By Matt Hawkins
Mechanical engineering major Maria Anton ’19 always wanted a long-term opportunity to explore Europe. She found that summer with a three-month internship in Peoria’s sister city of Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Anton, of Mount Prospect, Illinois, was familiar with Europe from family vacations and a three-week May 2016 interim trip to Friedrichshafen, but she hadn’t immersed herself in the culture. That changed when contacts from her 2016 trip offered a chance to return for the extended internship at Zeppelin Systems GmbH. The German company develops products for the plastics, rubber and food industries.
“It was an amazing way to grow professionally, explore new cities and meet really cool people,” she said. “Working in a professional setting overseas gave me insight into a truly international work environment.”
Anton assisted engineers with a range of projects. She learned product development by helping researchers in the company’s new product testing facility. She also wrote and translated documents into English for the company’s global audiences. These tasks showed her how classroom lessons in technical writing and critical thinking made a difference in a professional setting.
Language differences forced the intern outside her comfort zone to communicate across languages. To overcome differences in sentence structure, verb forms and speech pace, she relied on nonverbal and interpersonal relationship skills. Sometimes, that meant simple solutions like slowing down her naturally fast-paced English speech patterns.
“It was tense going to a country where I didn’t speak the native language, but it was an amazing learning experience,” Anton said. “I’m surprised how much German I learned in the short time I was there.”
Anton soaked up German culture in Friedrichshafen, which is on a lake near the country’s southern borders with Austria and Switzerland. Coworkers and her host family introduced her to the city’s fall festivals and took her to hike the nearby Allgau Alps and to see historic sights a few hours away in Italy.
These adventures built friendships and created memories that will long outlast the internship.
“I see the world as simultaneously bigger and smaller now,” Anton said. “It’s bigger because of the opportunity to explore a new culture and see countless adventures in life. It’s smaller because spending time with my host family, coworkers and friends showed me that people around the world are similar despite cultural differences.”