By: Christy Yu
The Ontario-Baden-Württemberg Summer Research Program (OBW SRP) provides Ontario university students the opportunity to work on a project in Baden-Württemberg, a region in southwest Germany. Thanks to the support of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, I received a $2600 scholarship for my two months at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, or Heidelberg University. In order to have enough time for the application, start your research and send emails to potential supervisors early on. Some things to keep in mind when securing a placement: at which university or city is the lab located, and whether or not their areas of research align with your interests and field of study. At the OBW SRP orientation, I met the other participants. Although we were going to be at different cities, it was reassuring to know there were other Canadians nearby, with whom we could get in contact.
My first few interactions at the Frankfurt airport were with locals who did not speak English very well so I started getting worried. Fortunately, I just happened to be asking the wrong people for help because Heidelberg is a student city where almost everyone knew English. Therefore, try your best to not make judgements based on your first week, as it takes time to adjust to a new environment. Arriving a few days before your placement start date allows you to get settled and sort out the paperwork. My first few days were spent without WiFi, which was not the most convenient. I suggest you bring an Ethernet cable, and adaptor if needed, just in case. I strongly recommend requesting a shared flat—and this is coming from someone who would usually ask for a single. Since you won’t be taking classes, you may not have many opportunities to meet other students. I spent a lot of time with my flatmates, who became my good friends. For example, we went to the Neckar River for the Heidelberger Schlossbeleuchtung (Heidelberg Castle Illumination), which occurs three times a year. Moreover, I was in Germany at a good time because they showed the FIFA World Cup at public screenings.
Under the Department of Infectious Diseases at Heidelberg University Hospital, my lab did work in osteoimmunology. My research project was on the effect of activated GTPases on the metabolic activity of osteoclasts. Most lab members at the time were undergraduate students. I was very fortunate to work with people who were eager to teach me and answer questions. Even though they knew I was only going to be there for a short time, everyone was welcoming, and they were kind enough to have lab meetings in English for me. I was surprised by how many skills and techniques I learned in that short time. Biology is a lot of waiting, but once I got the hang of things, I was able to handle multiple experiments at once to save time.
During my time abroad, I realized how much I love travelling and appreciate historical buildings; Heidelberg University (est. 1386) is the oldest university in Germany. Before my trip, I had made a list of places to visit in Heidelberg, and by the end, I saw most of what I wanted to see. Furthermore, at the weekend trip in Konstanz organized by OBW, I met other SRP students from other institutions, as well as Germans and Canadians who were doing the normal exchange program. If you go on exchange, document your experience, whether it is through a travel journal or pictures. That said, don’t be behind a screen all the time because sometimes it is nice to just be present and enjoy the moment.
Christy Yu is a student in the Child Health Specialization of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program at McMaster University. She participated in the OBW Summer Research Program at Heidelberg University in Germany.