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A Great Big World

My research internship through the DAAD RISE program came to an end in August, about 2 months after I arrived on June 1st, 2017. My program was an opportunity to work in a research lab in Germany, funded by the German government. DAAD RISE takes 300 undergraduates each year from the US, Canada, and the UK from a typical applicant pool of 1800, puts them in contact with a research group, and provides a stipend for living expenses. Airfare and other transportation costs are not covered, though a stipend for the yearly conference is provided. I worked under a German professor with a Ph. D student as my mentor exploring the antioxidant properties of various blends of lignin and cellulose.

The goal of my research was to quantify the antioxidant activity of different blends of biomaterials in the hopes of perhaps understanding what makes the blends have different antioxidant activities, as well as to determine the optimum blends for developing biodegradable food packaging. I got to learn firsthand how to perform various lab techniques, including preparing lignin solutions and doing antioxidant assays. I also got to apply some of the knowledge I learned in my classes at NCSU in the lab to better understand my experiments. While I lived in student housing in Bonn, my work took place at the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg (H-BRS) in Rheinbach, Germany.

I chose to apply for and ultimately attend this internship because it gave me what I truly believe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct research, live abroad, and be paid all at the same time. The program gives interns a streamlined way to get international research experience and network with other like-minded individuals. Additionally, this program served as an excellent way for me to get research experience that would be applicable to medical school.

On my internship I learned firsthand what day-to-day life is like a foreign country, and how to survive in my own without speaking much German. I also learned that for the most part, people are more or less the same no matter what country you are from. The majority of my research group were ethnic Germans, while my mentor was a student from Jordan and my best friend in the group was Vietnamese. I lived in the international student housing, where my roommates were from Germany, Italy, China, and the United States. Despite our different backgrounds, as long as we could speak English (or sometimes very bad German), we all found that we had similar interests and had no problem working and living together.

While this experience didn’t change my goal to become a doctor, it definitely helped me see what life is like outside of the United States and has opened up the possibility of me perhaps pursuing a graduate degree abroad. I was unsure what life would be like living abroad, but now I know that it is totally doable and a ton of fun! This internship helped me to mature into an independent person, capable of living on my own without friends or family nearby. It helped me to become more resourceful and inquisitive of my surroundings. And it also gave me an appreciation for the German people, who as a nation have left a strong impression on me. Thank you again CNR for your support, this was an amazing experience that I will never forget!

-Michael Larkins