Students Embark on Summer-Long Research Exchange Program (part 2)

This is the second of a multi-part story. Read part one.

At the end of May, four HHD graduate students traveled to Friedrich Schiller University of Jena (FSU) in Germany as part of a research-focused student exchange program. While there, the students are networking and collaborating with some of the world’s leaders in human development and psychology.

The students arrived to a welcome party, and have been hard at work ever since, putting their German skills to the test when they can and immersing themselves in new research projects.

For student Bora Lee, one of the most beneficial aspects of the experience so far has been the different structure and focus of class discussions. “I think in Germany (or at least at FSU) the instructors focus more on whether we understood the authors' ideas and arguments, whereas in the United States, we spend more time on what we (the students) think about what the authors said,” says Lee. “Both are important for researchers, because we cannot conduct research without understanding what the previous studies have done. Also, we cannot further develop the field if we do not have critical thoughts about former studies.”

Three of the four Penn State students are enrolled in a research-based class called Birds of a Feather Flock Together (a fitting name for a class taken by students studying at a different university). The students are now researching German immigrants and how they adjust socially, linguistically, and psychologically. “We want to know whether youth who remain friends with other immigrants have more difficulties adjusting to the new culture,” says student Rebecca Madill.

Lee is involved in a research project that is looking at what drives people to start their own businesses, and the project is proving to be a great opportunity for sustained collaboration. “We plan to produce a poster presentation at a conference (we haven’t decided which one yet), which would personally be a fruitful experience for me,” says Lee. “The connections I make here can be a potential starting point for a future research collaboration.”

The Penn State students also participate in a weekly colloquium series, in which Jena students present findings from their ongoing thesis research. This weekly experience is “good exposure to the work conducted by our peers in Jena,” says Madill. Before the Penn State students return to the United States, they will be present their own findings at the colloquium discussion.

“It is amazing how much time can pass when you are adjusting to a new culture,” says Rebecca Madill. “We only have six weeks left, and in this time I will be doing data analyses and preparing a poster for my independent research.”

As Madill notes, the program would not be the same without the generous hospitality from faculty and students at Jena. The four Jena students who will study at Penn State during the fall 2009 semester serve as “buddies” for the Penn State students. “Our professors and buddies are always interested in making sure things are going well for us,” says Madill. “We could not have asked for better hosts.”


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