Summer 2011 Engineering Internships in Germany:
Technical and Cultural Experiences
This past summer, five engineering students had the opportunity to work at various engineering firms in Germany. Senior Derek Bandstra worked at Johann Bunte in Papenburg, located near the Dutch border. To the west of Papenburg, senior Isaiah DeRose worked at Airbus in Bremen. Down south in Bavaria, senior Marc Loffert worked at Linde in Munich. On the Rhine, recent graduate Alex Verseput worked at Boehringer-Ingelheim in Koblenz. And near the Black Forest, junior K.J Yoo worked at Porsche development center in Weissach.
All over Germany, the students got up every day to apply and practice what they learned at Calvin. They were gaining not only the technical knowledge and experience from these companies, but also experiencing what it really means to be immersed in another culture and lifestyle.
For the 2nd time
It was Derek Bandstra’s second time in Germany; the 22 year-old from Terrace, British Columbia, had previously visited the country through Calvin’s summer program. “This time, I was not surrounded by English-speaking peers; so sometimes socialization was a bit difficult due to the language barrier early on,” Bandstra said.
The company, Johann Bunte, a civil engineering and construction company, made the transition easy. “It was really great how people were willing to slowly work to communicate with me. Also [Johann Bunte] provided a company car, housing and a phone for me.” Bandstra smiles. “I really got the royal treatment.”
Bandstra spent the internship remodeling an age-old canal. “My company’s ongoing project is to make modifications on a canal built 80 years ago,” he said. “For example, Bunte is changing the shape of the train tunnel underneath the canal and the shape of the canal itself, so that larger ships can pass by.I was involved by working with a small crew laying down rocks and geo-textile layers on the channel floor.”
Besides busying himself with work, Bandstra had quite a bit of free time to travel. “Since I had a company car, and the rail system in Germany is great, I made many weekend excursions. I went to Bremen to visit Isaiah, Stuttgart to visit K.J, the northeastern island of Rugen, Prague, Munich, and a hockey game in Berlin. I also travelled 150 mph on the Autobahn.” He chuckles, “Now that was an experience.”
Bandstra gave high marks to the internship experience. “For those who are considering going overseas for any reason, I would highly recommend taking the opportunity…”
Marc Loffert, who lived in Germany before coming to Calvin, tells a bit about his experience deep south in Bavaria at Linde, a Munich-based international industrial gases and engineering company. “I had quite an interesting experience.” He said. “First month, I spent hooking up reactors and calibrating mass flow controllers, gas meters chromatographers.” He said. “But most of the summer I worked with a palladium catalyst that will remove hydrocarbons from a stream of carbon dioxide.”
Having lived in Germany for four years, Loffert had no problem adjusting to the German culture. “My dad was in the U.S Army stationed here, so that is why I am familiar with the culture and transportation system. But I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t practice German. I was inside the base most of the time, so I didn’t need to speak German well.”
This time, Loffert had more opportunity. “For me, this summer was my only real experience in Germany. I was not only immersed in the culture, but the language as well this time. This internship has really strengthened my resolve to be an engineer.”
In Bremen, Isaiah DeRose, a New Haven, Connecticut native, made Airbus his home for the summer. For DeRose, Europe wasn’t a new experience. “I have family living in southern France and have travelled there multiple times,” he said. “Germany was different, but still the life-style was a fairly familiar experience.” He adds. “I also picked up a bit more language and enjoyed the experience of surviving on my own in a foreign environment.”
At Airbus, DeRose worked on designing the A380 cargo-loading system. When he was not working, he had many opportunities to explore Airbus. “I really enjoyed the multiple tours of the facilities. Some of my favorites were at the Airbus hub in Hamburg. I got to board and inspect models near completion. It was brilliant!”
DeRose also experienced warm hospitality from his colleagues and friends. “My coworkers and boss were always so eager to help me out,” he said. “I really enjoyed meeting many young people from all over Europe and Asia during Stammtisch.” (Stammtisch literally means in German, “regular’s table.” It describes a weekly meeting at a bar or a restaurant.).
“It was great to gain overall understanding of entire production and logistics process—enough to produce my own ideas for improvements on the A380 cargo system. I also gained valuable relationships and a better understanding of Germany.”
Finding a way
On the Rheine in Koblenz, recent graduate Alex Verseput, who is now pursuing a doctorate degree in chemical engineering at Penn State, tells his experience.
For Verseput, his abroad experience in Germany was certainly not his first. “I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for four years in when I was in elementary school. I visited Australia, New Zeeland, Singapore, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada and spent an interim in the Netherlands.” He adds. “Working and making money while I was travelling was great!”
At Boehringer-Ingelheim, one of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies, Verseput’s summer was spent by doing the development work for Hepatitis C. “The project has been in development and research for about the past 7-10 years. This summer the first test of large-scale production was undertaken. It is really exciting when it finally comes together,” he said.
When he was not in the chemistry lab, Verseput learned German. “I don’t speak German, but I am learning by having a tutor here at the company. Even though my inability to speak German initially made it difficult to meet friends and such, I was fortunate that Germans spoke English.”
Verseput noticed the differences between the U.S and Germany. “I was surprised grocery stores are not elaborate like Meijers. They are, comparatively, quite small,” he said. “Work week here is 37.5 hours compared with 40 hours in the U.S.” He adds. “Overall, I think Germans are more laid back and less concerned with work. There is more emphasis on hobbies and having passion outside of work.”
“I really found a nice away to balance my work and my passion for travel well over the summer.”
The Porsche Experience
K.J. Yoo shares his summer experience just on the edge of the Black Forest, at Porsche Development Center in Weissach.
Yoo, who has lived in South Korea, the U.S, and Germany, describes spending the summer in Germany a “delightful homecoming.” He adds, “I spent an academic year in Marburg, Germany, from 2009 to 2010 learning German and being immersed in the culture.” He smiles “It was definitely good to be back.”
Yoo was involved in integrating Porsche into the Volkswagen Group. Yoo explains, “In 2009, Volkswagen Group took a 49.9 percent stake in Porsche. Now as part of the group, Porsche is now working to integrate its processes and systems with the Volkswagen Group’s.” He adds, “I was involved in this project by making spreadsheets, translating documents and emails into German and English, and simply getting up to speed on various Porsche systems and processes.”
“The experience I had is partly from the internship and work itself, but mainly from the people, my colleagues, that I had the privilege to learn from and hang out with.” He said. “I had amazing colleagues, who helped and guided me.” For Yoo working at Porsche development center was a fantasy. “It was brilliant,” he summarized. “The life-style, the work, the people, and food/drinks were spectacular. I really cannot wait to go back.”
Words from the Wise
Professor Ned Nielsen of the engineering department summarizes the importance of an international internship this way:
“An international internship is a life changing experience for an engineering student. Not only will it have a huge impact on the rest of their life but it can also have a very positive impact on their career. In today's global economy, every engineering student should have some type of international experience prior to graduation.”