By Sage Wesenberg, Biochemistry and Journalism 2019

The Hannover Exchange Program has provided opportunities for international experiential learning for 30 years. Thanks to grant support from the German Academic Exchange Service, this long running program sends German Master’s students to Boston to work in Northeastern labs, as well as sends Northeastern undergraduate co-op students to work in labs at the Leibniz University of Hannover.

When Biology Professor Günther K.H. Zupanc came to Northeastern from Germany in 2009, he quickly learned about this program, although not very active at the time. Zupanc saw an opportunity to reestablish the partnership to work more fully, including Northeastern students as part of the exchange. Eighteen German students have come to work at Northeastern since January 2015, and 12 Northeastern co-op students have worked in Hannover since August 2014.

Most of the students from Leibniz University of Hannover are focused in plant biology, often focusing on cell and molecular biology, horticulture, and plant biotechnology. When they come to Northeastern, they look to work in related labs. Several laboratories in the Department of Biology frequently host students, as well as occasionally one bioengineering lab in the School of Engineering. Students are encouraged to find time to get out of the lab to explore Boston and attend local events, like Red Sox games.

On the other end of the exchange, Northeastern students have flexibility to choose what lab they’d like to work in, but many work in plant biology and biotechnology labs. Students work with American and German coordinators to select labs that will match their academic interests and be able to provide them proper support.

Zupanc is passionate about the success and bidirectionality of this program, and speaks highly of the importance of global experience.

“When you immerse into a different culture, it’s much more than working in a different lab – it’s a different societal culture, and you learn so much more than a visiting tourist. It teaches you so much about everything in terms of your career, your perspective, and your beliefs about other cultures. The benefits, although we may not be able to express them in quantitative terms, in qualitative terms – they are unbelievable,” he said.

The program continues to bring positive experiences to both American and German students. Many of the German students have chosen to stay in Boston after completing school, and some have come back to Northeastern to complete their PhD in Professor Kim Lewis’ microbiology lab.

The Hannover Exchange’s grant is the longest running in the history of the German Academic Exchange Service, and has just been renewed until 2021. Zupanc has many ideas for the future including a desire to be able to encourage more students to study abroad, and potentially incorporate other colleges and departments into the exchange.

Zupanc knows many students may feel hesitation and fear in studying abroad alone for six months. He encourages anyone with a principle interest in the opportunity to give it a shot.

“Put aside any prejudices or expectations you have and go there and just expose yourself to as much as you can. I truly think this is the most important part of the experience,” he said.