How Chiraag Kaushik learned to communicate across cultural lines

Study abroad took the ECE major to Singapore — a melting pot of Asian cultures.

Chiraag Kaushik

This story is the part of our series of study abroad experiences contributed by Rice Engineering students. Learn more about our study abroad opportunities and global programs.

When I told my electrical engineering peers at Rice about my aspirations to study abroad, I was surprised by the responses I received. While most people applauded the idea, a significant portion responded with surprise or even incredulity. Studying abroad is often perceived as more valuable (and logistically feasible) for students of the humanities or social sciences. However, as I browsed through the list of study abroad programs available at Rice and talked to other students who had gone abroad, I found that studying abroad was not only feasible, but also could be an invaluable opportunity for personal and career growth. My past semester studying electrical engineering at the National University of Singapore lived up to and greatly surpassed all these expectations and more.

Singapore is a melting pot of Asian cultures, with large Indian, Chinese, and Malay populations and easy access to several other countries in Southeast Asia. Living for a semester in this confluence of cultures and traveling to nearby countries was initially a bit intimidating since I was forced to communicate with people from a wide array of different cultural backgrounds and expectations. Whether it was the small interactions of trying to buy lunch from a street food vendor in Indonesia or trying to work on a lab assignment with students from three different continents, each day brought with it unique challenges which pushed me to gain the confidence and interpersonal skills to become friends with and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. With the increasing globalization of the technology industry and the rapid growth of Asian economies, I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to learn to communicate across cultural lines.

In terms of academics, I was able to take two courses for my ECE major, which fit in perfectly with my intended specialization and intended career path. It was interesting to note how differing cultural perspectives led to slightly different ways of communicating technical concepts and working in teams. Some of these differences were frustrating to deal with at first, but eventually I learned to embrace these differences and learn from them.

As someone who ultimately aims to work for a global technology firm, I believe studying engineering in Singapore was the ideal experience. After this semester I would be less intimidated by working on global teams, communicating with diverse audiences about technical topics or working overseas.

Whether it was deciphering the notoriously difficult-to-understand Singaporean English, studying in a renowned international university or enjoying a family dinner with locals in northern Vietnam, my months on exchange definitively shaped my personal skills and my goals for the future (and were a boatload of fun).

My time in Singapore was not without its challenges, but the confidence I gained, the people I met and the cultures I experienced make it a highlight of my college career.

Chiraag Kaushik is a senior in electrical and computer engineering.