Stanford Summer Session

20 March 2019

Engineering student Jun spent eight weeks studying abroad at Stanford University. Read about his experiences on the Stanford Summer Session.

stanford unviersity
Jun Chin, Mechanical Engineering

Over the course of the 8 weeks that I have spent under the Stanford Summer Session, I undertook 3 courses offered under the Stanford Environmental & Water Studies Summer (SEWSS) program, namely: Smart Cities & Communities, Water Resource Management and Environmental Entrepreneurship. These modules complemented my technical knowledge that I have gained in my degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in business finance thus far, and provided a focus in environmental issues which I have always been passionate about. 

I benefited greatly from the seminar style sessions in which the lessons were conducted in, where I got the opportunity to hear the thoughts of my fellow classmates who came from extremely diverse backgrounds. This was probably a consequence of a summer program that brought together students that came from all walks of life- ranging from extremely bright high-schoolers to graduate students and even military veterans who were all taking the same course as I was. The immersive discussions that we partake in classes was also facilitated by the small class sizes in the modules I took – 10 to at most 20 people. Our professors were also highly qualified people in industry that gave us the education that was deserving of the #2 spot in Undergraduate Environmental Engineering in the world. 

As the adage goes, “learning goes beyond the classroom”, some of the most memorable experiences that I had during my time in Stanford was the various out of campus trips that I undertook during the weekends with friends that I have met there. Stanford is located is a truly amazing part of California with many world-class attractions which are accessible via a short drive – be it up north to the iconic city of San Francisco or the renowned beaches of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay down South. There is truly something available for just about anyone in California – be with the various national parks for the tree-huggers or the first-rate amusement parks (Six Flags immediately comes to mind) for the thrill-seekers. Stanford truly encourages us to head out of campus to explore our surroundings, and our dormitories take a proactive stance by organising trips for residents which were completely free for us to attend. 

I also had the opportunity to experience life in a somewhat ‘rural’ setting for a change during my time at Stanford, in no small part due to the dismal state of public transit in the region. While Stanford is practically a self-sustaining university town by its own rights, with various food options available on campus, it does not hold a candle to the cosmopolitan cities of London and Singapore where I came from. Basic amenities such as supermarket chains or entertainment options are sorely lacking in Stanford, and are a 2 hours bus ride and 40 minutes’ walk away respectively. The lacking public transit infrastructure makes going anywhere a severe test of patience and proper planning to adhere to the Caltrain’s schedule, the regional train network serving Silicon Valley. 

Uber and Lyft suddenly became more compelling options, if expensive. Although, if you happen to be in possession of a driving license which I do, there are various car-sharing platforms which are available on campus. Zipcar allows hourly rental from starting from an affordable rate of $7.50/hour, while there’s an Enterprise car-rental branch on campus which offers discounted rates to affiliated students for a quick weekend getaway. To sweeten the deal, gas is half the prices in the UK, and parking is usually free outside of major cities. California is truly a car country, and it will be much more convenient to get around in the possession of a driving license.
All in all, I had spent a fruitful summer in Silicon Valley and it was an eye-opener to say the least. Besides effectively acquiring a minor in environmental and water issues to complement my undergraduate degree, the Stanford Summer Session also enabled me to live beyond my comfort zone and experience the Californian culture, and given another opportunity I will do so in a heartbeat.