German Scholarship Offers Lessons Beyond Academics

By Alayna Callanan ’14
University Communications

Nine undergraduate students, Kristin Abramo ’15, Kevin Allan ’14, Alexandra Born ’15, Sarah Koniski ’14, Louis Papa ’14, Robert Rietmeijer ’15, Jamie Strampe ’15, Zhongwu Shi ’15, and Qianli Sun ’15, spent up to three months this summer throughout Germany with the DAAD-RISE program. The program allows undergrads to pursue research in the natural sciences and engineering with advanced doctoral students at universities and research institutions within Germany. The students conducted their research individually but many met up for weekend trips and the group convened at the annual RISE conference in Heidelberg.

Allan spent 11 weeks in Langen, Germany at the Paul Ehrlich Institute, continuing prior research on HIV, specifically studying gene therapy and vaccines preventing infection.  Allan’s research this summer led him to Dr. Harris Gelbard’s Lab at the University’s Medical Center, where his current work with neuroAIDS is a perfect culmination of his neuroscience studies, lab work, clinical interests, and research in immunology and virology. He’s hoping these experiences will help him prepare for Medical School. Allan also is currently enrolled in a German language course, and has hopes to return to Germany through the DAAD-RISE Professional Program.

DAAD-RISE 1Many students, like Allan, wish to study abroad but struggle to make the time for an entire semester abroad. As an active member on campus with a busy semester, a summer in Germany was perfect opportunity to gain an international perspective. He was able to visit many European cities including Paris, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam using the convenient EuroRail during his busy program. Cultural differences ranged from day to day experiences like language barriers between colleagues in the laboratory—Allan used a mix of German, English and even drawing for communication—to other experiences like a German waiter being shocked at an American male not finishing his French fries at a meal. Everywhere we travel we are faced with cultural differences as well as being representatives for our country.

Other differences Allan noticed were how the German researchers he worked with were more detail oriented, rather than focusing on the process within their research. It may have been largely in part to working at a public institution, but Allan found that the Paul Ehrlich Institute had very strict regulations, though their facilities are top-of-the-line.

Robert Rietmeijer agreed. “There is a joke that a German scientist does not begin an experiment until he has considered as many reasons to conduct it as to not conduct it,” he said.

The rigidness of experiments in Germany was not a damper for students though; Allan, Rietmeijer, and Alexandra Born were highly impressed with the research facilities. A joint human MRI-PET machine, one of just three in the world, resides at the Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research Institute at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, where Born studied.

The students had some unconventional benefits from their time abroad. “I was able to overcome was my own speech DAAD-RISE 2impediment: I talk way too quickly,” said Born, who was forced to speak slowly so Germans and other non-native English speakers could understand her. Her family and friends noticed a difference in the pace of her speech upon her return to the States. She gained both confidence and independence during the program and is more certain in her post graduate plans to pursue pharmaceuticals.

Louis Papa, a Rochester native, feels he will be more confident going to graduate school next fall because this program forced him to adjust to a brand new environment in the city of Jena, devoid of familiar faces. Rietmeijer experienced some culture shock upon arrival but enjoyed the challenges and overall experience so much that he is considering post-doctoral studies or beginning a start-up company in Germany.

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!”

Read More About Rochester Students Who Traveled Abroad Through Fellowships

Photo courtesy of Maria Zapata.