Intern Abroad

Archive for December, 2022

Writing my master’s thesis in California

December 13th, 2022 | by
  • Environmental Engineering M.Sc.
  • Berkeley, California, United States of America
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • January 2022 – August 2022


My stay abroad at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (California) was 8 months long, from January 2022 to August 2022. During this time, I was doing research for my master’s thesis (Process Engineering) and did not collect any CPs as a student at UC Berkeley.


I started contacting professors from UC Berkeley, asking for an opportunity to research on my master’s thesis without having a concrete topic. Through several emails and zoom meetings I was invited as a “visiting student researcher” at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the equivalent to the “Frauenhofer Institut” in Germany. I had to apply for a J1 Exchange Student Visa, which meant filling out many documents and a lot of planning. In total, this process (called Free Mover) took almost a year before I was able to fly to San Francisco International Airport to start my research beginning of January 2022.


I found a shared apartment via craigslist close to my work and close to the campus. Do not underestimate the costs of living in the Bay area. For my room in a normal sized apartment with three housemates and a garden I paid $950. Food is as well a big expense, for example, a loaf bread costs $9 compared to a German 3€ loaf. Expensive is as well eating out (Pizza $15 compared to 5€) or having drinks (Beer $10 compared to 3€). But the food scene in Berkeley/Oakland/San Francisco is very versatile and vibrant, which surprised me. This all-year-great weather leads to people being active and sociable no matter how expensive life is.


Near Berkeley is Oakland, a larger city that has become very attractive to the middle class. In Oakland, you can witness the process of gentrification, which means that the wealthy young generation is taking over an entire neighborhood from the poorer population. Oakland has a vibrant, fascinating culture on one side and crime and poverty on the other. To the west of Berkeley is San Francisco, which can be reached in about 20 minutes by BART, the local subway (cost $5, use ClipperCard). Berkeley is rather a quiet

University town, whereas SF is a magnet for tourists. The best places in SF are the Golden Gate Park (in the center of the city), the Dolores Park (a very crowded park, full of locals), Chinatown and Ocean Beach, there are as well great bars and festivals all year round. North of SF you can go hiking along the coast (Marin County, Point Reyes). In the south is Stanford University with a beautiful campus (Palo Alto). Must-see are as well: Napa Valley and Sonoma County (the wine regions of CA, 1 hour car ride from Berkeley), Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and Big Sur (each 3 hours car ride from Berkeley).

Daily Life:

Since I was not an official student of the UC Berkeley, I was not able to create a membership for the on-campus gym. Instead, I got a membership at the YMCA gym in Downtown Berkeley, very close to my apartment. I spent the day in the lab working on my research, ate lunch there with colleagues, and then went to the gym. In the evenings, I often took walks to the Rose Garden in Berkeley, hiked around the Fire Trails, watched the sunset at the Berkeley Marina or on top of the Indian Rocks in Berkeley. When spending the weekend in Berkeley, I usually went to: University Ave (Downtown), Southside (the equivalent to the Ponte in Aachen, in South Berkeley), to Temescal (South Berkeley, on the edge to Oakland) and Solano Ave (on the edge to Albany). When I was writing for my thesis, I enjoyed going to the many libraries the campus has to offer (the best being DOE library) and cafes, like Strada, Blue Bottle, Berkeley Espresso and Yali’s. Other things I liked to do: Yoga at Ohlone Park, Sunday food at “Thai Temple” (Wat Mongkolratanaram from 10am-1pm), biking to Lake Temescal.

© Emna Aidi

© Emna Aidi

Last Advice:

You will need at least half a year to plan such a research stay abroad. I created a one-page leaflet about my idea to work on my master’s thesis, listing my relevant coursework I took at the RWTH Aachen University and my interests in which I would like to work. I sent it to professors, who seemed to work on similar topics, and kept asking them to help me forward my email to others as well. Apply for scholarships since the research stay will be very expensive (Auslandsbafög, RWTH Research Ambassador, Promos DAAD, GIZ).

View: At the LBNL (located on a hill) overlooking the UC Berkeley campus and San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge.


My experiences in the Netherlands

December 13th, 2022 | by
  • Biomedical Engineering M.Sc.
  • Netherlands, Utrecht
  • UMC Utrecht
  • 01.06.2022 – 16.11.2022



To give myself some headroom to deal with the difficult housing market, I started looking for positions about nine months before the planned starting date. By the time I had found a position it was just four months to the starting date so that also had some implications on the available options in the housing market. A lot of general information pages about going abroad in the Netherlands recommend housing agencies like SSH to find student or some form of affordable housing. However, some of these agencies rely on a long waiting list, where it is more likely to get a housing offer the longer you are on the list. So, if you are running low on time, you can probably skip these options and look for alternatives, which saves you money in the process. This is another peculiarity of the Dutch housing market. While the German housing market is fairly accessible through online portals where you can see most of the available housing for free, the Dutch housing market is essentially locked behind a paywall, where most services require a subscription to contact any of the landlords. I found housing through the university hospital, which was by far the cheapest option compared to the private market. I was also required to make an appointment with the municipality for the registration purpose well in advance. I was able to get an appointment about four weeks away from the date I was looking on.


The Dutch system called OV-chipkaart makes commuting easy. It is essentially a prepaid (or bank account linked) public transport ticket which allows you to take every bus or train by simply checking in at the station or in the bus when you get on and checking out when you leave. It may be a little intimidating at first because you are always second guessing yourself if you have checked out correctly, but you can also register your chipkaart in the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) App where you can check your latest chipcard activities. You can either order a personalized (bank account linked) card online, which takes about two weeks, or get a prepaid one at your local supermarket like Albert Heijn or Jumbo. I took the prepaid option which was still very comfortable because recharging stations are readily available at all train or bus stations and even some other locations like supermarkets. However, commuting by bus may become a noticeable financial burden because every trip you take has a flat base fee plus a per kilometre fee. Especially the base fee becomes very noticeable on short distances common inside the city.

With all of that said though, the obvious choice for commuting in the Netherlands is naturally the bike. Especially in Utrecht the bike infrastructure is exceptional. There are well maintained bike paths and bike storage everywhere which makes commuting by bike a treat. I took my bike from Aachen to Utrecht by train which is easy via the NS intercities.

Every-day life/internship:

Life in the Netherlands isn’t really all that different from life in Germany. Supermarket prices are a bit more expensive in some categories but are generally comparable to the ones you would fine here. This also applies to your average take out service, where a decent portion of fries will set you back about 3 € and a high-quality pizza is about 10 €. Payment services are also a non-issue in the Netherlands if you have a German debit card. There are very few places, if any, where you will encounter the need for cash because everything is paid by card, and I haven’t had any issues with my debit card (no extra fees or anything).

The Dutch working culture is also kind of similar but one thing I have encountered during my stay is that they put less emphasize on the lunch break. The lunch breaks were generally quite short (often just shy of 30 minutes) and primarily focused on food consumption. However, this may be attributed to the group I was working in. My internship was in the neuro engineering department of the Medical Centre Utrecht, which was a very international and highly goal oriented, so I spent a lot of time working.

Utrecht as a city also offers great recreational opportunities in forms of parks and proximity to farms around the campus. I regularly took strolls along the fields after work. If you take a bike, there are also a lot of historical landmarks within reach, including a lot of different forts and castles.


While the housing situation and cost of living may be a little overwhelming in the beginning, the Dutch culture is very approachable and welcoming. The country offers a great experience in terms of travel, be it by bike or by public transport, which was a welcome change from the car centrist life in Germany. The university hospital in Utrecht is very well equipped and offers knowledge in a wide range of topics.

Go abroad. Go to Sweden.

December 13th, 2022 | by
  • Business Administration and Engineering: Materials and Process Engineering B.Sc.
  • Sweden, Helsingborg
  • RKW Sweden AB
  • April – October 2022


Ah, what a great summer…looking back now, it feels more like a big vacation than a semester of working. Maybe because I did so many great after- work activities, maybe because my internship itself was nice or maybe because now this time is over and it is winter in Germany. 🙂

I arrived in the middle of April and at first, things started off medium well. My room, rented by the company, was in the basement of a villa with quite a few alcoholics in the building. They were all nice to me, but this was something new and scary to me. Over time and with changing apartment mates it got better, but the first months were a bit hard because I did not feel at home there.  Here we already have a few learnings about Sweden; first, almost nobody in Sweden rents apartments, so rental websites are a bit weird and mostly people in unstable points of their lives or students rent apartments. Also, Sweden has super strict laws and crazy prizes when it comes to alcohol, you are for example not allowed to drink alcohol on the street.

Let’s get to a more fun topic, work 😉 For me, working at a Swedish location of a German company was great. The atmosphere was good, the people were really nice and everyone spoke English well. Another great thing about Sweden is, how far it is in all terms of equality. If I was a woman or a man, the site management or the little intern, I felt like everyone was equally important and valuable. This is not the case in all companies or countries and so it was very interesting to have the many times stressed and not so relaxed German part of the company in comparison to the Swedish part I was working at.

If you want to experience a great working atmosphere, try working in Sweden. 🙂

One thing about the chill atmosphere, which almost irritated me, was the amount of Fika (coffee breaks) they take. Sometimes 45 minutes per day made me feel a bit unproductive, but many of my colleagues there were very comfortable with that. Another thing I had heard about before, is the swedes awkwardness when it comes to small talk. My own experience was, that if you have any connection to the person, small talk is fine and they will be really nice. They won’t go out of their way for you, like speak English during the entire lunch because you don’t speak Swedish, but someone will try to integrate you a bit. If they don’t know you at all, they will try not to talk to you at all, in public for example.

I did have a bit of problems in the beginning to get involved socially, but through my hobby sailing, some colleagues and Facebook, things slowly picked up. Facebook is actually one of my biggest recommendations for anyone going to Sweden. If you are trying to rent an apartment, inform yourself on clubs or social groups. If you want to find friends, look there. What works really well is hiking groups. I found that the people there are usually very open, come from everywhere and on top of that you are exploring the area. What happened to me is that one girl saw one of my hiking plans in one group, texted me and we became friends. We even made a trip to Stockholm together in the last weeks of my time in Sweden!

Now let’s come to my specific Skåne recommendations:

© Kuhlmann, Selma

© Kuhlmann, Selma

-Kallbadhusets, beautiful saunas at the sea, where you can switch between bathing in the cold sea and sitting in the sauna. Very relaxing and not very expensive. (about the price for a cup of beer in Sweden;))

-Venn island in the middle of the Öresund, a beautiful place with fun yellow tandem bikes for exploring the nature.

-Kullaberg. An awesome hiking spot northern of Helsingborg.

-The bakery två systras in Helsingbog. They have a lot of awesome traditional Swedish Fikabröd like Kardemummabullar or Vaniljhjärta. My personal cake favorite: the Budapest.

-The Vasa museum in Stockholm. We were also a bit unsure of going because it does cost some money, but it was all worth it. Such an interesting and greatly made museum!

My conclusion: Go abroad. Go to Sweden. Start somewhere new. Learn more about yourself.

A great experience in Madrid

December 5th, 2022 | by
  • Architecture M.A.
  • Spain, Madrid
  • b720 Fermín Vázquez Arquitectos
  • May – October 2022


Living and working six months in the vibrant city of Madrid was a lot of fun for me. I did my obligatory internship in a rather small architecture studio in the northern central part of the city – close to the Bernabeu stadium. I shared a flat with two people in Hortaleza, which is in the north-east between the inner and outer ring, therefore a little bit far from the lively city centre. But it was within a good distance for the everyday commute and for an affordable price. One very important thing to know about living in Madrid is that the public transport system is working really well and if you live close to a metro or cercania station you can move very quickly within the city. If you are under 26 the monthly ticket is more than affordable.

My colleagues at the architecture studio were nice and welcoming. They offered me to speak in English but I asked them to only talk in Spanish with me as I wished to learn as much Spanish as possible during my stay. Even though I did not understand everything on my first days, it did not take long to get used to listening and speaking Spanish all day long. This way I learned a lot and could integrate well in the team. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend a good level of Spanish if you would like to do your internship in Spain.

I have spent the summer term in Madrid to enjoy the nice and hot climate. If I could choose again, I would probably prefer to do an internship of six month in the winter term for two reasons. First, in July and August, it got very hot. Maybe this year has been extreme, but we had a couple of weeks with temperatures above 35 degrees – up to 41 degrees on peak days. Even though every office is supposed to have air conditioning, mine did not because it was broken. As it took until the end of August until someone could fix it, we had to sweat quite a bit. Second, if your office does not make an obligated summer break you are probably to stay while everyone else is leaving Madrid for three or four weeks of vacation. And as people are taking turns, you can find yourself with only very few other co-workers in the office. When everyone came back from vacation, the social life outside the office started to pic up. Not only among the colleagues but also in the whole city. A lot of events happen in autumn in Madrid. So, when the time came that I had to leave, I really did not want to.

Madrid’s social life is inexhaustible. There are always things to do and always events happening. It is almost impossible to find a moment when the streets are empty. Concerning parties, it is probably impossible not to find a bar or club where you can listen to the music you like. You can find all kinds of parties in town. (Even though there is a lot of reggaeton, which was in my favour.) I enjoyed most going out in Cuenca and Malasaña – day and night. Also, even though the river of the city is rather small, Madrid has a lot of parks. I loved spending time at the Retiro Parque and Casa de Campo. But because I lived rather far away from these central parks I often went for a run to Parque Felipe VI. Probably no location where you would go to if you do not live close by, but I liked running there a lot because I had a view of Madrid’s Skyline as well as the mountains in the north of the city. If you search for a nice sunset location, I would not recommend Templo de Debot because it is always too crowded, but rather go to the Lookout at Tío Pío’s Hill.

Madrid is Europe’s highest capital city with about 600m above sea level. I noticed this the most due to the high temperature ranges between day and night. Therefore, it is always recommended to bring at least a light jacket. If you do not need it in the morning, maybe you will need it inside if the air conditioning is too cold.

The last thing that I would like to mention about Madrid is that I appreciated its geographic location within Spain a lot. It is very comfortable to travel from and to Madrid. The distances to all points of interest in all directions are more or less equal. If you book your AVE (the fastest trains in Spain) in advance, it is affordable and allows you to go – sometimes even non-stop – to either Sevilla or Barcelona within two hours. The bus takes about five to six hours depending on traffic conditions.

To put it in a nutshell, I can highly recommend Madrid (and for architects also my studio b720) as Erasmus+ location. I enjoyed the six month there a lot and I hope that I can go back soon. The people I met were wonderful and the food I ate delicious. I have learned a lot in language, professional and intercultural terms.