16 July 2010

My Internship - The Last Chapter: "Was nicht zur Tat wird, hat keinen Wert"

(rough translation of title quote from Gustav Werner "What does not become an action, has no worth.")

It hardly seems long ago that I walked through the doors of the old brick Krankenhäusle back in February to start my first day at the Projektgruppe Stadthalle. Now, almost 6 months later, I am saying my goodbyes to a team of coworkers that have become another sort of family to me here in Reutlingen.

As I reflect upon my time at PGS, I am amazed not only at the plethera of jobs I have done while a co-op intern there, but also how much I have learned technically, linguistically, professionally, and personally. A glance at my resume gives a surprisingly thick list of new skills that I've aquired from the variety of jobs I was given over the months:
· Assisted in writing presentations for the project manager.
· Translated technical journal articles into German or English for assistant project manager.
· Acted as official translator for site tours and presentations for international visitors
· Took photos and managed documentation of project construction and public tours.
· Assisted in communication with firms regarding public advertisement around the site.
· Wrote and contributed to online “Blick Hinter den Bauzaun” construction photo gallery.
· Edited layout construction plans and change order documents.
· Wrote billing and minor contract statements for contractors.

...and much more :-P

Behind this list stands a million lessons learned and challenges faced, though. For me, the biggest worry I had when starting this co-op was the language. Learning a foreign language at university is one thing - living and also working in the language is a totally other matter - certainly not a typical experience for an American either. It was for me a true test of the linguistic skills I had been acquiring over the past 4 years of school - and I was unsure of how well I would succeed. It was a tiring and frustrating first months, especially for an expressive person like me, as I tried to break through the language barrier to show myself and who I was as a person to the group. I had several milestones language-wise, though, like...

...when I found I could space out and still understand the conversations around me.
...when I answered the phone and my immediate words where in German.
...when I couldn't figure out if I was thinking in German or English.
...when my coworkers started correcting me for my dialectal accent and NOT for German.
...when I knew what the technical words were in German, but couldn't remember what they were in English.
...when I tried to write interview notes in English and ended up writing German.

and the best:
...when a German schoolteacher lady asked me "so you're German, right?"

I can truly say my German would never have improved as much as it did without this job and the help and patience of my coworkers.

Along the way, I have also learned to solve problems that I don't always understand, to look past personal differences and work together, to make deadlines even with tight schedules and stress, and to bring a cheerful and willing spirit to difficult situations. I now have a greater certainty in my skills as an engineer and my value to a team. More importantly personally, I feel more confident in who I am, what I can do, what I want, and - as I told the group - I feel as if I have "come into" myself.

The last week at PGS was no less busy than usual, and even though I wished the days would go slower, time passed quickly and it was soon Thursday, when I had my "going away" party. I prepared most of the food - snickerdoodles (Herr Eder's favorite from my baking), cherry chocolate chip cake (Herr Kessler's favorite from my baking), fruit salad - and the drinks - coffee, orange juice, apple juice, Sprudel (seltzer water) and the requisite Sekt (sparkling wine)....but the group suprised me with the set-up - USA and German flag decorations, which made it feel like a belated very German kind of 4th of July celebration - and a few gifts too. The party was a way for me to thank them for the chance to work with them, and for us to be able to enjoy one last time relaxing and talking together. I went home with my own specially-made bookbag, a book of Reutlingen, a strong recommendation letter, and with warm feelings on both sides.

In closing, when I came to PGS, I was and felt like a Praktikantin. Now - thanks to my wonderful colleagues and my experiences working six months with them - I may still be a Praktikantin in title, but I leave feeling like a Mitarbeiterin. For that, I have much to be thankful for.


Some quotes that came to my mind when thinking about this Praktikum (fittingly from Goethe):

"We don't get to know people when they come to us; we must go to them to find out what they are like." ~ Goethe

"Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting." ~ Goethe

"How shall we learn to know ourselves? By reflection? Never; but only through action. Strive to do thy duty; then you shall know what is in thee." ~Goethe

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