For my internship abroad I was given the opportunity to spend seven days at the Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. Along with five other students from the TUM Kolleg I took part in some of the actual electronics, optics, IT and astronomy summer classes while enjoying two extraordinary weeks of framework activities and fun provided by our very kind host families.
General information about BYU
BYU is a general public university offering classes in all fields of education. It is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints members informally also known as Mormons; however, the actual influence of the Church is not really noticeable. The university is provided with a lot of resources used to offer a very broad programme of activities for the students. Student loans are kept fairly low.
Knowledge gain and insights into American university teaching
Our usual university day started with two hours of IT tutoring class taught by two of the senior students. Therefore all of us were provided with individual support in case of problems and we were able to cover the basics of mat lab, a programming language used in university teaching. Finally, we tested our acquired knowledge by working on several different kinds of individual projects, such as creating an autostereogram out of a random picture or making someone’s handwriting writable on a computer. A little later in the day senior student and our host Professor Peatross’ son, Aaron, fetched us for the second class of our day: Electronics. Here we could experience the same tutoring that students will go through if they decide to study physics. At first, we had a look at the theory and formulas of basic circuitry and then, after a short lunch break at the food court, our achieved skills were tested in hands-on experiments in the electronics lab, by recreating the taught circuits and then calculating missing parameters with the formulas. After a final check by measuring all the variables again, we proceeded to the final class of the day with Professor Peatross. As a professor of the physics department, he made it possible for us to experience some very special features of BYU. This included a tour around his lab showing us a highly energetic pulse laser able to ionise the air in its focal point, turning it into plasma, which I was then allowed to touch (safely of course, although not for George Washington’s nose which we burned off on a one-dollar bill).Another very interesting highlight was a private planetarium show, teaching us about the night sky and how and especially why it differs from different locations on earth. But the best part was that we could experience the night sky in its unspeakable beauty also in real life during a camping trip near the Arches National Park. Professor Peatross brought his telescope and we had some fantastic sights at Jupiter with its inner four moons and also at Saturn with its many rings. In fact, there was so little light disturbance the two planets and even the Milky Way were visible with the human eye.
Insights from framework activities and living in Utah
Apart from having a wonderful time at BYU we also had, thanks to our kind host families, the possibility to get to know Utah in all its facets both cultural and nature wise. For shortness sake, this report will only cover the cultural aspects.
Firstly is to mention that Utah is mostly populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints (67.70%; informally also known as Mormons and not to be confused with the Amish). Of course, this influences the general American culture to a certain degree. The first thing to stare out is members of the church are very religious. This means going to church every Sunday, formally dressed and doing the Everyday Scripture and Prayer (ESP). This includes praying before each meal and reading a part of the Bible or the Book of Mormon (an extension to the Bible like a third Testament) before going to bed. Another aspect is that Mormons tend to have many children (five is the average, my family had nine) and are very family-oriented but not unfamiliar with Smartphones, Social Media, etc. in any way. Along with their huge kindness and hospitality, they made me and the other German students feel very welcome. Also, apart from the flight and entrance fees, our stay was completely free, due to their hospitality! Nevertheless, Utah is still an American state and therefore also celebrates the famous 4th of July or Independence Day, which fell in the time of our stay. After the morning flag-raising ceremony and parade, we attended apparently Americas biggest 4th of July show/concert, the Stadium of Fire. In total the whole day allowed me some very interesting insights into American self-understanding and culture.
In conclusion, this internship was a great, wonderful experience in both a scientific and cultural way. Eventually, I came back with a more tolerant and defined perspective of the world.
Appendix with travel tips for interested
- Always make sure that it never says internship, etc. on one of your English travelling documents. You will be travelling with an ESTA visa that is only suitable for vacation. Sadly there are no alternatives since internship visa for pupils are not available, only for university students. However bear in mind that a language-learning holiday counts as vacation and therefore make sure to sell the internship that way, otherwise you might get into some serious trouble and your entry might be refused!
- Bear in mind that BYU has an “Honor Code” that mostly acts as a dress code for you.
- Since you will be going to church a few times bring something nice to wear. A shirt and tie for man are mandatory; a suit jacket is not necessary but also not overdressed in any way. Woman can wear a dress or a skirt as long as it extends over the knees and shoulders; a low neckline or a backless top are not appropriate.
- Try to use clean language (no swearwords etc.)
- Avoid drinking black tea, green tea, coffee and alcohol (except for iced tea). These beverages violate the Mormon health code and are therefore not approved of, although probably nobody will say something.