This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Isabella Roa, COL ’16

I didn’t know what to expect of my summer and at some moments before arriving in Lisbon, Portugal I felt as though I was entering the experience completely blindfolded. I had been accepted to the State Department’s Summer Internship Program in December of 2014 and had anxiously awaited my security clearance for the following five months, giving me enough time to prepare for what would be an extremely rewarding three lisbonmonths. However, when I arrived at Lisbon’s Portela Airport, I realized my experience abroad would not only be an opportunity for professional development, but also an incredible chance for personal growth.

I had only been to Lisbon once before and it was for a mere twenty-four hours. Although I have been studying Portuguese for the past two years, I was not sure I would be able to adjust to the language difference while at the same time integrating into the working environment at the US Embassy. At first, I found myself a bit embarrassed to practice my Portuguese, forcing me to speak in a mix of Spanish and English to find my apartment and manage my way through the city. Soon, however, I soon realized how much people appreciated my attempts, even if sometimes wrong, to speak Portuguese.

My first week of work in the Politics and Economics section of the US Embassy was overwhelming. I was amazed by how much trust was placed in me and by the variety of projects that my coworkers handled. On my first day, for exampled, I assisted in interviewing Portuguese students applying for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and helped plan the upcoming Fourth of July celebration that would be attended by hundreds of diplomats.

While I would sometimes attend meetings with members of Portugal’s political parties, represent the US at public events, or assist the ambassador and other coworkers with important visits such as that of Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, much of my daily routine was focused on political research and the duties of a reporting officer. Every day I would study Portugal’s newspapers for critical events that could affect US foreign policy, translate them, and report them back in a newsletter sent to other European offices and to Washington DC. I found myself immersed in the world of Portuguese politics and economic affairs. My daily research culminated in a thorough cable that offered an overview of Portugal’s political landscape – the position, strategy, and popularity of each of the country’s competing parties – published two months before this year’s decisive Parliamentary elections.

In reality, my time in Lisbon was one of multifaceted growth. While my internship gave me an in depth experience into the US State Department, a career option I had long been thinking about, it also forced me to reach out of my comfort zone. While I lived in an apartment with several other students who were welcoming and willing to show me around Lisbon, I found that if I wanted to truly explore the city, I would have to do it on my own. Stepping away from Penn, my family, and friends, I found myself with an abundant amount of time for self-reflection, something I have found to be critical in my own personal development.

I want to thank Penn Career Services for granting me the funding that made my summer internship at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal possible. As a Diplomatic History Major, this was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to a career in the State Department and allowed me to truly immerse myself in the field of foreign affairs.

“This Could Only Exist in Berlin”

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Katie Black, PennDesign, LArch ’16

If there’s anything previous travel has taught me, it has been that almost always, my expectations of a city, it’s culture, places, and people, rarely match reality. Prior to moving to Berlin this summer, I kept this in mind.

Yet despite how much I tried, I had mental images of what the place would be like. In my stereotype-laden daydreams, Berlin was some kind of never-never land where artists and musicians lived in moody hovels, pushing the boundaries of their life’s work, while major political movements that epitomize the world’s zeitgeist forge on in the background. It was a hipster rats-nest, where you’re expected to stay up clubbing until sunrise and take advantage of the god-given ability to drink in its many public places. Everywhere in Berlin would be loaded with history, every street would have a million stories.

My convoluted images of the city were mish-mashed against the fact that I was coming to Berlin for work. My knowledge of landscape architecture offices, of deadlines and of cherished sleep after a long day of work, clashed with this David Bowie fantasyland I envisaged. I had no idea what my life would be like in Berlin, and when I got on the plane, I was scared.  How would I survive? How would I fit in?

The city and the internship that awaited me were both intimidating, and, for the first few weeks, life was lonely and challenging. Working at an international landscape architecture office on design competitions, I was one small part of a team of interns who helped to create graphics and design drawings that communicated the concepts, strategies, and intentions of the partners and associates at the helm of the firm. We were expected to work quickly and our office had high standards for our outputs.

While I worked long hours, I still had many chances to experience the city that at first seemed so daunting. My bike ride to work took me straight down Karl Marx Allee, a monumental socialist boulevard and a major axis of former East Berlin. I turned past the TV Tower towards the office, in an older part of city-center. My flatmates and coworkers were kind and welcoming, came from all over the world, and were happy to explore the city and show me their favorite places whenever we could.

Ultimately, my imagined disparity between a fantastical city and a demanding job proved untrue – they were not two separate entities but a tightly intertwined experience. As time went on, I found myself saying more and more, ‘This could only exist in Berlin’. My work experience, the projects I was exposed to, the people I met, all came together because of the pull of the city. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to learn about my chosen profession, international practice, and what makes cities magical.

Impressions of a Summer Internship in Antigua

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant, and the first entry from our 2015 recipients.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Esther Rose Needham, Penn Design, MCP ’16


My first impression of Antigua was the dryness. It was everywhere, even the aloe had turned brown and was beginning to shrivel in on itself. Flying into the Caribbean Island, where I spent my summer interning at the government’s Environment Division with the help of funding from Career Services, I could see the sunburnt cliffs sloping into the turquoise water. The contrast was breathtaking yet harsh. Antigua and Barbuda, the twin island nation, has been experiencing lower than average rainfall for several years, dipping into a severe drought this spring. Though the lack of groundwater and limited surface water has been an asset at times throughout history, it now presents a struggle for those that call the small island home. Relying primarily on collected rainwater, which has been in scarce supply, the public utilities department has been forced to put the island on rotating water rationing. No water means no functioning plumbing, not even government offices are excluded. So from learning how to flush a toilet with a hand scoop, to dancing in the rain at a carnival fete, to a 5 a.m. hike to a reservoir, this summer has been all about water and discovery.


Even at work I have been learning and it has been all about water. My internship revolves around spatial data, mapping and analyses, specifically that of hydrologic information. I have spent hours meticulously combing over aerial images and hot afternoons conducting fieldwork to map water features. Ultimately working on projects related to watersheds and flooding, I have learned an incredible amount about hydrologic modeling and have felt an intense satisfaction in my work. Though I have been lucky enough to live on a beautiful hilltop with a cistern to catch rainwater, protected from both seawater flooding and water rationing, I know that most residents of Antigua are not so lucky. Here and throughout the world many people are affected by decreasing rainfall and increasing drought and flooding as a result of climate change. I am incredibly blessed that I have had the opportunity to make a small contribution in this field, especially on such a beautiful and welcoming island.

ester1When I first arrived here I had never snorkeled on a reef or kayaked through mangroves. I had never seen sea turtles mating or traced their tracks up a white sand beach. I had never gone free-diving, swam with wild sting rays and eels, or night snorkeled with phosphorescence. I didn’t know that putting guppies in your cistern would get rid of the breeding mosquitoes or that lizards would eat those mosquitoes off of your legs if you sat very still. I had never photographed a night-blooming cereus, eaten raw sea urchin on the beach or mastered left-hand driving. I had never felt the mist of tropical rain on my bed or the wind at my back on the bow of a sailboat as the Caribbean sun sank. I have learned so much. I have had the rare chance to experience the world from another perspective and I am grateful. Antigua has embraced me and I can only hope that I have given back as much as I have received.

Alone, But Not Lonely

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This final blog in the 2014 series is by Divanna Cedeno, WH ’15

It is safe to say that this past summer was the most enlightening summer of my twenty-one years of life. My experiences cemented my passion for Social Entrepreneurship, as well as worldwide travel; and I was luck enough to have Career Services support my work all the way up in the Andes Mountains.

Picture: Looking out onto Lake Titicaca, from La Isla Del Sol in Copacabana, Bolivia

I can spend hours talking about the intricacies of Huancayo, Peru. About how difficult it was to create a financial literacy curriculum that challenged my adult students in a way that led them to think about business in a way other than just for surviving. About the difficulties of trying to teach people who can be your parents/grandparents. About learning how hard it was to say “No” to people that needed your help, because you understood that you would be giving a man a fish, instead of teaching him to fish. About the constant mission clashes that one faces, when managing/operating a non-profit. About how humbled I was when I faced the same living conditions as other Peruvians. About the negative implications of colonialism, how the Spanish conquest in Peru wiped out the beautifully rich Incan culture. About altitude sickness, and how it makes even the most fit person, have difficulty breathing. About

However, as I was challenging my education through the many trials of Microfinance work, I was also challenging my persona and my “Global Citizenship” status. I took the opportunity to not only work in Peru, but also travel (on a very tight personal budget) all throughout South America once my summer internship was over. I learned many things along the way, most of which my words will not be able to ever fully encapsulate, but for those of you wondering if traveling is the way to go, here’s a list of advice from a girl who decided to backpack Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, after her already very fulfilling summer internship in the social financial center:

  1. Travel alone. (This is my most important one, hence the title. You will learn so much about yourself, the world, and other people if you give yourself the opportunity to make your own decisions in a far away land, also, you will be forced to meet new people if you go alone)
  1. You will meet the most interesting people if you do so. (People from ALL OVER THE WORLD will be your friends, will go out with you, will give you the best networks)
  1. Go on free walking tours. (I travelled on about $5 a day, these walking tours are the best bang for your buck and you learn everything that there is to know about a given place, as they’re usually hosted by university students)
  1. Sleep in hostels. (This goes along with meeting new people, but you will probably share a room with some of the coolest people from all over the world; billionaires, people who have been travelling over 5 years, visionaries, you name it. Your perspective on so many things will start to change for the better. And you get free history lessons with each geographically different person)
  1. Eat things that you may consider strange. (Food is, if I may opinion-ate, the most important part of a given culture, you will understand a place exponentially more if you eat what they eat)
  1. Everyone travels differently. (Some people are more adventurous, others like architecture, food might be big for someone else, thus, if you have your personal quota, travel by yourself and I promise you will find someone that has similar interests)
  1. Let go of daily distractions. (Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or anything else that you used to do that is preventing 100% immersion, let go of it, you’ll thank yourself later)
  1. Learn the language, or at least the basics. (While I am a native Spanish speaker, I still recommend for anyone to learn how to be able to get around, and yes, this sounds elementary, but I know people that never even tried and they spent months in a certain place)

While this is also not an exhaustive list of advice, it is one that hopefully makes you start thinking about what it means to travel humbly, and ultimately, how uplifting that experience can be.

Take Home Lessons from Deutschland

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Blake Mergler, CAS ’16

Vielen Dank (Thank you) to Career Services for supporting my summer as an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Participant at the RWTH Aachen, one of the most renowned universities in Germany. While I still do not speak German very well, I did grow so much from this opportunity to do neuroscience research, study introductory German, and live in a foreign atmosphere. As a Penn student on the pre-medical school track, I really wanted to study abroad this past summer, and when I was selected for this program, I knew it was the ideal place for me. Here are a few of my take-home lessons about my summer:

1. Research abroad sometimes (or mostly) involves doing the unexpected.
Upon acceptance to the program, I was placed in a research assistant position in Professor Gerhard Grunder’s Lab on a project entitled “Neural and visual processing of complex social situations and the influence of oxytocin as a potential moderator: A combined fMRI/ eye-tracking study.” However, I did not meet Dr. Grunder the entire time. FYI: This is typical in Germany, as professors are not very accessible to students!

More significantly, my grad student supervisor informed me on my first day that the eye-tracking equipment had not arrived/ probably would not arrive during the entire ten weeks I was there, and that they are not up to the oxytocin phase of the research yet. So, my project quickly shifted, and in the end was entitled “Gender Differences in Emotional Processing during a Go/NoGo Task”—clearly very different than what I had in mind.

Additionally, before arriving, in my task description, I was told that I would have a lot of patient/subject interaction, which is something I was looking forward to as a future doctor. However, the subjects that came in mostly spoke German, so there was clearly a language barrier with that. Most days, I was behind a computer screen mainly analyzing the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral data, and entering questionnaire data that was collected from German young adults, with whom I could not communicate. I was able to watch while fMRIs were being conducted, pre-process and analyze fMRI imaging using SPM, statistically analyze my results through SPSS, and conduct many literature reviews for others in my research group. Needless to say, while there were many expectations not fulfilled in the research aspect of my program, I still had an enormously enriching experience doing the unexpected.

2. Collaboration is powerful and important in research.
Even though my program was part of RWTH UROP with students from many universities in the US and Canada, there were four other Penn students assisting in my research group entitled the International Research Training Group (IRTG) in the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. This is because Penn has an amazing collaboration with RWTH Aachen, which became so inspiring when everyone made their presentations at the end of the program to the larger research group. I realized that no matter what everyone did this summer, it is just so wonderful that Penn students can collaborate with amazing German minds and that German grad students can spend time in our labs. I was excited to find out that upon saying goodbye to my grad student supervisor, it was not really goodbye because she will be in Philadelphia next fall as part of her program. This aspect of my summer has allowed me to return to Penn this Fall feeling lucky to attend such a place where research is not only conducted by our dedicated professors but where partnerships are made to advance our knowledge and embrace the unknowns.

3. There are many cultural norms I take for granted in the United States.
Being in Germany was such an amazing experience overall, but the cultural differences addressed in a workshop at the beginning of the program mostly held true. Germans are not as into small talk as Americans are, and coming from New York, I am so used to that! Of course, this was not universal, and I had amazing conversations with some Germans (who were mostly English speaking), but it was noticeable for me that people made small chat with each other a lot less than they do in New York and in Philadelphia. In a similar way, Germans do not talk about their home life at work so much; it is not common to ask what someone did the previous weekend or what they were going to do after work. In this way, there is a larger divide between one’s home and work life.

Another major norm that was violated which I hinted at earlier is that the whole structure of professorship in research labs is different. In my lab at Penn, I work closely with everyone (the research assistants, lab coordinator, grad students, and principal investigator), while in Germany there is a more distinct hierarchy, and as a research assistant, I never even met the professor I was supposedly working for. And, this was not unique—we were told to expect this within the first weeks of the program.

Thus, in addition to the lack of big salads and no tap water offered at any restaurant, these larger cultural differences were very interestingly noted.

Thank you again Career Services for giving me the ability to travel to Germany and for allowing me to learn not only about research and German but also immeasurable things about myself.