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Past Student Profiles

Each term we profile Caltech international students. The current student profiles can be found on the main profile page.

International students’ unique backgrounds, interests and talents are featured in the International Student Spotlight.  If you would like to have your profile included, or if you would like to recommend a student to be featured, please email



Casey Handmer

Casey is a graduate student in Physics from Australia.

How did you get involved as a reporter for The Tech?
I started to write concert reviews for The Tech soon after I arrived at Caltech, with the encouragement of the editors and other writers who needed to share the workload.  Producing a few thousand well-researched words per week is no mean feat!  In the past year, editors Neera and Nehaly Shah have really enabled me (in all senses of the word) to write articles covering a wide variety of my interests, usually spanning the intersection of technology, politics, and social justice.  I was surprised to find that even at my busiest I would often have a few hours a week where I was too burned out to do research, but perfectly wired to hammer out a solid draft article or do half a dozen interviews.  Writing for The Tech has been really rewarding - I've gotten to know a much wider variety of people, learned a lot, practiced writing, gotten really good feedback, and even earned a bit of money on the side.  It's impossible to predict how supply and demand for information will focus future mass communication and media systems, but it's a real thrill to be part of the ongoing evolution!

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?
Australia is super far from everywhere else.  This is a feature, not a bug.  Nonetheless, a lot of people allocate too little time to explore it properly but still think they'll be able to see everything!  If you're going for less than two weeks, focus on at most one state.  Dig a little deeper.  Read the Lonely Planet guide and then don't go to anywhere it mentions!  There's a really nice national park just to the south of Sydney that I always recommend, but it might be difficult to see if you're not big on walking.

What do you like most about American Culture?
I've been here nearly five years and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface.  American culture is deep and wide.  The parts that I really like are the technological and entrepreneurial audacity that I've been exposed to here in California.  I live within a day's drive of a huge fraction of the industrial capacity and innovation that has ever existed.  I've gotten to know people who drive cars on other planets and what's more, they're super friendly.


Manan Arya

Manan is a graduate student in Space Engineering from Canada.

How did you get involved with Theater Arts at Caltech (TACIT)?
I got involved in TACIT because I took a storytelling class from Brian Brophy, the director of TACIT. I was developing a play (still working on it!) and I thought maybe this class would be a good way to get some feedback on it. I wasn't looking to act. (In fact, I was terrified of being on stage!) But by the end of the quarter, there I was, acting out a bit of my play for an audience. And it just snowballed from there. The reason I got in theatre, and the reason I stay in, is for storytelling and narrative; I enjoy consuming stories and I enjoy creating stories. In that sense, research is no different; it's about creating something new and telling the world about it. Being able to tell people about your work, really engage them in the narrative behind your research is crucial in academia. If research is not communicated, it might as well have not been done.

What are the biggest differences between Caltech and your universities back home?
I like the open-mindedness at Caltech. People are open to new and crazy ideas. They'll sit down and listen to you; doesn't matter if you're a graduate student or a tenured professor or the president. There's this sense of equality, that no one person has a higher claim to the truth or discovery or an interesting idea. Of course, if your idea is terrible, they'll tell you so; but you can't have an open exchange of ideas without agreeing to be honest about their merits and their flaws.

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?
Canada has many vibrant music and theatre festivals. The Stratford Festival is an international celebration of theatre (and it's not just Shakespeare, there are amazing contemporary productions, as well). The Montreal International Jazz Festival is amazing. And the Toronto International Film Festival, aside from the all the glitz and glamor, is a great place to catch small, independent flicks.

student photo

Marieke van Beest

Marieke is studying physics on a one-year exchange program from Denmark.

How did you choose to study abroad at Caltech?
One of the reasons I decided to study abroad, is that I see it as an incredible opportunity to experience a different culture and meet people with a background and perspective on life that is very different from my own. My other main reason is academic since I wanted to experience another university's approach to teaching and thereby hopefully gain new perspectives on my field of study.  Because Caltech is such a highly recognized institute I was especially eager to experience the environment here.  That it is situated in Southern California is a perk that I have come to appreciate very much.  As an exchange student I feel very much a part of the Caltech community.  It is easy making new friends, both because the school is so small you meet the same people again and again but also very much because the exchange students participate in housing rotation at the beginning of the school year.

What do you like most about Caltech?
An amazing thing about Caltech is its size.  It is a great feeling to be sitting outside The Red Door Café and recognizing all the people around me and always having someone to talk to if I want a break from the books.  Also, I think what makes The Honor Code system possible is that people at Caltech genuinely feel a responsibility towards each other since the community is so small.  Another thing I like very much about Caltech is the emphasis that is placed on research here.  All the professors at Caltech are top researchers and as a student I feel that I have been very much encouraged to engage in research here myself.

What are the biggest differences between Caltech and your home universities?
The biggest difference between The University of Copenhagen and Caltech is that being a student at Tech, this is practically where your entire life is (for four years).  Caltech students live, eat, go to school and play instruments or sports at Caltech.  Students at The University of Copenhagen live spread out across the city in apartments or dorms and usually cook for themselves at home.  In Denmark playing an instrument or sport is done in clubs that are affiliated with different cities, not with schools.  I feel like American students have a stronger connection to their undergraduate universities for this reason, but the Danish way is also pretty great when you live in a city like Copenhagen.

Vipul Singhal

Vipul photo

Vipul is a graduate student from Singapore, studying Computation and Neural Systems (CNS).  He is active in Theater Arts Caltech (TACIT) and completed a Ted Talk-inspired You Tube video last term during Brian Brophy's PA-40 class.

What do you like most about Caltech?
The level of trust and mutual respect we accord one another.  I believe this comes naturally at a small school like Caltech, where many of us are in constant awe of everyone around us
(I know I am!).  Caltech also has a highly collaborative culture.  No two groups here are alike, so our exposure to potential collaborations tends to lead to novel combinations of science.

What are the biggest differences between Caltech and universities back home?
Caltech has a tremendous amount of resources, both in our campus activities and our access to scientific materials.  Caltech is able to provide a lot more opportunities for students to interact with great scientists, because it is in the United states and because it is one of the top research institutions.  Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent SoCal weather and our proximity to the beaches, the national parks and wine country.

What do you miss most about your home country?
Apart from time with family and friends, which would be on the top of my list, I miss the food most.  Singapore is to food what Caltech is to scientific research:  Its small size and highly diverse set of cuisines (Peranakan, Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, south and north Indian, among many others) has led to "collaborations" with some exquisite results!  I highly recommend stopping by Singapore to try some of our wonderful local food on your next visit to South East Asia!

Victor Venturi

Victor Photo

Victor is an undergraduate student from Brazil, studying in Mechanical Engineering.  He is president of the Caltech Chess Club and invites the Caltech community to join him for a game Thursday nights in Dabney House.

What do you like most about Caltech? 
My two favorite things about Caltech are its size and the Honor Code. At Caltech, it is easy to get to know most of the students.  This makes Caltech feel like my "home away from home."  Everyone is so friendly and easy-going that I feel we are all brothers and sisters.  The Honor Code is also one of the best parts of a Techer's life.  Being able to trust that your friends will not take unfair advantage of anyone in the Caltech community is a great feeling that, sometimes, I think students in other universities don't have.  It also ensures me that I am trusted within this community.

What do you miss most about your home country?
Apart from my family and friends, one of the things I missed a lot at first was the food, especially my grandmother's cooking.  However, I have adjusted to the cooking here, and now what I miss the most is definitely the metric system!

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?
Brazil is a very diverse country and offers something for everyone.  You can enjoy the crowded beaches in Rio de Janeiro, or maybe you prefer the quiet countryside of São Paulo.  If you like cold weather, you can visit Rio Grande do Sul and appreciate some "chimarrão" with the locals in a German-like bar.  If you want to go camping, the Amazon forest is ideal.  If you would rather see the more urbanized part of Brazil, I would highly suggest visiting the city of São Paulo.  The Art Museum of São Paulo (MASP), in Paulista Avenue, is a must-see, along with the amazing Villa-Lobos Park!


Diana Ardeleanphotos of Diana2

Diana is an undergrad from Romaina. She has danced competitively since childhood and rediscovered her love of dance at Caltech through the Ballroom Dancing Club and volunteered at the Dance of the Roses competition.

What do you like most about Caltech?
The honor code and the housing system.  Having take-home quizzes and exams, access to buildings on campus after hours shows how much trust everyone has in each other.  It gives you the feeling that your work ethic is genuinely appreciated and that fairness and honesty must be the underlying principles of everything you do.  The housing system is another amazing thing that helps you integrate faster into the Caltech community and makes you feel like your house is your second home.  Having dinner together with your house mates on every school day makes everybody feel part of a large and happy family.  Housemates are great people to talk to whether you need advice or just want to have a fun and relaxing conversation.

What do you miss about your home country?
The amazing Romanian food that my mom cooks.  I also miss the winters back home.  I really enjoy skiing so implicitly I love snow, which is something that you don’t really get to see at Caltech unless we have a winter Olympics festival and we bring snow for a sliding “hill.”

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?
Romania has a lot to offer for people who have a passion for architecture.  Amazing castles such as Bran Castle or Peles Castle or the old city centers of Brasov or Sighisoara are a must doing a tour of Romania.  From the gothic architecture of the fortified churches of Transylvania, to the natural beauty of the Danube Delta and the breathtaking views of high mountain passes that cross the Carpathian Mountains, there is something for everyone visiting Romaina.

Yazan BillehYazan

Yazan is a graduate student in CNS from New Zealand.  He organizes programming in the Catalina apartments and keeps statistics for the Caltech Athletic Department.

What do you like most about Caltech? 
The collaborative environment is unprecedented.  You run into a friend, discuss your recent work and the next day you are exchanging materials and data, working together bringing different skills to solve a mutual problem of interest.  Caltech allows and encourages such collaborations without bureaucracy.

What are the biggest differences between Caltech and your home universities?
The passion and love the community has for science as a whole.  My previous institutions still had people interested and liking science, but at Caltech it just feels to be at a different level.  At Caltech you rarely hear people talking about how the quantitative or scientific skills they are learning will be used in finance or consulting – but on solving problems at the forefront of science.

What advice do you have for other students?
I have been fortunate enough to live on four different continents.  I learned a key aspect to enjoying any location is being active and social.  For me, I try to be active at Caltech by volunteering.  One of my commitments is being a Catalina Community Associate (CCA) in the graduate housing community where I organize different events to enrich the living experience of students.  Moreover, I help out Caltech’s Sports Information office with different statistics for some of the undergraduate sports teams.  In short, Caltech is a great place with plenty to do and it is up to the student to make the most of it!

XimenaXimena Da Silva Tavares Bongoll

Ximena is a graduate student in Chemistry from Uruguay.  She has been riding and jumping horses since she was four years old and represented Uruguay in international competitions.

What do you like most about Caltech?
The feeling that everyone is part of a large Caltech family.  There is a lot of support from the Institute and I have always felt people here genuinely care about me and my personal and academic success.

What do you miss about your home country?
My family and friends.  I sometimes also miss the slower pace of my country.  Life back home has a different rhythm that is restful and comforting.

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?
I would recommend they eat at Mercado del Puerto in the capital city of Montevideo and also to take the one hour drive to Punta del Este which is a fun, vibrant beach city and big tourist destination. 

What do you like most about American Culture?
I like the freedom to be me, to do and think what I want.  In my experience, American culture is very accepting of other cultures.  For example, people will not look at you funny if you dress a certain way in the United States, whereas in my country they do. I also like that people are very polite to each other.