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Kelsey Harper: Exploring Belgium and Germany

Written by Greg Breining

“My parents were all about traveling,” said Kelsey Harper, a mechanical engineering sophomore who traveled to London her first trip abroad. “I don’t remember some of it because I was in second grade,” she said. “But judging by the pictures, I had a great time.”

In high school, Harper toured Spain, France, and Germany with a class and fell in love with international travel. So she jumped at the chance to go abroad again as a college freshman. She signed up for the Global Technical Seminar “Research Across the Borders in the European Union,” led by Beth Stadler, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“I was excited to go back and see a different side of Germany. The first time I went—it was a lot of museums, a lot of tours, which I think was wonderful. But I was looking forward to getting to know students my age and looking at the research side of things,” Harper said.

Among the research sites they took in were Imec (formerly the Inter-university Microelectronics Centre) in Leuven, Belgium; the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany; and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (German Electron Synchrotron) in Hamburg, where the students took a walk through a closed-down tunnel of the massive research particle accelerator.

“We actually got to go look inside of the accelerator and walk around the track where they would shoot the particles,” said Harper.

In addition to touring, the group interacted with faculty and students at the research institutions. “Meeting the students in Germany was a great experience. We were able to compare our engineering experiences in our respective countries,” said Harper. “We also learned about research being done in both academia and industry in Germany and Belgium, and experienced many of the experiments in person.”

Her first day in Hamburg, she and a few other jet-lagged students decided to explore the city center. They got lost and because no one had an international data plan for their phone, the group used a paper map for the first time in years. “Picture five super tech-savvy engineers without all of our gadgets, who had just stepped off the plane, in the rain, running on about four hours of sleep. That’s essentially the situation we were in. Yet, it was freeing because in getting lost, I saw many things I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed, like architectural details and small local restaurants,” Harper said. “It made us all think about how much technology helps us day to day. I never realized how much I rely on things like my map app when I’m in a new place.”

While wandering around the city on that first afternoon, they came upon a church steeple cloaked in scaffolding. It turned out to be the Church of St. Nicholas, whose 482-foot steeple survived World War II.

“We were able to go up into the bell tower and get a bird’s-eye view of the entire city,” said Harper. “We also saw sections of the church that had been left standing after bombings during World War II and had been left as a memorial. It was incredibly moving.”

“The trip was a wonderful opportunity to grow as a person and as an engineering student. The knowledge and independence you gain from traveling can never be taught in a traditional classroom,” Harper said.