*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog
By Carolin Richly, CIEE Internship USA participant 2015-2016
Hi there. My name is Carolin, and I would like to share with you what I’ve experienced during my internship in the U.S and how I came to be an intern at one of the global leaders in water microbiology.
First, I would like to introduce myself. I am originally from Germany and grew up in a small town in Bavaria, which is located in the southern part of Germany. I studied at Julius-Maximilians-University of Wuerzburg, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology/microbiology in August 2015.
From there, it didn’t take me long to come across IDEXX, my American host company. I first did an internship in a microbiology laboratory at a company in Munich called “Stadtwerke Munich”, which turned out to be a customer of IDEXX. It was through a series of connections, and collaborating with the study abroad and intercultural exchange organization, CIEE, that I found myself working at IDEXX’s headquarters. Due to my experience in the microbiology field and connections to the Water business, IDEXX offered me a temporary position in the Water R&D department for five months, starting in October 2015. This company mainly focuses on veterinary diagnostics for companion animals, livestock, poultry, dairy, and drinking water quality. Its headquarters are located in Maine, the most northeastern state of the US, with various locations spread all over the globe in nearly all parts of the world. Unlike many other interns at this company, I was the only one coming from abroad.
What I accomplished as a result of the J-1 visa program
At IDEXX, I worked on projects that allowed me to be creative and to work independently. Mainly, I was tasked with the development of new and innovative IDEXX Water Testing Products by finding technical solutions, creating new experiments, analyzing scientific data, and using proper scientific documentation. Within this internship, I was able to apply and intensify my scientific knowledge and develop new technical skills. What I enjoyed most was experiencing how research works in a business environment. Unimaginably, this whole internship had already entirely grown on me after 3 months. I strangely felt like I belonged, and like I was home. Therefore, I decided to extend my internship from what was initially five months up to eleven months, since exchange students on a J1-visa like me may stay up to one entire year in the United States.
Types of meaningful cultural experiences I had while working in the United States
All in all, it wasn’t just professional knowledge and practical laboratory experience I gained; my internship went much further. Staying over the summer in Maine allowed me to participate in many activities offered by my host company, like summer parties, lobster bakes, scavenger hunts and American sport games. Meeting and connecting with other interns and getting to know many of my fellow coworkers was such a valuable experience. I made lots of good friends, who even invited me to their family dinners, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations.
While in the US, I did a lot of traveling. I explored many places along the East Coast, like Boston and New York City, and parts of the West Coast, too. If you ask me, there’s no place more beautiful in the U.S. than Maine. It’s not really about the place; it’s more about the people you spend your time with. I even bet that not many people are aware of Maine, a place I only got to know accidentally. What I like most about Maine is the fact that everyone I met was American, which usually happens rarely when going abroad. There’s no better place to get involved with the American culture than Maine.
During my stay in the US, I even got to participate in an Intern Leadership program funded mainly by CIEE and other sponsors like the U.S. Department of State. It was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. This workshop is called “ILEAD”, an “Intern Leadership and Development” program, in which fifty participants from more than twenty different countries were invited to the U.S. capital for five days. In this workshop, we were challenged to collaborate and brainstorm about diverse topics and problems. It is unbelievable how people coming from different backgrounds and cultures with diverse perspectives are able to work together in a team and create innovative concepts.
Why I decided to come to the United States for an internship and how my experiences in the United States shaped and changed my opinion of America
To be honest, I didn’t really plan on doing an internship in the U.S.; it just happened. All I knew was that I wanted to take some time off from my studies. It could have been any country in the world, however, it happened to be the United States.
Retrospectively, staying in Maine was the best decision I could have made. People in Maine were friendly, open-minded, and welcoming. Although I cannot speak about Americans in general, since I have learned that every single state has its own cultures and traditions, based on my experiences, the U.S. truly is a great place to live. It is amazing how fast you can fall in love with a new place and call it your second home. My favorite part of the United States is the people and their mindset. I especially like their optimism and their generally positive attitude. Even though I came all the way over to the U.S. without knowing anyone, I haven’t felt lonely for one single moment. My working group and all the friends I made in Maine were a perfect temporary replacement for my family back in Germany. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living in Germany and I would never leave my home country for good, but the U.S. is a lovely place to live, too.
The impact my experience had on my life now that I’m back home
After my internship, I moved back to Germany to continue my studies. I am currently doing my Master’s in Biology and I just started another Master’s program in Management. This, I would have never thought of before coming to the U.S. My former American supervisor encouraged me to look into new domains and, especially, to think outside the box. The experiences I gained in the United States changed my professional perspectives quite a lot. Who can say that he/she spent almost one entire year living and working in a foreign country all by him-/herself?
I will never forget the great time I had in the U.S. and the amazing people I met. It was an unforgettable year for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I am very grateful that I had such an outstanding opportunity. I know, some people might say you lose one year, but actually it is worth much more than anything else. It is an experience that shapes you and your future, personally and professionally.