Hello everyone. I am Anubhav Agarwal, a sophomore in the department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay pursuing Dual Degree with MTech in Microelectronics. This is my story of how I ended up getting an internship at Fraunhofer ITWM-one of the leading research institutes in Germany.
It was a week before my departure to Germany and I was full of mixed feelings. On one hand there was the excitement of going to Europe- a place I had always dreamt of visiting and on the other there was the nervousness of managing everything without my family and friends. Finally the day arrived. I bid adieu to my parents and went inside IGI airport to check in. After a 10.5 hour-long flight, I was finally in Frankfurt- one of the largest financial centers in Europe.
Frankfurt airport is absolutely huge. Thankfully, there are screens everywhere with instructions in both English and German languages to guide you. After a kilometer-long walk and accidentally entering a departure gate while searching for the baggage belt, I reached the immigration control. After getting a stamp on my passport and collecting the luggage, I took a bus to Flughafen FernBf- the airport long distance railway station. I was literally taken aback when I saw a Deutsche Bahn Inter Continental Express train swooping past me at over 200 kilometers an hour and disappearing within seconds.
After a two-hour train journey, I reached Kaiserslautern- the place where I was going to spend the next two months.
Fraunhofer ITWM is a research institute dedicated to solving engineering challenges and developing innovative ideas. There are all kinds of facilities available for use by the employees. I was going to work in the department of image processing under the supervision of a PhD student. On the first day, I was given a tour of the department and introduced to some really amazing people who were going to be my coworkers. My task is to study and implement various techniques of surface reconstruction from point cloud of a 3D object. The first couple of weeks involved familiarizing myself with the basic concepts and understand work previously done by people involved in the project.
The work culture here is highly motivating and relaxed at the same time. People here are passionate about the work they do and are always ready to help each other in whatever ways they can. Everyone from the head of department to an intern like me would sit together during lunch time and chat about their work and leisure. There is no pressure or any deadline for an intern like me however my supervisor always makes sure I have stuff to do in order to keep myself busy.
This was the part where I had to struggle the most. Unlike my fellow batch mates who got their internships through PT Cell, I did apping in order to get mine. The process started somewhere near September-October last year.
The first step was to identify the topics I wanted to work on during my internship. Being a sophomore, I had some idea about my interests but wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a particular topic in detail. I made a list of things that excited/interested me and browsed through research papers related to those fields and also recorded names and email ids of their authors. Following this step, I started writing mails somewhere in November. The first month was disappointing since there were only a handful replies to my several emails, that too expressing the inability to take me as an intern. Though this isn’t something unexpected in apping.
The first positive reply came in the first week of December from a Post-Doc researcher in TU Kaiserslautern. We worked remotely for a few weeks on a project on airborne wind energy. However, due to some administrative issues, things didn’t work out further as far as internship during summer was concerned. After some weeks of silence, in mid-January he informed me about an internship opportunity available at Fraunhofer. I was elated and wasted no time in contacting supervisor of the respective project. Due to reference from the Postdoc candidate and me having the skills required for the job, I was finally accepted after a couple of Skype interviews.
Finding accommodation was another obstacle I had to overcome after getting acceptance for the internship. I contacted the Human Resources personnel at the university and Fraunhofer as this was the first thing advised to me by my seniors. However, other than providing contact information, they couldn’t help much. The primary sources of finding accommodation in Germany are Airbnb, student groups on Facebook, or getting contract-based accommodation from private landlords. The last alternative generally requires a minimum contract period of six months, so it was eliminated as I was to stay only for two months. Airbnb’s are relatively expensive if one has to stay for long duration (more than a month) so I tried to connect with as many people as possible on Facebook. Almost every city has a student group on Facebook where people post advertisements about available rooms and other commodities such as Wi-Fi routers, furniture, books, etc. I kept posting my requirements on as many pages I could find. I met with some success when I found a home available for the first month of my stay. Airbnb was the only option for the remaining half of my stay and that was what I chose.
Being a vegetarian, food was a major setback for me when I arrived in Germany. However, this gave me enough motivation to try my hand at cooking. Back at home, I had learnt the essential recipes before coming to Germany which proved to be quite useful here. It is recommended that you bring commodities such as spices, ready to eat Indian food packets and basic crockery with you from India as it can be hard to find them here and relatively expensive as well. Sometimes it is great fun experimenting with whatever ingredients that are available in the kitchen and trying to come up with something delicious to eat. However, scrambled eggs, parathas, sandwiches, pizza, pasta are the dishes that I prepare most often.
Surprisingly, outlets such as Burger King and McDonalds don’t offer vegetarian options in their menus here. On the upside, Subway offers two vegetarian alternatives which is a life saver for a vegan for me while travelling.
Being in the central part of Europe, it is relatively easier to explore other countries from Germany. On the western side, we have France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Switzerland on the South and Czech Republic and Austria on the East. Germany itself is full of amazing places to visit. I made it a point to explore a new destination every weekend to get the most out of my internship.
Trains and buses were two alternatives for me as far means of travel is concerned. FlixBus has a fleet of buses that runs almost all over Europe and is one of the most affordable options. Trains are another popular mode of transportation however tickets can get very expensive if one does the booking at the last moment. Hence, Flixbus was the natural choice for most of my journeys.
My first destination was Berlin. Being the political capital of Germany, it is home to the Reichstag-the German parliament along with other historically important landmarks.
The best thing about many cities in Europe is that most of the popular destinations are concentrated in a radius of a couple kilometers. This makes commuting from one location to another just a matter of few minutes of walk.
Being a huge fan of sports cars, I had to visit Stuttgart- the home of supercar brands Mercedes and Porsche. It was a truly mesmerizing experience watching history of these automotive manufacturers unfold in their beautiful museums.
Paris was another destination I simply couldn’t miss. Honestly, I haven’t seen a city more beautiful than this one. It is a wonderful amalgam of history and modern technology. You can find buildings with intricate artwork all over them, yet they are equipped with state-of-the art facilities from inside.
With a 4-euro pass (which I misplaced twice), you can use all means of local transport for one day. I visited most of the popular landmarks such as the Eiffel tower, Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Arc of Triumph, Montmartre and Napoleon’s Tomb. After a day full of moving from one place to another, the evening was spent relaxing at Pont Saint Michel, relishing the beauty of the river Seine and its beautiful bridges.
I lived in a flat share during my stay in Germany. Since Fraunhofer was located only a kilometer away from my house, I used to walk to my office every day. Living in a flat share was a completely new experience and it significantly contributed to developing my soft skills.
The cleanliness on the streets outside is reflected inside the homes of Germany as well. There was a huge improvement in my hygiene habits, though it took me a few weeks to get used to it. One can find several Indian students here in the university. Since I was living close to student’s residential area, I sometimes went to my friends’ place to join them in cooking dinner which was a great bonding experience for me.
Almost all the cities and towns in Germany have a ‘Lidl’ supermarket in them. One can buy most groceries and other commodities including ready to eat food items here. Having one at a stone’s throw from my house was very convenient.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and the Germans are well aware of this fact. Every once in a while, you can find posters of some carnival, fest or cultural activity being organized either in the university. There are dance performances, DJs, karaoke, etc. and people make merry by joining their friends while drinking beer and relishing the experience.
This internship has been a great experience for me till now. I am very much satisfied with the work I have done yet and there is certainly better clarity over what I want to pursue as a profession after completing my studies. My interest in application-oriented research as well as coding has increased greatly during this internship. This will certainly help me in making a more informed choice about my career path.
The idea of settling abroad seems fascinating to most people for good reasons. There are certainly better living conditions, relaxed yet motivating working environment and maybe fatter pay slips. However, the comfort of being in your own country with your family and friends is like none other, both physically and emotionally. I would like to end by saying that the chocolate from Switzerland, pizza from Italy and cheese from Amsterdam might fill you with wonders but there is nothing like the tadka from an Indian kitchen.