Study Abroad At and Soon After Carleton with Erik Lagerquist ’19

26 October 2023

Erik Lagerquist ’19 is a Physics graduate who now works within the renewable energy sector. He was recently supported by the Fulbright US Student Program and received the Chile Science Initiative Award to research renewable-based electricity grid structures in Santiago, Chile.

photo of Erik Lagerquist

It is my understanding that you recently graduated from Carleton in 2019.  During your time at Carleton, did you participate in any Off-Campus Studies Programs? 

I did a winter break study-abroad program through one of the physics classes that I took, and I also did a semester off-campus studies program, but it was through a different university, not a Carleton program.  The winter break trip was to India.  It was part of a renewable energy-related course, and my junior fall trimester, I went to Ecuador as part of a community health and social movements-focused program.

How did this/these programs change you while at and after leaving Carleton? 

They definitely impacted me a lot.  The winter break trip was in an area that I was focused on academically and thought I wanted to work in: energy issues.  And I think it opened my eyes to the global aspects of the climate crisis, the differences from country to country, how that was impacting people, and how countries were solving it.  Upon graduating, I pursued a job in energy, and I’m still working in energy-related fields.  It’s hard to say how much [study abroad] influenced my path, but it definitely had some influence on me.  And the semester I spent in Ecuador definitely will have a life-long impact on me.  It was pretty different because it wasn’t something that I was studying at Carleton or was necessarily that related to what I wanted to do for a job, but it was just a really unique experience to be able to stay in a smaller community near Quito, Ecuador, to get to know the people, and to learn from them about how they viewed the world.  So, it was good to share a couple months with them. 

In addition to OCS Programs, I understand that you were an OCS Student Fellow.  Did working in the OCS office as a senior influence you after graduation? 

Yeah, definitely.  After my two study-abroad experiences when I was in my senior year, I saw the job opening for OCS Fellow, and I think because I had had such positive experiences with off-campus studies, I decided to apply for the job at OCS.  And it both opened my eyes to the behind-the-scenes world of Off-Campus Studies and everything that goes into the programs—and getting to interact with all the students who are considering going abroad, and all the different options and possibilities that were out there.  It was a lot of fun; me and the other Fellow got to help people learn about Off-Campus Studies and programs, or after they came back, to reflect on the experiences.  It’s a fun world where people are considering where they want to go and experience life for a couple months. 

As a Physics major who now works in the renewable energy sector, do you think that your OCS experiences can connect to your work? 

Yes, definitely.  As I mentioned, the winter break program that I did was very related to the work I do and helped me understand the context of the industry and how much there was that I didn’t know about these complex systems through interaction with the different governments and other stuff.  I think I have a more global perspective on energy issues, from that winter break trip, but also from my time in Ecuador.  Although it wasn’t energy-related, there was a lot of talk about environmental movements and how people wanted to see their infrastructure and governments protect the environment and work against climate change.  I think it definitely helped to inform how I view how energy systems impact people and how people interact with them, which I think, even if it doesn’t relate to my day-to-day tasks at work, it helps me make sense of how all the pieces fit together. 

You are also currently in a Fulbright Program to do research in Chile, right?  What led you to apply to a program abroad? 

Yes, I’ll go to Chile in March of next year. I think, coming into Carleton, I was already pretty interested in living abroad and spending time abroad, and I think that my experiences at Carleton definitely re-enforced, in my mind, that there’s a lot that I could learn by spending time in other countries, and that it could have a really positive impact on my life. So then, when I started thinking about after graduation, I sort of had a goal to try to live abroad for a year. Even around the time of graduation, I was thinking about applying to this Fulbright in Chile. With life and COVID and everything, that all got delayed a couple years, but last year, I decided that it was still something that I wanted to do, and to try by applying for it. It’s kind of surreal [to go on a Fulbright program], but I think it’ll be fun. 

What advice would you give students to encourage them to study abroad?  What benefits do you see to the experience? 

I think that it’s hard to take an entire term or more away from Carleton. I do remember thinking that I was going to miss out on a lot of stuff. But I think that it was also, in retrospect, the change-up that I needed midway through my time at Carleton. It gave me the chance to step into a completely different world, in a way that I think really complemented by experience at Carleton. And when I came back to Carleton, it gave me a fresh perspective on everything, and an appreciation for Carleton and everything that was there. I think the benefit of time abroad is that, because it’s such a different environment, it feels like a much longer time than a couple of months in my memory, and I think that it’s going to stay with me for a long time. The other positive thing about a lot of these programs is that it allowed me to make some really meaningful connection with people in other places, connections that I still have to this day. It’s a trade-off, but there’s a lot of value in it.

Posted In