Veronica Martinez is a UAA mechanical engineering student who has studied the German language for seven years. She recently won the honor of being named a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals scholar, which will make it possible for her to live in Germany for a year and, through a six-month internship with a German company, learn more about her other passion: renewable energy engineering. Here, she talks about her life and what the Congress-Bundestag recognition will help her achieve.
Where are you from and what path led you to Alaska?
My family is originally from Mexico. My grandmother met my American grandfather in Mexico and moved to El Paso, Texas, after they married. My mother grew up in El Paso and joined the military after high school, where she met and married my father. When he was later stationed in Alaska, she followed with my older brother in tow. I was the first in my family to be born in Alaska, and soon after the majority of my aunts and uncles as well as my grandma followed suit and settled down here in Anchorage. My entire childhood was spent with my extended family, in our cozy trailer, at school, during holidays. There was never a dull or lonely moment for me growing up, it’s something I’m grateful for every day.
What initially interested you about the German language?
I chose German because that’s what my friends were taking. I took three years of German in high school, and, looking back, I think the part that stuck with me the most was German poetry and music. My high school German teacher at Service High, Frau [Fauna] Reynvaan, was a wonderful teacher. We sang German Christmas songs every year and read poetry often. One of the things I remember best was listening to her tell us stories in German. It was never anything special, usually funny anecdotes from her life that were designed to improve our listening skills, but I actually really loved listening to them. With her combination of a great sense of humor and a happy disposition, she was a very talented storyteller.
Why did you continue taking German in college?
I was loath to give up what I already knew. I loved speaking, singing and reading in German, and it was a comfort during my freshman year. College is scary! But I knew German. It made attending class, doing homework, and taking tests much less daunting.
Have you visited Germany before?
Only briefly. I visited Mumbai, India, last year with my boyfriend. We had a six-hour layover in Frankfurt, during which I insisted we go out and see the city. The airport was actually incredibly discouraging. Here I was with seven years’ of German-speaking experience and I felt as if I could barely understand anything I read. Once we grabbed a taxi, however, I found I was able to converse with the driver very easily. It was a very encouraging and empowering experience to communicate with a German on German soil. It was the moment when I could feel I had reached a certain level of mastery of the language. Frankfurt was very beautiful, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again in July!
What brought you to UAA?
When I finished high school in 2011, I had already decided to attend UAA simply because of the in-state tuition I would receive. My mom taught me never to be in debt, so I never considered going out of state to study. I’m very glad I made that decision. I’m debt free and the benefits of attending a small school have been immeasurable!
What are you studying here?
I’m a senior studying mechanical engineering. I have a minor in mathematics (every engineering student gets one) and the German language. I decided on mechanical engineering back in high school. My algebra teacher used to let us play movies in his classroom at lunch while he graded, helped students or watched with us. One day he told me about electric cars and how, back then, there was a wait list a mile long to buy one, simply because companies didn’t want people to stop buying gas-powered cars. I was 15 when I learned about this, and, being young, decided I would become an engineer and design a clean-powered car so awesome that no one would be able to keep anyone from buying them!
How did you learn of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange?
Professor Natasa Masanovic, my German professor, approached me when I was a junior and told me about the fellowship. She said I would be an excellent candidate, which was incredibly flattering, as Frau Masanovic is an amazing professor and mentor. We decided it would be better to wait another year before applying so I’d be further along in my degree, which would increase my chances of being selected. I’m so glad I’ve had her help and guidance throughout this process. I never would have applied without her encouragement, and I doubt I would have been selected without her advice and knowledgeable support! We spent many hours in her office perfecting my application. Professor Masanovic had worked with eight students before me who had received the CBYX scholarship, so with that experience she was really able to prepare me for this scholarship in all of its aspects.
Why are you interested in participating in it?
Germany is absolutely steamrolling the efforts in renewable energy sources and technology, and the opportunity to learn from their engineers is so exciting for me. I’m also incredibly happy to be able to use my German on a much larger scale. When I earned my minor in German I was somewhat distraught, as I had no expectations to use it and was sure I would lose it over time. I’ll have the opportunity to attend a university in Germany as well as intern with a company there. I’m sure I can’t even begin to imagine all of the incredible things I’m going to experience while living there.
How do you think it will help you attain your academic and/or career goals?
My personal academic goals will absolutely be reached by living in Germany. I’m going to get to use and master my German in its native country, something I’ve only ever dreamed about! I also think the internship opportunity, which lasts for six months with a company I apply to, will go a long way toward helping me reach my goals of working with renewable energy. There are so many companies and so much research being done in Germany in this regard that I’m positive I’ll get to work with it. I feel like I really lucked out. I pursued the German language for completely unrelated reasons, but now it’s the means by which I think I’m going to really kick-start my career. I feel strongly that more students should study a language. Learning a language at the advanced level has given me unique opportunities that would have otherwise been impossible.
How long will you be there?
The program lasts for an entire year. I fly to Washington, D.C., on July 25 for orientation, and proceed to Frankfurt two days later. The first two months are spent at a language school. The next four months, from October to the end of January, are spent at a university or vocational school. The last six months are spent interning with a company and we return home in July 2017.
What do you hope to do there when you go?
Anything and everything! My primary goal is simply to experience and learn. Participants are seen as ambassadors of sorts, sent to Germany to represent the United States. I’m planning on doing my best to show Germany the best and brightest of both Alaska and America.
What were your first impressions of the German language? Why does it appeal to you?
Many people think German is an angry-sounding language, but many of my first experiences with German included poetry and music, and I think it’s a beautiful language. I feel there’s a very special rhythm and flow to the German language that completely wins my heart over. It sets me apart as an engineering student. Very few people in the program minor in a language, and I’ve always felt a little special for putting in the extra effort to pursue something I really enjoy.
What are you expecting Germany to be like when you go? How are you preparing?
I’m definitely expecting to be kept on my toes. Germans are known for being more direct, punctual, and, in general, somewhat stricter than Americans. I expect I’ll be putting much more effort into doing things right when living in Germany! I’ve been brushing up on my German, mostly by reading news and listening to music. I expect I’ll do more to prepare now that finals week is over.
Compiled by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement