URI study tour to Germany provides engineering students with language immersion and cultural, career awareness

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KINGSTON, R.I. –. -–February 12, 2008— For Tom Duarte of Cumberland and Colleen Grinham of Middleboro, Mass., engineering students at the University of Rhode Island, their 10-day study tour of Germany last month was much more than a fun vacation.

“It was a complete immersion in the German language and culture that gave me a great head-start on my classes this semester,” said Duarte, a sophomore studying chemical engineering and German.

“And it was a great introduction to what we’ll be facing our senior year,” added Grinham, a freshman majoring in biochemical engineering and German. “We visited companies, visited schools, and visited with URI students who are studying there for the year.”

Duarte and Grinham were among 22 students from URI’s International Engineering Program who visited Germany Jan. 7 through 18 to get a flavor for the experience they will have studying and working there following their junior year at URI. The International Engineering Program requires students to major in an engineering discipline and a foreign language and spend a year abroad taking classes and interning at a global company.

According to Norbert Hedderich, professor of German, the trip included behind-the-scenes tours of the Lufthansa aircraft maintenance facility in Hamburg, the headquarters of Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, auto parts maker ZF Industries in Friedrichshafen, and power tool manufacturer Hilti Corp. and the classic car division of BMW, both in Munich. Along the way they also toured a natural history museum, a baroque church, the Zeppelin museum, and the historic college town of Tubingen.

“We had to get up early every day, but after the company visits we basically were on our own, which is where you really experience the culture,” said Grinham, who studied Russian in high school but switched to German at URI. “Most of us had at least a little German skills, so we got the chance to practice speaking the language. I would usually try out my sentences first on my friend, who knew more German than I. We found that the more you tried, even if you didn’t quite get it right, the more respect you got from the Germans, and that made it easier to speak with them.”

The best part of the trip for Duarte, who learned to speak Portuguese and Spanish before taking up German, was going out on the town where there were crowds of people.

“I made a point of going to listen to native speakers,” said the URI student who hopes to become an explosives engineer. “I was even able to buy a camera speaking entirely in German, and the people I met in the store even took me out to dinner afterwards. I felt great that I was proficient enough in the language to get people to understand me and invite me out.”

North Kingstown resident William Seites-Rundlett, a civil engineering major, had been to Germany before and had studied the language in high school, so he felt considerably more comfortable in the country than his fellow students.

“We went into a couple of places and my friends just said, ‘Bill, speak,’” he said, noting that his favorite part of the trip was a visit to the city of Braunschweig. “It was the coolest place. We got to see the city, we went to a karaoke bar one night, and we got to see the student housing where we’ll live next time we go.”

Grinham said that while she did more than her share of shopping during the trip, the most important part of the experience was the view it provided of her future. “It absolutely reinforced that I definitely made the right choice to join the International Engineering Program,” she said. “I definitely want to work in the field of alternative energy sources, and Germany is at the forefront of the industry.”

Pictured above

URI engineering students pose in front of Celle Castle in Germany.