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

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KINGSTON, R.I. – February 15, 2011 – For 21 University of Rhode Island students, a 10-day study tour of Germany last month organized by the URI International Engineering Program was an opportunity to explore another culture and get a leg up on others who will soon be entering the global job market.

According to Sigrid Berka, director of the International Engineering Program and organizer of the trip, the students’ adventure included tours of automotive supplier Continental AG, drivetrain technology specialist ZF, power tool manufacturer Hilti Corp., the classic car division of BMW, and railway company Deutche Bahn. Along the way they also toured a baroque castle, the Technical Museum in Munich, the historic town of Regensburg, and the Hydrology Institute at the University of Stuttgart, a visit set up by URI Geosciences Professor Thomas Boving, who also accompanied the group.

“Speaking German with native speakers really helped my language skills,” said Peter Edwards, a junior from West Greenwich who is studying German and business. “It was a good way to learn and absorb the language. I’m hoping to work internationally, and studying German is a great stepping stone in that direction.”

“The tour was simply too good to pass up,” added Tewksbury, Mass., resident Heidi Dotson, a senior majoring in kinesiology with a minor in German. While surprised at how much she was enjoying her German language classes, Dotson said she was pleased that it helped her to develop a global perspective.

For Richmond resident Jennifer Sullivan, the trip was the perfect opportunity to get her first taste of international travel and to build self-confidence.

“It really forced us to immerse ourselves in the culture and learn fast,” said the senior philosophy major. “It was a good feeling to be able to figure out how to get around in unfamiliar territory, and it was interesting to see how each city was different in a similar way that each city here in the U.S. is different.”

Most of the students pointed to the visits to prominent German companies as the highlight of the trip.

“The companies’ presentations gave me tremendous insight on how they operated,” said Edwards. “And we learned what each company’s mission was and how they were achieving their goals. It was a rare insight into a foreign company.”

Dotson agreed, noting that she was particularly pleased to meet young German interns and professionals during the company tours. “I enjoyed making personal connections with my international peers and learning from their experiences,” she said.

The tours of the automakers were especially appealing to several students in the International Engineering Program, which 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.

“URI has a great international engineering program, and in my perspective German cars are some of the highest quality made cars around. That’s why I decided to study mechanical engineering and German, with an interest in the automotive industry,” said freshman Steve Pelletier, a resident of Narragansett.

“The study tour gave me a rare behind-the-scenes view of German engineering companies,” said Matt Hooks, a junior computer engineering major from Charlestown who will spend the next school year studying and interning in Germany.

While many American universities are discontinuing German language courses, the program at URI is thriving, thanks in part to partnerships with the University’s engineering, business and pharmacy programs. About 125 students major in German at URI, most of whom major in another academic discipline as well.

“Studying German has allowed me to expand my job opportunities to Europe,” said Nicholas DaSilva, a sophomore pharmacy major from Rehoboth, Mass. “Since there are many pharmaceutical companies in Germany, it’s no surprise why I took up German. And in a competitive global job market, having the ability to speak another language can really differentiate yourself from other candidates.”

Pictured above

Twenty one students from the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program took a 10-day tour of Germany last month explore global internship and job opportunities.

Rhody the Ram is shown hanging out near the river in Regensburg, Germany.

Photos courtesy of Katie Zimmerman, International Engineering Program