Carl Skarbek ’11 returns to his home away from home, Macalester education in hand.

By Anna Pickrell ’14

After graduation last May, Carl Skarbek ’11 took his lab and classroom experiences straight to Germany, where he is now one of 75 students participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX).

CBYX is a work-study program for American students, graduates, and professionals looking for education, work training, and cultural immersion in Germany. The program is comprised of two months of intensive language immersion, fourth months at a German university or technical school, and a five-month internship at a German company or organization. 

Skarbek began the program in July with a language course to polish his German skills. With five hours a day of language instruction among students from across the globe, Skarbek saw this phase as a positive first step in re-acclimating to the German culture he’d first encountered while studying in Berlin and Vienna.

“I’d always wanted to get back to Germany to hone my language skills,” Skarbek said. “I knew that if there were ever a time for me to do that, this was it.

After transitioning back into the local language, Skarbek moved to the University of Rostock in northeastern Germany. There the environmental studies and German major took mostly biology classes, so he could learn German scientific vocabulary.

Skarbek has found that the fields he studied at Macalester (he also minored in biology) complement each other more than he’d anticipated. German studies has helped him acclimate to the culture, and Skarbek’s environmental studies degree has also proved to be a huge help in Germany.

“I’m always getting into discussions with Germans about why we do things a certain way in the States, and I have the knowledge to answer them intelligently, citing the history and politics behind U.S. environmental policy as well as citing the positive things going on—urban and community gardens, food co-ops, changes in transportation, etc,” he says.

Skarbek is now interning at the University of Rostock’s botanical gardens, where he’s applying his knowledge of all three fields. Since February he has worked with gardeners, engineers, professors, and the garden curator on a range of projects, including research, species identification, landscaping, pest control, marketing, and translating.

“The ecology and botany knowledge gleaned from Mac professors like Dan Hornbach, Mark Davis and Jerald Dosch has proved invaluable,” he says.

Culture shock hasn’t been significant for him this time around, says Skarbek, because of his previous study abroad experience. “I really feel like a part of my community, which is a great feeling to have in a completely foreign place,” he says. In fact, Skarbek is so comfortable in Germany, he even showed off Rostock in January to a group of Macalester and University of St. Thomas students who were there as part of a J-Term course on conservation psychology.

When the CBYX program ends in July, Skarbek plans to return to the U.S. to seek a science-related job in industry, in order to get some additional real-world experience before eventually applying to graduate school.

April 3 2012

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