Alumna Forges Path for Future Foreign Language Students

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Maria visiting The Dolomites (Italian Alps), summer 2016. Photo courtesy of M. Withrow.

At NC State, hardworking students are one of our biggest assets. Mechanical Engineering and German alumna, Maria Withrow, put her more than 10 years of German to the test twice in college, first by studying abroad at the University of Berlin and working in Dusseldorf, and the second time in 2016 while working in Munich. Withrow graduated from NC State in May 2015 and expects to complete her Masters in Industrial Manufacturing and Systems Engineering in May 2017.

Reflecting on how her time at NC State prepared her for her overseas endeavors, Withrow says, “[The NC State German program] is amazing, they have helped me a lot and encouraged me and supported me. I could go sit down in any one of the German professors offices and talk to them about whatever I want and feel welcomed.” She credits her time spent in the German program at NC State for helping her development of the language’s grammar, noting that many of her German classmates had read the same novels as she did in NC State German literature classes. “Now I can tell by your accent where you live or why you might act the way you do based on the culture,” Withrow adds.

The work culture is quite different in Germany. She notes, “In America you have a short inner wall and a very high one so you might become friends with someone on the outside but to really get to know them takes a long time,” she says, “In Germany, it is the opposite. There is a high outer wall and low inner wall, so it takes a long time to become friends with someone, but once you do they will always be there for you.”

[The NC State German program] is amazing, they have helped me a lot and encouraged me and supported me. I could go sit down in any one of the German professors offices and talk to them about whatever I want and feel welcomed.”

Not only did Withrow experience the enriching lifestyle of another culture, but she also scored an internship at Arthrex GmbH working in product engineering. Her daily tasks consisted of designing fracture plates, helping design new implants, and conducting market research. She notes a distinguishable difference in the work cultures, “Work life and personal life are completely separate in Germany, you do not mix them. It is different from the U.S.— here you mix them all the time. [In Germany] it is much more structured with the boss hierarchy.”

She remains dedicated to serving the NC State community by helping current students and study abroad hopefuls experiencing funding issues find scholarships. “I help students so they don’t have to do it alone,” says Withrow. In fact, many would call her a path forger, epitomizing our motto of Think and Do. Prior to her educational journey in Germany, students were not able to travel to Berlin for engineering credits because the classes were taught solely in German, so the NC State Study Abroad Office had no way of knowing if classes were of a similar standard. Withrow went with the understanding that it was not guaranteed her classes would transfer back for credit. After careful review, NC State students are now able to enroll in the University of Berlin’s engineering courses for full credit.

Interested in studying abroad in a nation that speaks a different language? Take Withrow’s advice: practice with others! Make local friends in your host country that speak the foreign language for great practice. She also wants to remind students to not only learn the language, but also learn the culture as “the two are not separate. They influence each other.”

The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is honored to call such pioneering and innovative individuals, such as Maria Withrow, alumni. Thank you, Maria, for making us all proud of your many accomplishments!

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