Welcome to North Carolina's Research Triangle Region

Cooperative education student Robin reports on his stay at Schmalz Inc. in Raleigh, USA

During the third semester of my dual mechanical engineering course, I spent three months at Schmalz Inc., our subsidiary in Raleigh, North Carolina in the USA.

"Welcome to North Carolina's Research Triangle Region!". These are the words that greet you upon arrival at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, is located in this very region, which takes its name from the triangular arrangement of the member cities Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. The region is also home to three large universities in the form of UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and NC State University.

When I was informed in July 2017 (six months before my departure) that I would be spending my semester abroad in the USA, this represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Having always been fascinated by the culture, American sports and the country in general, I was surprised to discover that just living and working there for three months is anything but simple. After numerous forms and a trip to the US embassy in Frankfurt, I finally received my visa and was officially ready for the big adventure.

My working day at Schmalz Inc. was certainly very varied. After getting my bearings during the first few days and surviving a blizzard in which ten centimeters of snow brought the city to a complete halt for three days, things really got going. There was definitely no chance of boredom! I conducted the majority of my work as part of the vacuum gripping systems team. As well as calculating project costs, drawing pneumatic circuit diagrams, creating 3D models of grippers, constructing a demo gripper, conducting tests and assisting with the assembly of current gripping systems, I primarily contributed to the day-to-day business of the team – i.e., I did whatever needed doing. During my time at Schmalz USA, I was given the rare and extremely welcome opportunity of trying my hand at a wide range of activities. This provided me with interesting insights into the processes and practices of a smaller sized company.

Just like at home, the American working day finishes after eight hours, leaving the weekends free for me to explore this fascinating country. Even if Raleigh, with its roughly 500,000 inhabitants, is quite small by US standards, there is still a great deal to see and do. Raleigh is a veritable paradise for sports fans. As well as attending several college basketball games involving the team of the local NC State University, I also watched a home game of Raleigh's ice hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes.

Raleigh is in an ideal position for exploring various different regions of North Carolina. The Atlantic coast is just two hours away by car, while the Blue Ridge Mountains can be reached in four hours. As a result, these trips are pretty much essential for anyone visiting the region for an extended period. Of course, I also wanted see some more of the East Coast and thus traveled north to New York, visited Miami and Key West (the most southerly point of the USA) and, last but not least, took a trip to the capital city of Washington DC.

As well as being impressed by the diversity and sheer size New York (a city that really never sleeps), my visit to Washington, where you encounter a significant portion of American history, was one of the absolute highlights of my stay in the USA.

However, I consider my contact with the American people to be the most important and valuable experience of this memorable visit. While the language barrier proved difficult at first, speaking English became second nature for me after just a few weeks. I am infinitely grateful for the manner in which I was received and the friendly welcome extended to me by my colleagues on every single day. That is what made my time in the USA such a wonderful, unforgettable experience – one that I will look back on with fondness for many years to come.