Research Internship Introduced Rochester Junior to German Culture

By Jordan Duncan ’14
Intern, Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences

Maria Zapata ’14, a chemical engineering major at the University of Rochester, fell in love with Germany when she interned abroad at German national lab, Forschungszentrum Jülich, for four months this past summer.  She participated in the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Research Internships in Science and Engineering (DAAD RISE) program after learning about it through the University’s Center for Study Abroad & Interdepartmental Programs.

Before beginning her research in Jülich, Zapata participated in a month-long German language crash course in Münich.  “I learned more German from listening to my friends, though,” she said.  “They would repeat the same words again and again, so eventually I learned the basics.  I could hold most of this conversation in German right now.”

Throughout the length of the internship, Zapata traveled every weekend.  She visited Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, and Austria during her stay in Germany.  “It was amazing!” she said.  “You get to know another culture.  A lot of American people are afraid to leave the country, but I think it’s important to show that you’re not scared of going to a new place.”

Zapata met her traveling companions at the gym in Jülich, and she spent a lot of her free time with them.  “Everything in Germany is closed on Sundays, so I had a lot of time to myself,” she said.  “We went backpacking, and we learned a lot about different cultures.”

Besides experiencing a new culture, Zapata gained valuable experience in chemical engineering. “Doing research in Germany was great,” she said. “The system of doing research at the German national lab is totally different from our campus.”

The German lab offered her access to many resources that aren’t available on Rochester’s campus.  She learned how to operate new machines that are directly relevant to her field of research, and she learned from the more experienced researchers with whom she worked.

“My supervisor was amazing.  He taught me a lot and he was always helpful.”  Zapata was able to request microscope images from technicians, so she spent more time focusing on her research.  “I had more freedom to do what I think could work,” she said.  “I felt that my ideas were important for the group, and that my voice was heard.”

Zapata was pleased to discover that her peers and co-workers always supported each other and spent time together outside of work.  Everyone in her research group ate lunch together during the week, and after lunch they shared coffee time.  “It was great because we could talk about our different projects there,” she said.

The program provided Zapata with a $6,500 stipend throughout her stay for her work in the research lab.  The lodging was free and the flight was free, so she only paid for food and personal expenses during her time abroad.  “It’s a great way to go and explore Europe, even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money,” she said.

Zapata hopes to return to Germany after she earns her undergraduate degree.  “They told me that I can get a masters degree in engineering in a year and a half,” she said.  “Now, I am sure that I want to do my masters in Germany!”

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Photo courtesy of Maria Zapata.