Anna Claussen traveled more during college than many people do in their entire lives. Claussen, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in civil, construction, and environmental engineering (CCEE) and Spanish, is using these experiences to gain an international outlook on engineering.
She first traveled abroad during her sophomore year at Iowa State for a six-week study program in Valencia, Spain. Her experience there encouraged her to continue studying abroad despite her feeling that the city was too modern. ”This short trip gave me the opportunity to see a bit of Europe and gave me an idea of what I wanted in a longer term study abroad program,” says Claussen.
Her next trip took her to Cordoba, Argentina, for five months during her senior year. She studied Spanish and engineering courses with students from across the world, including Spain, Mexico, the United States, Germany, France, England, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.
After being around such an eclectic mix of students, Claussen began improving her Spanish and gained insight into engineering across the world. While in Argentina, she volunteered to work in one of the poorest areas of Cordoba. It was while working with people in these neighborhoods that she decided she wanted to work with a non-profit organization.
Joining the non-profit organization Ascend Alliance as an international intern after graduation, Claussen took a position in Ecuador where the group was planning a school construction project.
“I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to apply my construction engineering skills, learn about construction practices in a third world country, and practice my Spanish,” Claussen says.
The internship, however, didn’t work out according to plan. Ascend Alliance had some troubles with its communication and funding, demonstrating to Claussen the difficulties many non-profit organizations face.
“Internet access in Riobamba is slow and unstable, which made communication with the home office quite difficult,” she says. “I didn’t get to do very much while I was in the office, as we didn’t have the funding to go out into the communities.”
In the true spirit of an engineer, Clausen adapted to constraints. Although the organization was unable to complete the school construction project, Claussen interacted with local people and helped out in the community.
“I got to help teach an origami class to young children, showing them how they can reuse paper, and I taught a few English classes during my two months with Ascend,” says Claussen.
After Claussen finished volunteering, she decided to travel by bus through Peru to visit ancient ruins and interact with the local people. She says some of the most interesting places she has been are local markets.
“The produce is always fresh and they’re full of people and life,” reflects Claussen.
With her experiences traveling around the world, Claussen notes it is important for students of all majors to gain knowledge about other cultures and study new languages. “What impacted me most about this trip was getting a glimpse of the extent of the poverty in South America,” she says. “While I was on my internship, a majority of the people lived in shack-like homes without electricity and often without running water. Yet, despite living in what we call poverty, most of the people I met were very happy, friendly, and giving.”
Claussen also expanded her perspective on managing the things life, as well as a career in engineering, might throw her way. She says she learned how to live a simpler life, being more resourceful with food and other commodities. And working within a different set of cultural norms helped change her thinking. “I became much more patient and more aware of what is within and without of my control,” she says. “I became more proactive and comfortable in unfamiliar situations.”
She took on things she had never imagined she would—surfing, daunting hikes, and spending two months traveling through a new country alone. And from it, she says she knows now that in life “no matter what happens, everything always works out in the end—just be sure to enjoy it!”