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Student Post: Getting acquainted with Germany

Rachael Cuthbertson is a senior from Port Huron, Michigan, majoring in Chemical Engineering. Her co-op placement is with Durr Systems Inc. Rachael is participating in study abroad this term in Germany and will send periodic updates about her experiences. If you’d like to write a guest blog post, email phayes(at)kettering(dot)edu. 

By Rachael Cuthbertson

October 2, 2014: Today has been a very overwhelming day. Not only am I low on sleep (I only got three hours on the plane) but this is such a big change. I am in a new country, by myself, trying to figure things out on my own like an adult. You never really realize how many subtle differences in another country are until you get here. There is a different pattern for walkers and bikers on the sidewalk, different electrical outlets, a button on the wall to flush a toilet, buttons for light switches instead of a toggle, and of course there is a language barrier since I don’t know German. Most people here know at least a little bit of English. The wifi here doesn't have a strong connection either, so I am having many difficulties reaching out to people back home to let them know I have arrived safely. The whole thing is just very frustrating and I am very homesick tonight. 

Scenes from Rachael Cuthbertson's first week in Germany in the study abroad program.

October 3, 2014: Well after getting settled in yesterday I slept for a total of 13 hours. I feel much better about everything now that I can think clearly. I’m still a little homesick but I’m hoping I can get my mind off of it by traveling. So I went on my first adventure today. I went to the city of Ludwigsburg where I visited the Palace. It was absolutely beautiful. I spent four hours just walking around the place. There were gardens, a carousel, greenhouses, fountains, and just everything you would think would be in a palace. There was so much to see! There was a wedding while I was there too, which was cool to see the bride and groom take pictures afterward. The bride’s dress was gorgeous. On the way back to the train I found a beautiful church. Some type of ceremony was starting (I don’t think it was mass) so I went and sat down. Since it was one of Germany’s national holidays it was probably something for that.

October 4, 2014: I went to Frankfurt today! It was absolutely gorgeous and amazing. I saw the old city (Roemer), the cathedral (dedicated to St. Bartholomaus), churches (St. Paul’s, The Three Kings), the bridge (Eiserner Steg) and so much more! I even got to sit by the river by the bridge and it was so peaceful. I figured out how to use the RB and ICE trains today. The only confusing thing is that they are at a different train station than the S-Bahn trains. And it took me forever to find someone who could point me in the direction of Roemer but I finally found it, and it was well worth it. All the old buildings, with the intricate architecture was just mind blowing. I also got to see a shopping market on the street. There were tables set up on the sidewalk and the street and it was just packed! It was cool to see an everyday thing like that. I had my first German crepe. I got Nutella in mine and it was pretty good. I’ve noticed people are very nice and willing to help here. I got a couple Christmas gifts today and the lady in the shop helped me pick out what I wanted, gave me directions, and even gave me a free pen! (she used it to describe where I needed to go). Little things like that make me feel so welcomed. I also go kicked out of first class on the train coming home. I totally didn’t realize I was in first class, but it was okay because another couple did the same thing and we just had to walk back a few cars. I was proud of myself for getting back to the train station from Roemer all by myself. It was probably an hour walk, so I was surprised I managed to remember all those streets, buildings, and whatever other piece of information I could use to help me get back. I got to sit in St. Paul’s Church, The Three Kings church and the cathedral too. It’s so peaceful in there and it really just makes me stop to thank God for blessing me with this opportunity.

October 5, 2014: Today I went to Stuttgart. It was not at all what I planned. Originally I was supposed to meet Drew and his new friends. But there were so many people I was not able to find him. I was asking people for directions and I was almost ready to give up because I was so frustrated and I had been looking for this place for an hour. I asked one last group of people and it was one of the best things I could have done. There were three girls my age and a dad. Since they couldn’t help me find my spot they told me to join them. Their names were Helen, Pilar, and Leonie. So they showed me around Wasen and it was great. Before going into the beer tent I had my first German vienna hot dog on a hoagie type bun. Mmmm it was so good, and I’m not one to like hot dogs usually. Once we got into the tent is was so crazy! Almost everyone was standing on tables, singing and dancing. They taught me the “Prost” chant, which means cheers. By the end of the night I had it down and it was such an amazing experience. I accidentally knocked the soap bucket over though. The waitress had put one under our table without me knowing and I kicked it over...ooops! Anyways, they were translating things for me all day and explaining some of the cultural things going on. It was also nice, because they knew their way around so I never had to worry about being lost. They made me feel so welcome and I am so appreciative of everything they did for me, even if they don’t realize it. They walked me to the train station at the end of the night and we agreed to get together again soon! Even though I was frustrated at the start of the day, it all worked out for the best! It is unbelievable to me how nice people are here. I’ve been asking everyone for directions since I don’t have internet and everyone has been more than willing to help if they can!

October 6, 2014: Today is my first day working for DSDE. It is so cool! This place is absolutely huge and they have everything imaginable. They have a gym, all you can eat buffet style cafeteria, snack shop, clothing store (where I got really nice Durr apparel and shoes for free!), testing sights, training center, production shop ... it just goes on and on! So far everyone has been really nice, which I kind of expected. That’s how people at DSUS so I wouldn’t expect it would be any different here. But as I spend more time here people are going above and beyond what I expected. My boss insisted that he drive me around Bietigheim tomorrow to show me places I should check out. And he and another co-worker said they will help me figure out and plan where I want to visit while I’m here. One of them even offered to take me to Munich since he goes that way on the weekends anyway. They also already have me scheduled to go to Porsche tomorrow to measure what kind of pollutants the air stream contains, which will be exciting I think! I’m hoping to get a lot of hands on experience while I’m here, so we will see how everything unravels.

October 7, 2014: Today I went to Porsche to take measurements. It was cool they had me doing something already on my second day. And I also liked that I didn’t just stand there and observe. They had me writing down measurements as they were taking them. Although this isn’t the most glorious job, they at least got me involved. And then when I got back to the office, they had me put it into an excel file. It was really hot in there though. When you are standing in a room with multiple thermal oxidizers running at 1200 degrees Celsius it gets pretty hot pretty quick. The trip lasted all day so by the time I got home I was ready for a nice shower and to sit down since I was standing/climbing stairs all day. We had lunch in their cafeteria. It’s similar to the one DSDE has, only it isn’t a flat price for all you can eat. I got fried chicken that was stuffed with mozzarella cheese and ham, cubed hash browns, and cooked vegetables. Oh my goodness, it was all so delicious!! It is a little difficult though, being in a work environment and not being able to understand the language. At DSUS, I can listen to conversations and observe the type of behavior and interaction between an employee and the customer- even if I don’t understand the technical information they are talking about. However, here I don’t understand at all. So it’s hard to observe those kinds of things. When I got home I asked the hotel how I did laundry. They said I can pay their staff 2.50 per shirt ... I don’t think so! So I washed a few things in my tub today because I think it’s easy enough to do.

October 8, 2014: Today at work I went to the University of Stuttgart. I sat in a meeting for a few hours, went to lunch, and got a tour of the labs and power plant. It was not the most exciting thing, especially since almost all of it was in German so I didn’t understand much. But the PowerPoint presentation at the meeting was in English so I was able to follow that! And during lunch, the gentleman we met with was asking me questions about my studies, so that was nice that he was trying to include me since I hadn’t talked up to that point. And every now and then on the tour, if we had time, he would re explain things to me in English. At lunch I had the same fried chicken stuffed with cheese and ham. I think that’s a common dish here. And it was served with french fries! Oh they were good. And for dessert there was this pudding looking stuff, however it was not pudding. There was chocolate syrup drizzled over this “pudding” which was a solid and had a much different texture. It wasn’t my first choice of dessert, but I ate it anyways since I put it on my plate and I didn’t want to be rude. It didn’t have much taste really, it was sort of bland. The most exciting part of the day was touring the labs. They were Chemistry labs! And even though they were talking in German still I was able to figure out what some of the instruments did. In fact, in one of the labs, just by looking at the combination of instruments the chemist had set out, I knew exactly what experiment he did! I never thought this day would come, but I knew this because of my Physical Chemistry lab. I did this same procedure no more than a month ago and wrote a report on it and everything! It was actually pretty exciting to see my education being put to practical use.