During the summer of 2017, Bethany Kon (Year 3 EngSci), participated in a Summer Research Abroad opportunity at TU Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany. U of T Engineering reached out to her to find out more about her experience.
Why did you decide to participate in research abroad?
Enrolling in U of T Engineering was one of the best life decisions I’ve made. Through your research, you get to be on the brink of cutting-edge innovations and push your mind to craft solutions for the tech industry. I’m also a complete travel addict. So what better way to combine these two passions than to undertake research abroad? While the 3-4 month adventure is not long enough to leave you with debilitating homesickness, it is long enough to help you explore engineering with a global context.
What destination did you choose and why?
I chose Darmstadt, Germany. Originally, I chose it for the location and the projects offered by TU Darmstadt’s robotics laboratory. The best part about being located near Frankfurt is the ability to easily travel between cities. I was able to visit 12 other cities – four of which were outside Germany. As for the research aspect of the exchange, I wanted to experience working in my specialization: robotics.
What kind of research did you work on while overseas?
The Controls Methods and Robotics Lab that I worked in at TU Darmstadt was in the process of developing a localization system for an underwater pool cleaning robot, which was provided by a company called SRO. My particular research project involved integrating a sensor system and a wireless communication network in order to track the movement of the robot underwater (so as to later improve on the exiting path-planning algorithms to efficiently clean pools). Basically, an underwater Roomba.
What was your favourite part of your exchange?
The people, no doubt. The community of exchange students from across the globe provides a culturally-enriched environment that you don’t really get anywhere else. What do I mean by culture? It’s the language, the festivals, the rituals, the recreational activities, the food, the socialization. It’s the way people live their lives.
Yes, Toronto is considered one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, but on exchange, you don’t just get to observe it – you get to live it. You get to participate in a whole other way of life and bring back unbelievable tales of adventure that will leave you aching for more.
In what ways did your exchange impact to your student experience?
My favourite part about the U of T student experience is discovering and formulating my ambitions and desires through shared experiences. Being able to go on exchange really does expand the student experience – physically, yes, but mentally as well. You learn how to bring your university lifestyle, classroom knowledge and extra-curricular activities to a whole other country and explore how to meld and expand them within the given environment.
Did your summer abroad change the way you look at the rest of your studies and what you’ll do after graduation?
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was able to adapt to the new academic environment and keep up with the pace set by my supervisor and other lab peers. Seeing things you learn (control theory, Linux shells, PCB design, etc.) being implemented halfway across the globe is extremely rewarding! My summer research experience abroad showed me the relevancy and applicability of the skills and knowledge I acquired in the classroom.
Honestly, I’m still unsure of what exactly I’ll be doing after graduation, but I’ve concluded that it’ll be something wild. My summer abroad showed me how many possibilities there are, gave me a plethora of crazy ideas and the confidence to go out and execute them all.
Would you recommend this experience to other students?
If you like adventure and would like to see how engineering is implemented/executed across the world, GO GO GO! It’ll change the way you view your degree and has the potential to completely alter your post-graduate plans.
This interview has been condensed and edited.