Meng Xiong

Program: Obesity and Health (Madison and Vienna, Austria)

Student’s Major: Biology

Backpacking in Germany

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone considering this program?

Go in with zero expectations and do things that you normally wouldn’t do. Don’t stick to your comfort zone–as cliché as it sounds–it’s the truth. You will be surprised at how much potential you have and the things you can do. If you do get the chance to go to this specific program, go backpacking throughout Europe. The experience was so much better than any dream I have ever dreamed, because it was real. Chase your personal legend.

Describe what the academic and classroom experience (if any) was like on this program.

The program was unique because we had classes during spring break. The material and content was really interesting and applicable to the program. In the classes we learned about nutrition, metrics used to measure obesity, how our genes affect our metabolism, social determinants of health, and the importance of caloric intake versus burning off calories. Some of the more fun and interactive things we did were prepping and cooking healthy meals, attending a spin class, and even doing yoga.

What was one of the most memorable experiences from your time abroad?

One of my most memorable experiences was the backpacking trip I took after my study abroad program, I had the time of my life. Related to the course itself, I’ll never forget when we went to the UN headquarters in Vienna, I feel like it’s something I’ll always tell my grandchildren. We got to sit down and meet the people who worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It blew my mind to see the connection Professor Tanumihardjo had with these individuals. It was also very inspirational and heartwarming to hear how diverse their stories were and how they got to work in the UN. Europe was fun!

Did the trip influence your knowledge of and perspective on the host country/city/community? If so, how?

I tried my best to show Austrians some respect by learning thank you and hello but I still felt really rude for the majority of the time since I only could communicate in English. I learned how important communication is, it’s the difference between becoming frustrated with a stranger and becoming friends with a stranger. I definitely can see and understand why people can have ill will toward Americans but you can’t learn a different language in a short time, especially if you don’t practice it so you just have to show your cultural humility.

What did you learn about health through this program?

Addressing obesity requires a multi-faceted approach. There are many factors that result in obesity, including social, environmental, and genetic ones. Using this framework reminds me to think more holistically about disease in general. Because there are many different factors that contribute to the spread of diseases therefore there are also multiple ways to prevent them. I also learned that prevention of diseases is most effective when people from different disciplines work together.