2017 Grant Award: Katy Gerace

Working in Germany was only half of the adventure; the other half was actually getting there. I spent 24 hours in 3 different airports and stepped off the plane in Berlin only to realize that my luggage didn’t follow me. Before I left, people kept reassuring me that everyone in Germany spokeEnglish and that it would be an easy place to live for the summer, however, I quickly realized that wasn’t quite accurate as I couldn’t speak to anyone in Air Berlin to pinpoint the location of my bags. But I was in beautiful Germany surrounded by lush fields and cobblestone streets, and I now had an excuse to go shopping. Now begins the next part of my adventure: shopping for clothes. Again, very few people speak English, so when it came time to check out there was some confusion regarding my American credit card and I only figured it out after inviting 3 people into the conversation: the cashier and 2 bystanders. Between the 4 of us, we were finally able to reach a conclusion! When I arrived at my apartment in Magdeburg, all I had were the clothes on my back and a small bag of toiletries and clothes that I just purchased. My sparse room with a mattress and desk completed my welcome to Germany.

This summer, I traveled to Magdeburg, Germany (1.5 hours south of Berlin) to perform research at the Otto Von Guericke University. I was assigned a project to synthesize and characterize metal organic frameworks for carbon dioxide sequestration. While this was my objective for the summer, I actually ended up working on a variety of projects with multiple researchers at the university. I explored the marriage between inorganic chemistry and materials science through projects including zeolite synthesis, ceramic foam manufacturing, and metal organic framework characterization. This proved to be very beneficial as I explored a variety of projects, learned about different techniques, and made connections with researchers in different research departments at the university.

But my experience in Magdeburg was so much more than just research and lab work. This was my first time out of the United States, and I took full advantage of my new location. I traveled every weekend, successfully navigating the public transportation system with only a few mishaps. Within Germany, I explored Hamburg, Heidelberg, Erfurt, Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig. I also traveled to Prague, Salzburg, Paris, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam. With a combination of buses, trains, ferries, metros, and trams, I became quite comfortable exploring European cities.

I could say a lot of things about my summer abroad. I could say that it was breathtaking, exhausting, enlightening, peaceful, and life-changing. While all of those are accurate, above all, Germany gave me confidence and adaptability, skills that are ubiquitous in life. I was dropped off in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the area, and didn’t know anyone. I lived in a country where I couldn’t read the signs, had to guess and point at something on the menu, and couldn’t understand the train conductor. Translation apps and Google Maps are great when everything goes according to plan with no “hiccups.” But real life isn’t a smooth ride – it’s a rollercoaster. I experienced train delays, missed a bus, had to set up a German bank account, and learned how to use a bike like a car. Every time I walked out of my apartment it was like going on an adventure – I had no idea what was going to happen, and I had no way to prepare. More than anything else, studying in Germany taught me how to adapt to my circumstances. I learned creativity to get stuff accomplished, and humility to ask for help. Studying in Germany not only equipped me with skills to excel in my career, but with skills to excel in life.