Guten Tag! My name is Allana Schafer, and I’m a chemical engineering student at UAH. I will begin my fourth year this fall, and I will graduate in May of 2021. This summer I will be in Halle, Germany working alongside a masters student to continue my Honors Capstone research project. I will be here for two and a half months to conduct my research at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg.
Before I talk about my arrival in Germany, I’d like to touch on what my research is about. At the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I work with Dr. Carmen Scholz in the Chemistry Department on polymer synthesis of poly(amino acid)s. My specific project is aimed at synthesizing a molecule called poly(glutamine) at a specific length due to the relevance it has in the protein that determines whether an individual has Huntington’s disease. Once I had synthesized poly(glutamine) of determined lengths in Huntsville, it was my next step to characterize this polymer and discover its physical properties and behaviors. In Huntsville we do not have all of the capabilities and instruments required for polymer characterization, so Dr. Scholz contacted a colleague of hers at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg named Dr. Joerg Kressler. They worked together to create this opportunity for me to come to Germany to continue my research project and hopefully discover more about Huntington’s disease through bio-mimetic polymers.
Now that you know a little bit more about why I’m here, I’d like to talk about my first few days and the experiences I have had. I began my journey to Germany early in the morning on Thursday, May 16. My family took me to the airport and said their goodbyes which was really difficult for me. I had never traveled before, especially not alone or to another country. This was a huge deal for me. I went through security at the Huntsville airport feeling like a fraud because I didn’t quite feel like I was ready to embark on such an independent journey. To my surprise, I navigated four different airports that day with ease and kept a calm composure. Many.. many.. MANY hours later I arrived at Leipzig airport to get my luggage and go through customs which surprisingly was one of the easiest experiences I have ever had.
Waiting in the lobby for me were two graduate students from Halle with a sign that said “ALLANA” with logos from both of our universities. They were so kind and even gave me German chocolate to welcome me. At this point, I was extremely exhausted and figured we would take a short train ride and I would be able to go to my apartment and sleep. I was so wrong. It was only about 11 am in Germany and I had to stay up for the rest of the day to fix my sleep schedule. This was one of the longest days of my life and felt like a dream. They helped me buy a train ticket to Halle and we waited for some time for the train. At one point a different train passed by the station at an astounding speed and my mouth dropped. I was used to tiny, slow trains from Huntsville and this train traveled so fast it was gone in an instant. My first day in Germany was filled with shocking instances like this because it was so different, and I was also very sleep deprived.
After our train ride into Halle, we took a tram to the university. I stared out the window for a long time in shock thinking about how different everything looked. Every building is something new to look at, very different from the architecture I am used to. Another thing that I noticed was a lot of graffiti, and I don’t mean like some scribbles. This was really good, professional looking graffiti. Everywhere. Once we had gotten to the university, the students gave me a tour and introduced me to a few people. They showed me where my shared office space was, and I even had my own desk. They showed me the labs with equipment I had never seen before. Everything was different: light switches, door knobs, elevators, etc. It was a lot to take in and for a while I started to feel panicked and overwhelmed. They took me to eat at the Mensa (basically the Caf), and I was so tired that I could hardly eat. After lunch they took me to meet with Dr. Kressler who showed me pictures of my apartment and said he would drive me there by car. At this point I thought I was going to get to sleep soon, but I was wrong again. He told me he didn’t know how the Wifi worked, and my phone did not work despite the fact that I paid extra for it to still have international service the first few days while I was there. I began to panic internally because this meant I would be spending the night with no way to contact my family and friends to let them know I was okay.
One of the graduate students that had picked me up from the airport, named Aaron, made it his personal goal that day to make sure I would have some sort of internet access by that night. He was so kind. Dr. Kressler took me to my apartment and then left the internet situation for us to figure out. Aaron read the information about Wifi and said that we would need an Ethernet cord and an adapter for my computer and then we would be able to set it up. We had to take the tram back to the university and then to the city center to an electronics store to get everything we needed. By the time we had gotten back to my apartment, many hours had passed and I felt like it was a different day entirely. Aaron helped me set up my internet and then made sure I was okay before leaving for the night. My first night was really tough, and I will admit that I had a few moments thinking “what have I gotten myself into” but I slept a few hours and felt a little better.
The next day Dr. Kressler took me to Kaufland which is a supermarket close to where I live. He helped me find the things I needed so that I could make food in my apartment. This experience went very smoothly but that is because I had help from someone that speaks and reads German. After this, Aaron invited me to travel to Leipzig with him and his friends to walk around, have dinner, and then watch Eurovision 2019. I’ve included some pictures from my second day in Germany below. Today I am just relaxing and reflecting. I will be posting once a week most likely on Sundays to reflect on the experiences I have had.
Bis zum nächsten Mal,