MEDIA, Pa. — By the midpoint of her sophomore year, Katya Iatsenko had already served as an undergraduate researcher and presented at multiple conferences — but navigating the opportunity to study abroad wasn’t an exact science.
Iatsenko, a rising junior and honors student who is earning her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, recently returned from a semester in Singapore as part of Penn State’s Education Abroad programs.
“Brandywine has given me a lot of opportunities,” Iatsenko said. “I didn’t think I would be doing undergraduate research my freshman year, and I didn’t think I would be studying abroad in my sophomore year. I thought those things would be later down the line.”
While Penn State offers nearly 300 programs in approximately 50 countries, for Iatsenko, Singapore was an easy choice.
“When I was in high school, I loved traveling, so coming into college I knew I wanted to study abroad,” said Iatsenko, who was born in Russia. “I chose Singapore because I’d never been to Asia and I wanted to do something that was outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to challenge myself.”
Iatsenko took four classes while enrolled at the National University of Singapore, which is currently ranked No. 11 in the world and No. 1 in Asia by the QS World University Rankings. She explained that the lecture-style classes each had somewhere between 200 and 400 students, many of whom came not just from Singapore, but from all over the world.
Apart from the academic rigor, Iatsenko also grappled with homesickness and culture shock.
“Every aspect of life was different,” she said. “The food, the climate, the way people spoke. Everything.”
“Brandywine has given me a lot of opportunities. I didn’t think I would be doing undergraduate research in my freshman year, and I didn’t think I would be studying abroad in my sophomore year. I thought those things would be later down the line.”
—Katya Iatsenko, Penn State Brandywine sophomore
But those obstacles didn’t hinder her resolve. Outside of the program, Iatsenko traveled independently to Thailand, Malaysia and Nepal.
“I’ve wanted to go to Nepal since I was 10 years old, and I felt like it was the closest I’d ever be, so I just took the opportunity and went," she said. "I really grew from that, and I learned how capable I was in difficult situations.”
Iatsenko shared that the most memorable part of her experience was creating meaningful relationships with Singaporean and other international students. She went on to say that seeing how people live in other parts of the world has given her a new perspective that she intends to use to encourage other students at Penn State.
“We have a pretty large international student population at Brandywine, and I feel like I can really extend a hand to those students now,” Iatsenko said. “I know how it feels to be surrounded by people and not know anyone.”
For those considering studying abroad, Iatsenko believes that with any opportunity, you get out of it what you put into it.
“Challenging yourself is really important,” she said. “You gain knowledge from new experiences and putting yourself out into the world. I don’t think you can grow as a person unless you do things that pull you out of your comfort zone.”
After completing two years at Brandywine, Iatsenko will transition to University Park this fall.