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Shortly before I completed my bachelor course, I found out about the Continental master scholarship program at TU Darmstadt. It is organized in cooperation with the automotive engineering faculty at TU Darmstadt and is made up of a semester abroad at Tongji University in Shanghai as well as a work placement lasting several months at one of the Continental sites in China, and a scholarship for the duration of the master course.

Right from the beginning of the program, events were organized at regular intervals. These included plant tours at different locations, lectures on systems and technologies developed by Continental and management talks where experienced management personnel talked about their professional career and experience to small groups of students. At all the events there were plenty of opportunities for the participants of different student commitment programs to exchange experiences too.

A Chinese language course was a matter of course as preparation for the semester in Shanghai. It makes sense to get a grasp of the language spoken in the country you are going to be living and working in for almost a year. Even simple sentences in broken Chinese went down well with the locals and helped overcome hurdles.

View on Shanghai Tower
View on Shanghai Tower

Once I arrived in Shanghai I had to learn the first important lesson of the People’s Republic: patience! It quickly became clear once I arrived in China that things would be very different to Germany. Simply organizing studies took a lot of patience. Regulated processes and plans were subject to much greater modifications, short-term changes were a daily occurrence. It has to be said, however, that despite all adversities things always turned out well in the end. Lesson number two: flexibility and composure. If nothing else, Chinese students were always very helpful and open towards me. Alongside the somewhat chaotic studies, there was still enough time to travel and get to know China better.

After six months in China, I had to return to Frankfurt in Germany for three weeks to familiarize myself with the subject of my work placement. My task for the next three months was to examine a process in the assembly of ABS devices in the Shanghai plant. I adjusted the assembly process in different ways, used it to build ABS devices, and then examined these closely on a test bench. Since the test bench was located in a different plant, I often had to travel there and got to know the colleagues in the Jiading Tech Center as well. On site, I had a contact who could introduce me to the appropriate colleagues if I had any questions.  So I had the chance to carry out my task very independently and in an organized way. As a German student trainee, I had an unusual status among the Chinese colleagues. Since most of the Germans working for Continental in China are in an executive position, it seems I made an “important” impression quite simply by being German. I must admit that this perception people had did accelerate some processes, although my Chinese colleagues were generally very friendly and helpful anyway.

China rich in contrast: Rice crop and Jiading Tech Center of Continental in the background
China rich in contrast: Rice crop and Jiading Tech Center of Continental in the background

Mechanical engineering students do not necessarily have to leave Germany to gain technical and professional experience. But that’s not the main reason for spending a semester abroad. The most important thing is to look beyond your own backyard, get to know a different culture, reorganize your own life and environment and, last but not least, to take a look at yourself through someone else’s eyes.

I’m really grateful for the time I spent in China and the wealth of experience and many memories it has given me. I would recommend such an adventure to anyone.

 

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Martin Hartwig

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