Friday, June 12, 2015

Wrapping it up like a Christmas present

Now that I've been back nearly a week, I'm finally rested and free enough to have had time to reflect upon my time in Germany. To sum it up simply, I could not be more thankful for the opportunity that I was granted with this experience.

In the Pitt IE department, it's a requirement for you to study abroad (there are other options, but this is easiest and the most recommended). Last year, I nearly went to Uruguay to fulfill this requirement. I'm glad I put that off so I could travel to Germany. It was a place I always had wanted to travel, and the program sounded most like it would align with my career goals. It definitely lived up to those expectations.

What surpassed my expectations though, was the people I met and the experiences we were given. First of all, I've never met a better staff of people than I did on this trip. The professors were some of the most knowledgeable I've ever had, true experts in their fields. To be able to have them give us tours of the facilities that they'd worked with was even better. The two trip coordinators, Maria and Katharina, were simply amazing. They went above and beyond for us, and truly treated us to a full cultural experience of Munich, Bavaria, and southern Germany. I couldn't have asked for better hosts. Finally, the three students that accompanied us, Andrea, Tanja, and Chris, were also incredible. They were very welcoming of us, and always willing to spend time with us when they could. They made this trip so much fun for all of us, simply because they enjoyed their time with us as much as we did with them.

We also were treated to a full scenic and cultural experience of the region. Several times we traveled to the Alps, which were just breathtaking every time. We climbed in a high ropes course, traveled to the top of mountains, and rode an alpine coaster. We visited two castles. We traveled to the Tegernsee, which led to the best day of the entire trip. We toured a traditional Bavarian brewery, one of the best in Germany. And we visited Dachau, a real moving experience. I'm sure I'm missing something, because we experienced so much, and had so many good days.

All that said, I truly couldn't have asked for a better three weeks. I'm thankful for the time I spent, and I hope to be able to visit again soon. I'd like to thank everyone involved that made this possible, because without you, I'm not sure I could have gone.

Friday, June 5, 2015

What does the future hold?

When I first started this trip, I thought I had a pretty good plan for what I wanted in the future. I love my job now working in quality assurance, and I figured that I'd want to be living near a city (or at least in a suburb) for a long time. After taking a several industrial engineering courses during this trip, and seeing the beautiful countryside of Germany, who knows what the future holds?

I've definitely become a bit more open as far as career choices go. I love my job now, but I definitely have become more open to other industrial engineering type jobs over the course of this trip. I've always loved my major, and some of the lectures and visits we've taken in the past three weeks have reaffirmed that. While I still would prefer a job in QA, I certainly wouldn't mind working in any other type of role.

As far as living goes, I've always considered myself a city kid. But I've spent plenty of time outside the city, and a lot in the country. Taking several trips to the German Alps really made me realize how much I love that kind of land. While I may not live in a setting like that, I could definitely retire in a similar place.

My plans haven't changed completely, but it's definitely reopened my mind to what I may want later in life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

We Aren't So Different

I've only got three days left here in Munich, so I've had plenty of time to talk to and get to know some of the local students. From everything I've learned, I've really noticed that at the end of it, we're not so different. There are obviously going to be some differences because of political differences and whatnot, but that was expected. As young adults and college students, however, we are very similar.
You have students that really prioritize their education, like myself, and then you have students who would rather go out late at night and worry about the consequences. This stands true even with German students. As far as weekends are concerned, it's again very similar. There are people who like a relaxing night with their friends, or at a bar where you really just get to hang out and have a good time. Then there are the people who want to go out to dance clubs until the very late hours of the night. I've met both kinds of people in Munich, and I've found myself getting along more with the former.

The same goes for outdoor activities. We've spent a few days in the English Garden, and you see the same kind of split from young people. There are the ones playing various sports (mostly soccer, frisbee, and volleyball), and then there are the ones who just like to relax in the sun, maybe laying out to get a tan, or listening to music with their friends. Even among us, it was the same. Some of us were being active and playing sports, while others just soaked up the sun. At the base, we're really just the same people who enjoy the same kinds of activities. Sure, our political ideals and life paths may differ, but as people, I think we're all very similar.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cultural Norms

When it comes to Munich versus Pittsburgh, there are a lot of differences, but also quite a few similarities. However, the biggest cultural difference that I've noticed is one thing: beer. In both cities, it's readily available at most places. There are plenty of local breweries, each offering their own take on classic beer styles. That's about where the similarities end.

In Pittsburgh, you'll find beer in most restaurants and bars, and at select distributors. There's a wide range of breweries, and an even wider range of beer types. In Munich, you find beer everywhere. Any restaurant, grocery store, or convenience store carries beer. You'll find a wide range of breweries, but in only a few traditional styles.

In Munich, beer is just a part of the Bavarian culture. It's not abnormal to see a group of people enjoying a beer walking down the street or with their meal in between classes or during work. Here, it's a staple of their diet. If you were to do something like that in Pittsburgh, it would be seriously frowned upon, and maybe even illegal.

With all of that being said, I don't know which I like more. Sure, it's great to be able to enjoy a beer at any point of the day and relax. However, I miss the American beer style and beer culture. I don't miss the restrictions though. We'll see how I feel when I get back to Pittsburgh.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

All Play and No Work?

I'm currently on a two hour train ride to Neuschwantein Castle, so what better time to sit and write?

When I first learned that I'd be studying in Germany, I wasn't too sure what to expect from the program. As we got more information, it seemed like it would be a lot of work. I knew that our time would be filled with six courses and several company visits, so I thought I'd be doing a lot of work in these three weeks. I was wrong.

Don't get me wrong, we've been learning a lot in class, and the professors have been extremely knowledgeable. But the workload is not nearly what I expected. We've got something to do most days, but we also have plenty of free time. This time has been great, as we've been able to explore quite a bit of the city, and experience a lot of things that I wanted to experience. It's been a great amount of time spent having fun, and a good amount of time learning, which is what I came here for.

Not only do we have free time on the week and during the weekends, we also will have had three days off for public holiday in our time here by the time this trip is over. We've set up a few trips during these holidays and really tried to get as much out of them as we could. For example, next Thursday we'll be traveling to Gmund Tegernsee, which I've heard is absolutely beautiful. Time here had been very well spent.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

German Engineering

So far on this trip, we've been lucky enough to be taken on two plant tours, at Audi and BMW. On both tours, we were with our professors who had previously worked within these plants, so we also had the opportunity to receive a bit more exclusive of a tour, which was very nice. These tours were directly related to the courses that we are currently taking, so it was very nice to see a lot of the concepts that we were discussing in lectures. It was also great to get out of the classroom and have real life examples.

Our first tour was at the Audi manufacturing plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, located about an hour and a half from Munich. I've been in a few manufacturing plants since I started engineering, and this was probably one of the most impressive that I've seen. The plant itself is incredibly large, as it houses several automobile production lines and several motor production lines. Not only is it large, but it is extremely clean for a production facility. There were ideas implemented within the facility that allow it to operate functionally, but also to clean at the same time. The most impressive thing to me though, was the amount of automation. I haven't been in a lot of facilities with this amount of automated work, but Audi blew me away with the sheer amount of robots that were performing work. Entire sections of the line can operate without any human interaction, and do nearly flawless work at every step. It was extremely impressive. Even amongst the areas that required manual work was there a lot of impressive engineering. Everything operates on a constant assembly line, so there is constant motion and constant work being performed. There is very little time wasted between process steps. As an industrial engineer, this plant made me very happy.

The second tour, at BMW, was right inside of Munich. The facility is located right near Olympic Park, which makes the entire area quite the sight to see. This plant was much more like what I'm used to seeing, a true manufacturing center. While there was still an impressive amount of automation, it had the feel (and smell) of a place where work was really done. Not that it was a disgusting amount of dirty, but it definitely looked like what I'd expected when we went to Audi. With a big land restriction, due to it being within the city, it was interesting to see BMW build their plant vertically. The body shop, where we toured, had four levels of manufacturing, with a level in between each dedicated to the conveyor belt system that carried parts throughout the facility. BMW was also a lot like Audi in that there was a lot of automated processes. In both facilities, welding and handling robots were most common. It was incredible to see these machines move and perform functions in seconds that might take an average worker a few minutes or even hours to perform.

The most interesting thing to me about BMW though was the flexibility of the facility. In the US, it's common for automotive manufacturers to shut down entire facilities to set up new manufacturing lines for their new products. In BMW, they had expansive sections dedicated to their stock/buffer system that could be converted to a new line whenever a new product was installed. During that time, they'd slowly ramp down production on old models, and ramp up production on new models until the line was able to be fully functional. After that, the old line would be taken down and the roles of the two areas would switch. It seems like a lot of unused space at times, but with the possibility of models changing yearly, it was a really impressive concept.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An American in Munich

One of the topics I was tasked with writing about for this blog was what it was like to be an American abroad. There have been times where I've expected things to maybe be a little difficult, but in most of my experiences thus far, it hasn't been so bad.

Sure, there's the occasional confusion when interacting with people who only speak German (or other languages that just aren't English), but I haven't yet experienced any negative feelings or notions from anyone. And it's not that I'm good at hiding it, because people can usually tell pretty easily. To them, we're just the same kind of tourists that you'd experience as a tourist in the US. You know that they are probably from a different country, but you don't think any different of it, and it certainly isn't a bad thing. So long as we try and abide by their culture and do our best to fit in, there's no problems or any negative feelings.

The only time that I can think of where being an American was a "problem" was on one of the nights when we had gone out. Not being too familiar with the nightlife, we basically were just looking around at random places to try and get in. One doorman asked if we were German, and when we responded with no, that we're American, the club was suddenly too full for us to enter. It wasn't a big deal to us, but it did strike me as a little strange. Oh well, it's not important. My time in Germany has been excellent so far. For the most part, I've only ever experienced people trying to be as helpful as possible when they could, even if we could barely understand each other.