Heidelberg chronicles: navigating visas, battling homesickness, and thriving in R&D

Posted in: Department of Chemical Engineering, Engineering placements, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Achala Sharma, third-year Beng(Hons) Chemical Engineering student

Beautiful scenery of Heidelberg, Germany

Change is often touted as the only constant in life—a cliché that can induce eye-rolls when heard too often. Yet, when that change involves relocating cities, crossing international borders, and embarking on a new chapter of your life at a young age, the experience can be both exhilarating and intimidating. Allow me to take you on a journey from the historic city of Bath to the enchanting town of Heidelberg, Germany, where I've begun my R&D placement. This is a candid look at the challenges, emotional rollercoasters, and triumphs that have shaped this transformative phase of my life.

The maze of visa applications

The first obstacle I encountered was the labyrinthine world of visa applications. While moving countries offers a wealth of experiences, the visa process can be a daunting and confusing endeavour. The uncertainty surrounding the required documentation and the nail-biting wait for approval tested my resilience. A word of advice: if you're considering an international placement, double-check every detail with as many people as possible—parents, university staff, friends—to ensure you have all the necessary documents. My journey hit a snag when I discovered that strikes at the passport office had delayed my application. I had naively assumed that my visa would be approved within three months. Spoiler alert: it wasn't! However, armed with determination and a positive outlook, I managed to clear this hurdle and commence my placement on schedule.

The emotional tug-of-war of leaving home

picture of town center of Heidelberg, Germany

Departing from home was an emotional paradox. One moment, I was thrilled at the prospect of starting anew, leaving behind familiar faces and places. The next, the comfort of those same streets and people made farewells difficult. Yet, the excitement of immersing myself in a new culture and learning a new language gradually turned the unfamiliar into the familiar. Now, a day doesn't pass without me engaging in at least one conversation in German. One of the most rewarding aspects of this journey has been the friendships I've forged—especially with my housemates, who have their own unique stories and have been a source of laughter and comfort on days when homesickness hit hard, or work felt overwhelming.

Diving into the world of R&D

Starting my placement in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, I was warmly welcomed by my team and given a glimpse into the exciting projects that lay ahead. The experience has opened a plethora of networking opportunities, providing me with invaluable insights into the industry.

What's next?

'I love Heidelberg' light display over the water

In the coming weeks, I'll delve deeper into my work experiences, lifestyle adjustments, and tips for strengthening your placement application from a student's perspective. I'll also share what you can expect when you start your placement, as I too was unsure about the next steps in this journey.

Stay tuned for more insights as I continue to navigate this transformative experience in Heidelberg.

Posted in: Department of Chemical Engineering, Engineering placements, Student projects, Undergraduate


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