Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Student C.J. Nielsen found his time studying and working in Germany 'exciting and valuable'

November 19, 2013

Junior C.J. Nielsen checked out a German landmark in Rathaus in the city of Hannover during his time in Germany. | PHOTO COURTESY OF C.J. NIELSEN

Junior C.J. Nielsen checked out a German landmark in Rathaus in the city of Hannover during his time in Germany. | PHOTO COURTESY OF C.J. NIELSEN

by Ric Burrous

As with many IUPUI students who are traveling abroad, junior C. J. Nielsen found a summer studying and working in southern Germany especially exciting and valuable.

But the trip was doubly meaningful to Nielsen because it incorporated both of his academic passions: Automotives and German.

As a major in IUPUI Motorsports in the School of Engineering and Technology, his internship at Hochschule Heilbronn exposed him to world-class vehicle technology and an automotive culture that was a dream come true. And as a double major in German in the School of Liberal Arts, he had an opportunity to immerse himself in the language and culture of a country he came to love.

His three-and-a-half-month stint at Heilbronn affirmed his view of the importance of studying abroad. “I got a chance to work on interesting projects, and to live amid Germans and their culture,” Nielsen said. “It was life-changing for me. I made so many friends — people from Finland, Russia, Bulgaria and Romania — that I’m still in touch with.”

The culture — especially the work ethic of the German people — made a huge impression on the 21-year-old Pike High School graduate. “Everything I’d heard about the German commitment to perfection is true,” Nielsen said. “It’s all around you. The whole time I was there, I never saw anything marked ‘made in China.’ They have such pride in the quality of their workmanship.”

That’s one of the reasons why Nielsen advises students, college or high school, to take full advantage of study-abroad programs. “It’s a global market out there,” he said. “I tell kids if they get a chance to study overseas, take it. You’ll make friends from all over the world. You see that there are pros and cons to anyplace you go. And experiencing other cultures makes you a more well-rounded individual.”

Ironically, Nielsen expected to be comfortable with the language, since he considered himself fluent in German. “Turns out, I wasn’t quite as fluent as I thought,” Nielsen laughed. “Germany has a lot of different dialects in the south, and even native speakers don’t always understand one another.” But after two weeks, he found himself comfortable in the environment.

He also found that one of his expectations — that he’d hone his German skills at work — wasn’t quite accurate, either. Heilbronn “came after me hard when they saw that I spoke German and could handle the engineering,” he said. His co-workers spoke little English, so he was learning technical German while co-workers were learning beginning English.

“The language of racing has become English, so Heilbronn considered that a big advantage,” he said. There were still a few language hang-ups, though; such as the regional dialect and some of the German mechanical and technical words. “It took me quite a while to get used to the Germans using the metric system,” he said. The irony is that “now I’m having trouble switching back,” he laughed.

Nielsen is an Adam W. Herbert Presidential Scholar and a member of Honors College. He finds the world of motorsports engineering exciting, even revolutionary. “Racing isn’t just about going fast and going around and around,” he said. “It’s really about the months of research and testing that goes into high-performance cars.

“A lot of people don’t realize that much of vehicle technology that we take for granted — that keep us safe or make cars more efficient — comes from racing research,” he added. That includes small things like rear-view mirrors and windshield wipers to seat belts, traction control and better braking systems.