KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2008 – Judging by New Britain, Conn., resident Aaron Hebenstreit’s passport, it appears that he spent much of his college education traveling abroad. And that is exactly why he chose to enroll in the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program (IEP).
As he prepares to graduate on May 18 with degrees in mechanical engineering and German, he is looking forward to continuing his travels around the world.
“My father is an engineer, and I’ve been interested in engineering and science since I was in middle school,” said Hebenstreit. “But I’ve also become very interested in foreign languages, especially after spending a couple of summers studying in Germany and France while in college.”
In addition to studying German and French at URI, he was one of the first URI students to enroll in Chinese language classes in 2005, and he went on a study tour of China in the summer of 2006.
“I think it’s really valuable for American students to get a taste of the Chinese culture, because it’s becoming more apparent that the growth of China is something we can’t ignore forever,” said Hebenstreit, who played saxophone in several URI ensembles during his sophomore and junior years. “There is already a huge amount of trade and commerce between the two countries, but Americans generally aren’t as aware of their society or culture.”
Soon after returning from China, the URI student left for a yearlong stay in Germany, spending six months studying at the Technical University of Braunschweig and six months interning in the crash testing department at Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart.
“My department usually conducted two crashes a day, and I worked with other German interns on set-up and analysis of passive safety features – seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, etc.” he said, noting that the factory was the size of a small city. “I also did some translations of technical documents into English and German, because of the company’s collaboration with Chrysler in Detroit. I’ve learned a lot of German words for car parts that I still don’t know the English words for.”
During the break between his classes and internship in Germany, Hebenstreit traveled on his own to the Middle East to volunteer as an English teacher for children in refugee camps in the West Bank.
“It’s an interesting place that I’ve been curious about for a while,” he said. “I was there to do something positive, so I felt very welcomed by the Palestinians, who took good care of me. But I was in an extremely hard-hit area and it was often difficult to sleep because of Israeli military invasions and fighting between the two sides.”
Hebenstreit’s travels aren’t always to international destinations. He spent a week in New Orleans in January with the national Hillel organization on a volunteer project to rehabilitate houses damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He worked with students from URI and other universities on two houses in the city, one that required demolition and the other that was in the process of being rebuilt.
Following graduation, Hebenstreit will spend some time in New Hampshire and then travel to Puerto Rico, where he hopes to learn a little Spanish – which would be his fifth language.
After that, he plans to continue his education. He has been offered a few engineering jobs this year, but he recently received a scholarship to study Chinese in Taiwan, so he is looking forward to spending two or three semesters there beginning next fall.
“I really enjoy traveling and I want to keep moving around and learning more wherever I go. There are just too many interesting places to see,” he said.