Hey everyone, I’m Will, a fourth year Physics student on an MPhys programme. I’m just over a month into my additional year abroad. Specifically, I’m undertaking a research project at the Institute for Environmental Physics at Heidelberg University in Germany whilst trying to improve my intermediate German.
How’s it going? Well, good, if I’m being honest, but it didn’t start like that, and I think that’s important. But first, some background…
So, what am I actually doing?
Well basically, it’s as I said. I’m undertaking a 2-semester long project with the Greenhouse Gases and Water Isotopes group at the Institute for Environmental Physics in Heidelberg. I’m also taking a general Environmental Physics course this semester, since they don’t do any at York. The course is in English, so that’s nothing too interesting, but the project, now that’s worth discussing!
As a physics student at the University of York, I had the opportunity to add an additional year to my degree doing research at a partner institution in Germany, Italy, or France (so long as I had a GCSE in the relevant language). This was my experience, but the terms and conditions for these things change, so double-check the physics study abroad website for full details.
What’s my research project like?
So, what does my project entail? At the moment, analysing 6 years’ worth of CO2 measurements! To do this, I’ve had to teach myself to code in R, with the help of a fab YouTube tutorial; plan my time and tasks, and apply those famous problem-solving skills. As a result, my project management and coding skills are continually developing, which will be invaluable for any future career I have. Furthermore, I’m getting to experience what day-to-day life doing research is actually like without making a long-term commitment, which is fantastic, and it turns out that I’m really enjoying it. So yeah, I might be able to pursue a PhD post-graduation, knowing I’m making a good decision for me.
Outside of the basic research stuff, I’m also partaking in a journal club, where we have decided on six Environmental Physics papers published this year to read and present to each other. Through this, we’re increasing our knowledge of current science, which is really cool, whilst also improving our presentation skills, which are vital. Plus, I’m in the group meetings, so I get to see how a research group functions, and learn what a good one looks like. Naturally, most of this experience will be directly applicable to my final year research project and beyond.
Okay, that sounds pretty cool. But how’s the language barrier?
Well, it’s getting noticeably easier every day, which is properly cool, but I still feel it. It’s okay, because most people understand English, so I’m alright in an emergency. In fact, I’ve been mostly working in English for my project so far, though I will be using more German to talk to people as time goes on. I’m looking forward to using my German more, since I feel like I need to prove, even just to myself, that I’m capable. To that end, I’m making an effort to listen to German podcasts and have bought a couple books in German, One of my new books about a woman’s travels around the countries bordering Russia, and it’s properly interesting. Anyway, I’m also trying to make the most of my German housemates and use German when with Erasmus students, when possible. So yeah, it’s going alright, truth be told.
When I arrived, my German was about a B1 intermediate level, if a little under (it’s now probably between B1 and B2, mostly through an increased vocabulary). I’d been able to work on my German throughout my degree through the Languages for All lessons offered by the uni of York. However, like everyone always says, immersion really is everything, hence my recent improvement. I even managed to have some lovely conversations with some Erasmus students in German today, which I wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as easily just two weeks ago.
You mentioned crying?
Yes, so the first two weeks were not the most fun… In fact, I was scared to the bone most of the time, so much so, that a large part of me desperately wanted to go home, and the rest of me simply wanted to curl up and cry. Actually, it wasn’t too dissimilar from starting uni, though compounded by the language difference. I did what you have to do though, and pushed through, and oh boy, am I glad I did, but the point is, that it is often times hard. Very hard, and that’s okay and normal. You can do it, no matter your fears, and trust me, you’ll be better for it. So, take the leap and believe in yourself.
Best of luck,