This experience was important to me because it gave me a chance to challenge myself. Can I contribute to the team? Can I communicate in a different language? These questions and many more were answered during this internship experience. I was able to see value in the role I played in assisting Mike with his research; he was able to focus on his report, while I retrieved samples or did lab work. Another reason this experience was important to me is because it forced me to not only own up to my own flaws and mistakes, but to learn from them. I realized that practice makes permanent, and if you aren’t adjusting your mistakes when you make them, they will become permanent. Throughout this experience, I lived with a host family, the Beckers, in Pforzheim, Germany. The Beckers welcomed me with open arms and I soon became comfortable with them. I feel I made an impact on what they think of Americans; I learned that we as a society tend to judge or assess groups of people as a whole rather than individually. I hope I made an impact in my host family’s perspective, just as they have on mine.
My previous academic studies at Penn State prepared me well for this experience. Both my German minor and environmental systems engineering major assisted me in my internship. In German class, I learned about the differences in home and workplace cultures in Germany, which aided me through the transition; I also learned how to maintain a conversation in German with varying vocabulary and grammar. This helped me communicate proficiently with my German coworkers and host family. On the technical side of things, my major courses assisted me with lab work and sample procurement. For example, in my Mineral Processing 401 lab with Professor Klima, the importance of sample integrity while in the lab was drilled into my brain. This translated well into the lab work I conducted in KIT; I often thought to myself, “What’s the best way to maintain the integrity of the sample and be unbiased?” Another aspect of my major courses that complemented this experience was understanding research reports. I’ve had to read technical documents, research reports, and journals for several classes while conducting literary research. For example, in the summer of 2017 I was a part of the EMS CAUSE 2017 research group. As I was conducting my own literary research, I found myself getting stuck in the technical jargon. My professor, Denice Wardrop, told me to avoid chasing what she liked to call “intellectual squirrels” and focus on the topic at hand. Her advice aided me on the research on particle transport models, which is a complicated topic in and of itself.
From my host family and the numerous people that I’ve met, I learned to have an open mind. It’s easy to say I have an open mind when I’m surrounded by like-minded people at Penn State. Through this experience, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and truly challenge what open-mindedness is to me. From this internship experience, I’ve learned to always be prepared for the unexpected and to defend my choices. In the field while procuring samples, things rarely went according to plan because I wasn’t in a controlled environment; through this, I learned that preparing for the things you can control, such as having extra supplies and batteries in the field, is a good habit. In the workplace, Mike would repeatedly ask me the meaningful, but simple question of “Why?” Having to always explain why I chose to take a sample a certain way, or why I chose a certain direction of research, helped me realize that what I do in my future job matters. In the real world, I’ll have responsibilities to communities and I will have to make choices that may affect a number of people, which is why I should always have sound reasoning for the decisions I make. I will take these lessons I’ve learned into my future job, whether that’s working for a private firm or the government.