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From QUB to NYC: My Placement Year Diary

Meet Michael Downey, one of our Go Global Ambassadors 2020. If you are thinking of following in his footsteps and spending a year or a semester abroad, he’s here to share his tips, tricks and wisdom with you. 

“New York City has an energy like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down.” 

As a Business Information Technology student, I made the decision to do a placement in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City. The experience of living and working on NYC was a rollercoaster (and included a 4-month quarantine in Miami) but it’s been a life-changing experience. Here are just some of the reasons why….

The placement

I worked as a Software Developer for a SaaS start-up called On The Stage, and I joined at a time when the company was experiencing high growth – this was super exciting! My office was located on Broadway & W 54th St and my apartment in Amsterdam Ave & W 107th St, both in Manhattan so this was only a 20-minute subway ride which was super convenient.

The city

What can I say about the concrete jungle of NYC? The energy of the city is like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down. There’s too much to do in NYC and it never stops. Luckily, if you’re on an intern budget NYC has tons of FREE events to offer, I mean 100’s each day and it can be overwhelming deciding which event to go to. 

If you’re worried about surviving financially on an intern salary in NYC, I’d advise you to create a budget and stick to it and you’ll be fine – this is actually a great learning experience as you learn how to manage your personal finances.

Part of my routine involved running around the 1.58-mile Reservoir Loop in Central Park before work. This run at 7.30 am in the morning was a beautiful start to the day as you could escape the mayhem, relax and enjoy the ambience. There were always thousands of people running and this really fueled my motivation to push harder and improve my run time

Sporting events

The beauty of living in a major city is that historic events are commonplace. Luckily, I was able to attend two notable sporting events: the 2019 US Open Tennis – Women’s Singles finals (Serena Williams was playing) and the PGA Tour National Trust Tournament (Rory McIlroy was playing) 

On two occasions I also travelled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Brooklyn Nets vs Miami Heat play in the NBA . An NBA game is an awesome experience, they really know how to put on a show. The game comprises 4 quarters with each quarter lasting 12 minutes but the whole show lasts 2 hours!

Escaping the city

In the winter, I travelled to Hunter Mountain Ski Resort with a group of friends for a weekend of snowboarding. This was just over a 2-hour drive from Manhattan which is like driving from Dublin to Belfast, so it’s not far, at least for American standards.

Food 

New York City is among the world’s most dynamic culinary capitals. 

Sampling new cuisines became a weekly routine. After trying Peruvian at a restaurant named Pio Pio on the Upper West Side I quickly fell in love with this amazing cuisine! Another favourite would have to be Japanese, the ramen from Totto Ramen in Midtown East and the sushi from Sugarfish in Soho were hands down my favorite. Totto Ramen was located within walking distance of my office which was perfect, especially on a chilly winter’s day, the warm broth was an excellent meal to get the blood flowing.

Culture

One of the J1-IWT visa requirements is to experience American culture and I believe this was fulfilled by attending a variety of iconic Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Fortunately, the CEO of On The Stage is also a Broadway producer so one of the perks of the job is to occasionally be offered free or discounted tickets. In 7-months I attended nine shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hamilton, Slava Snowshow, The Rockettes, The Lion King, Tina The Musical, The Inheritance, Little Shop of Horrors and Riverdance.

Exploring the States

The United States is a huge and diverse place, every state is like its own country in terms of legislation, culture, people and the way of life – that’s what makes the country so special! I experienced this firsthand by travelling to multiple US cities, for example, Miami, Marco Island, Naples, Orlando and Tampa, FL, Houston, TX and Chicago, IL. Each city has a different flavour, culturally, Miami and Houston are extremely different compared to New York and Chicago – it’s interesting to visit and experience these diverse cities. Another fascinating comparison is the political views of the majority; Miami (Republican) vs New York City (Democratic). Here are just a few of my highlights:

Speaking Spanish in Miami

During quarantine, I spent 4-months living in Miami, so I truly experienced the Latin culture. The majority of people speak Spanish so if you want to practice your speaking and listening skills make a trip to Miami. Since 1st year I’ve been taking Spanish classes at Queen’s, so this was the perfect opportunity to improve my skills. I also enjoyed exploring the Latin cuisines; Cuban, Venezuela and Colombian. Miami is a cool city and its growing at a fast rate.

I also got the opportunity to visit Marco Island on the west coast of Florida, it is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico, so the ocean is beautiful as it is calm and warm – just a few degrees hotter than Portrush. 

Visiting NASA

Houston is a modern city in terms of infrastructure and buildings. Everything is BIG, the houses, the cars, the food portion sizes etc. The locals are super friendly, you receive pleasant greetings when out and about. In Houston there is a huge Indian and Vietnamese community, so you see a lot of these restaurants around the city. 

The highlight of this trip was visiting the NASA Johnson Space Center, which is home to Mission Control and astronaut training. The behind-the-scenes Tram Tour was amazing, I saw the Saturn V rocket, which is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown. NASA used the Saturn V rockets during the Apollo program to send Americans to the Moon. 

Chicago

Chicago is a pretty city and the most significant characteristic for me was the architecture. It’s like a mini, cleaner New York City. The three days in the city were crammed with tourist activities, these include; the Architectural Boat Tour, Navy Pier, Riverwalk Walking Tour, 360 Skydeck & The Tilt, Deep Dish Pizza and Portillo’s Hot Dog. I loved learning about the history of Chicago.

Fairytale ending

During my last week in the US, I spent some time at Disney World Orlando which was amazing! I visited Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Highlights were Star Wars land, Avatar Land and Toy Storyland. The new Star Wars and Avatar attractions are so immersive, you truly feel like you’re in the movie – Disney has created an incredible experience.

Michael was supported with obtaining a visa and moving to the US by the Rian Immigrant Center. More details here:

Meet Michael at our Go Global Canada/USA info session on October 12.

Register here 

https://event.webinarjam.com/register/116/kr7r7sv8

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Asia Australia Canada Erasmus Europe Fairs Global Opportunities Go Global Study abroad Travel USA Work abroad

Five Amazing Places You Can Travel to From Queen’s

Go Global Week is almost upon us. To get you in the mood, we’ve rounded up five of the awe-inspiring places you can visit from Queen’s on a work or study abroad trip. Prepare to light up your ‘gram with #travel goals.

1.Canada 

You’ll need your camera at the ready in beautiful Canada

You can spend a semester or a year studying in Canada, just like Queen’s Land Use and Environmental Management student Stuart Best. 

“As a student in Canada, I did lots of interesting group projects, and there are so many good opportunities to network and develop, as well as making lots of Canadian friends!” 

Stuart with his Canadian friends on campus

Want more information on opportunities in Canada

2.USA

Start spreading the news…

Fancy sending a summer interning in New York? Project Children USA Internships are available in many fields ranging from law and politics, to medicine and engineering. Queen’s Law student Patrick Friel spent six weeks in the district office of Congressman Peter King

“Peter King made a huge contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland and is still extremely interested in Irish affairs. My work mainly consisted of taking calls from constituents, helping them with the issues they were having with federal agencies and discussing any concerns that they had. I would like to thank Congressman King and everyone else in the office for making my internship incredibly enjoyable. I would also like to thank everyone from Project Children for giving me the opportunity to have an unforgettable summer!” 

Patrick with Congressman King

Want more information on opportunities in the USA

3.Asia

Want to explore Asia from Queen’s?

If you want to combine work experience with adventure then Generation UK China could be the programme for you. You can spend your summer interning in industry across China, like History student David Keenan who spent last summer in Shanghai. 

“For any student wanting to internationalise their career, and travel to an exotic country over the summer, I strongly urge you to consider the Generation UK – China Internship Programme!,” says David.

David exploring China

Want more information on opportunities in Asia

4. Europe

Spring time in Paris?

Erasmus Study & Work Programme has opportunities all over Europe. Law student Megan Edwards spent a semester studying at Pazmany Peter Catholic University (PPKE) in Budapest. “Studying in Budapest, Hungary as part of the Erasmus programme was the greatest experience of my life, she says.

Megan in Hungary

Want more information on opportunities in Europe

5. Australia

Fair dinkum

You can go as far afield as Australia from Queen’s and spend a year or a semester studying at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales. Check out their Instagram feed to see what your view of campus could look like!

Follow #YakMedia for a snapshot of campus life in New South Wales.

 If that has whetted your appetite for travel, don’t miss Go Global Week from 12-15 October. Register for the Go Global Fair here.

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Alumni Awards Engineering Global Opportunities internship placement STEM Technology Work abroad

Queen’s intern abroad designs award-winning fire fighters’ helmet

Imagine you’re a firefighter entering a burning building. The room is so thick with smoke that you can’t see. How do you know which way to turn? This was the challenge set for Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate Sean Hackett before he helped design an award-winning fire fighters’ helmet that tells the wearer which way to turn with a simple buzz to the left or right of the head.  

As an IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience intern), Sean is enjoying a year placement as an intern at the Visual Intelligence Studio in Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, where he is part of a research team exploring a safer communication tool for firefighters. 

Under Senior Systems Scientist Dr. Yang Cai, the ‘Haptic Helmet’ prototype conceived by Sean’s team won the award for “most commercially viable” at the NIST Haptic Interface for Public Safety Challenge. The contest assessed the use of virtual reality environments as a development tool for creating safety technologies. 

As part of the project, Sean and the team travelled to Denver, Colorado for live demos in a fire fighting training facility. This practical experience allowed them to understand how firefighters navigate unfamiliar paths through burned buildings filled with smoke and noise.

Sean said: “The experience of interacting with real-life firefighters and working independently on solutions has been very interesting for me.”

The prototype helmet

Dr Yang said: “We encourage engineers to find simple solutions that work in the real world. “Although I give them instructions to guide and get them started, I also encourage them to use their own knowledge and experiment because in the real world there is no textbook that tells you what to do and engineers have to work on a lot of problem-solving”.

Along with Dr Yang, Sean and the team worked to develop technology that successfully improves firefighter’s safety and efficiency of in the most challenging and hazardous environments.

Sean with fellow intern Florian Alber

During his internship, Sean has also been helping edit a research paper for presentation on “Indo-Navigation and Fire Fighters Activity Recognition”. 

Dr Yang commented: “Students and participants from western Europe have a brilliant work ethic. Together, they produce research papers and work on innovative solutions, adding value to the lab. Some European interns have great writing style in addition to other talents and that is monumental when it comes to writing and editing research papers for conferences, which is great additional help.”

Sean works on drone projects for public safety alongside a fellow researcher

According to Sean, it wasn’t hard settling into the new environment thanks to the immense support offered at the lab. “Of course, it’s challenging to be away from friends, family, and home. It takes a little while for the initial adjustment of the processes and procedures but once that is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

Sean and Florian check out the Grand Canyon

The year stateside has also given Sean the opportunity to experience American culture and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, participate in social activities and enjoy American adventure and sports.

To find out more about IAESTE internships, visit https://iaeste.org/open_internships

More about Sean’s research

To discover more work and study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities page

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Global Opportunities internship placement Research STEM Switzerland Technology Work abroad

“My life changing experience on an international internship”

Queen’s Chemistry student Anwin Robin has described a paid internship with the British Council’s IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) programme as “the best year of my life.”

Like many Queen’s students, Anwin took the opportunity to gain international experience and boost his employability skills on a paid placement abroad. 

Anwin, from Dromore in County Down, moved to Switzerland in June 2019 to work with Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.

Anwin said: “During my internship I drew on my background as a chemistry student to carry out research into making stronger materials. Knowing that they may be used in the future in structures ranging from airplanes to wind turbines made my work feel tangible and relevant.”

Anwin at work in Switzerland

The best year of my life

During his time in Switzerland, Anwin also had the opportunity to meet up other interns working across the country through weekend excursions organised by IAESTE, the largest global mobility programme for STEM students in the world. 

Anwin added: “My time in Switzerland has been the best year of my life so far. My IAESTE placement showed me how international many companies are today and confirmed that I want to grow my work experience outside of the UK. I will forever be grateful to IAESTE for providing me with this opportunity.”

Adapting for Covid-19

Anwin enjoyed the experience so much that when Switzerland went into lockdown because of Covid-19, he chose to stay in the country and continue his internship from home. He also used this as an opportunity to develop his coding skills.

Anwin has remained in Switzerland since finishing his IAESTE placement in May. He is currently applying to further internships in the country and hopes to eventually study for a Masters in computer science.

Whilst Covid-19 has restricted much travel this summer, many IAESTE placements have shifted online in response.

Among the 15 students from Northern Ireland who are currently undertaking remote internships with organisations in the USA, India, Bangladesh and Poland, are several Queen’s students who are joining online seminars and discussions. Their subject areas include biomedical science, business and marketing, computer science, aerospace engineering and chemical engineering.

Life changing impact

Jonathan Stewart, Director of the British Council Northern Ireland, said: “It’s wonderful to hear about the lifechanging impact of Anwin’s IAESTE placement, and we wish him all the best as he starts out in his career. Despite Covid-19, the IAESTE programme has quickly adapted and continues to offer quality opportunities for our university students to gain international experience. The remote internships help to provide Northern Ireland students with new technical skills while also experiencing different cultures and ways of working.”

In Northern Ireland IAESTE is funded by the Department for the Economy and delivered by the British Council.

Queen’s STEM students interested in applying for the IAESTE programme can find more information here:

https://www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-abroad/outside-uk/iaeste

For more information on work or study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities site