are favored choices for studying physics abroad as well. Both Sydney and Melbourne are equipped with large-scale universities offering a large variety of physics and math courses. Similarly, Auckland has several facilities that offer top tier education to physics study abroad students. These options are a favorite option for study abroad students looking for amiable weather and opportunities to hike, swim, and explore the bountiful nature of Oceania.
Studying Physics Abroad
Deciding your course schedule while studying physics abroad will depend on how far you are into your major’s curriculum, what courses are offered at the affiliate university or in the study abroad program, and other electives you may be interested in taking. Physics majors generally choose to study physics abroad earlier rather than later in their academic careers, as many universities will have basic modern physics classes, including introductory classes, but some may lack specific upper-level courses desired by particular students.
Introductory quantum mechanics, special relativity, and electricity and magnetism courses are offered at the majority of universities abroad that have a reputable science department. Keep in mind that physics curriculums often require concurrent registration in upper-level math courses as well, such as calculus I, II, III, and differential equations; math courses are also easily taken while studying abroad, even in a non-English speaking country. In order to not fall behind during your semester abroad, work with your academic advisor to plan for what physics and math courses you will need to complete.
With those requirements underway, feel free to take a step outside of the box during your semester studying abroad. Many institutions in foreign countries offer courses unique to their area, their history, languages, cuisine, and literature. Not only can you learn to look at physics from a new perspective while studying abroad, you can also find new worldviews, philosophies, and interests.
- Be a Global Go-Getter. As physics becomes a global science, where active members of the community share ideas, theorems, and breakthroughs in search of common goals, studying abroad can make you a more marketable physicist. This illustrates to employers you have the ability to study a difficult topic in an unfamiliar landscape and improve your communication skills while doing so. For those looking to teach physics, an international experience can broaden your educational skill set through exposure to different methods of teaching and experimentation.
- Break out of the Box. Physicists often get a reputation for loving their schoolwork so much that they “don’t get out enough.” While it’s true that physics students share a passion for their education, many physics students do feel the urge to get out and see the world. Studying physics abroad is the ideal combination between important coursework and meaningful life experiences. Traveling to a new country can broaden your perspective and allow you to look at physics through a new lens; it allows you to connect with other people excited about the same things, despite differences in nationality or even language.
When boiled down, physics is all about looking into relationships, from what makes the apple fall from the tree to how time and space interact; investigating your own relationship to the world, from the friendships you’ll make to the people who will inspire you during your study abroad experience, can make you a better physicist and a better citizen of the world.