“Ghana was my first pick. I really wanted to get to know sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dorit Bennmann. She worked for nine weeks in a lab in Effiduase. (Photo: Michael Deutsch)

“It’s a small world with IAESTE”

Internships abroad not only offer a glimpse of professional life. They also expand your view of the world. The organisation IAESTE finds technical internships all over the world and makes international work exchanges easier for students to access. Any students studying a scientific and technical subject can apply. In addition to finding internships for “outgoers” like Dorit Bennmann, who worked in Ghana, the programme finds internships in Germany for “incomers” like Michael Ainoo, who came to Halle from Ghana.

Hidden behind a gray steel door in Ludwig Wucherer Strasse is the entrance to the office of IAESTE’s local committee in Halle. The abbreviation IAESTE stands for “International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience”. Organisers and young people from Ghana, the Czech Republic and Finland are gathered around a large table. The room is filled with loud discussions in English. They meet here once a week to get to know one another or to talk about organisational things and any problems they have encountered. Anyone in need of a bicycle or home appliance can borrow it here.

Michael Ainoo sits on a well-used couch and avidly talks to a friend. The geography student from Ghana has been living in Halle since the middle of June. “I’m pleased that the application for my top internship pick at Weinberg Campus was successful,” he says. At IAESTE students don’t apply for a specific internship. Instead they submit a pre-application which is placed in a pool of IAESTE applications. Since the internships are usually carried out during the summer months, pre-applications must be in by 30 November. In January students receive a list of internships of which they can choose five. These reflect their choice of country, the time period they requested and their qualifications. The applicant does not have an influence over which internship he or she is matched with.

Michael works during his internship with Prof. Dr. Cornelia Glässer in the field of remote sensing and thematic cartography. Using the special software ArcGis he analyses various data in order to locate gold in Ghana. The data is compiled in a map in order to show where to look for gold in Ghana and how the mines move. “It’s really good being able to work with the software. After university I would love to work for a mining company. The internship is really helping me a lot in improving my skills,” Michael Ainoo says.

While Michael is getting used to Germany, Dorit Bennmann from Halle is discovering Michael’s native country. “Ghana was my first pick. I really wanted to get to know sub-Saharan Africa,” the biochemist from Halle raves. For nine weeks she worked in a lab at the Medical Diagnostic Center in Effiduase. After only three days of training, she was employed as a fully fledged member of staff. “My daily work included admitting patients, taking samples of different bodily fluids and checking samples for typical tropical diseases. In order to explain to patients about the results and to suggest treatment options, Dorit had to come to grips with the local language. The official language in Ghana is actually English “but don’t bother telling this to the old villagers. You have to adapt. Especially when you need to find out what’s wrong with a patient.”

When Dorit isn’t working in Effiduase or in the surrounding villages, she is travelling around the country. “My tip is travel, travel, travel! The nature here is unbelievable.” Even though water and electricity outages occur several times a week, Dorit remains unperturbed. “That’s just part of day to day life. If you suddenly find yourself sitting in the dark, you just keep talking.” Dorit lives in a dorm in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. Except for other IAESTE interns, most of the dorm’s residents are students from Ghana. “This was just the ticket, to not only get an insight into daily life in Ghana, but also to integrate into the culture.”

She didn’t need to find accommodation herself. That is the task of the local committee. When Michael arrived in Halle he was picked up by two IAESTE organisers and taken to his accommodation. A room in the Athletes’ Association near the University and State Library became his new home. “Right on the first day I was invited by Germans to watch the European Championships in the courtyard. I was warmly received and felt very at ease.” Despite having a lot of contact with Germans, Michal took part in many excursions organised by IAESTE. This brought him to Jena, Erfurt, Weimar and Munich. “When I arrived at the train station in Munich I was immediately asked by police to show my ID.” Michael takes it all in stride. “It’s good that they check whether someone is illegally staying in the country.”

The local committee offers various activities not only for students to get to know a foreign country better but also to keep them from getting bored. “I’ve already been to Edinburgh and Stirling. And during the week special evenings are planned, like pub crawls or visits to a comedy club,” explains Nicole Schwarzer who is studying International Area Studies in Halle at the Institute of Geography. During her six week internship at the University of Glasgow she is examining the decay of historical sandstone facades in Glasgow and the surrounding area. “My employer is conscious of making the internship as tangible as possible,” says Nicole. “It’s an unforgettable experience.”

The advantage of an IAESTE internship is not only that there is intensive support before and during the internship, but also that the internship is usually paid. Earnings are based on the cost of living in the respective country. A fixed travel allowance can be applied for for countries outside of Europe. “The internships are regularly organised by IAESTE,” says Anne Finck, a volunteer at the local committee in Halle. Most of the internships are offered by the universities, but some are provided by companies. Ideally the internship is financed by the respective company. If it is offered by the university, the costs are covered by DAAD the Germany Academic Exchange Service.

As Nicole Schwarzer has been working at IAESTE herself since May 2011, she has already learned a lot in Germany about other cultures. “The exchange with the international students is very enriching. You establish contacts all over the world. The world becomes smaller through IAESTE.” In order to continue to offer foreign students intensive support, the local Halle committee is looking for additional members of staff. “I’ve been here three years. It’s nice to get to know a lot of English dialects,” Anne Finck says. “If you are looking to meet a lot of interesting people, just drop on by.”

Written by Maria Preussmann

IAESTE Halle meets every Tuesday at 8 pm at Ludwig-Wucherer-Strasse 81. For more info please visit their website.

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