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Czech Mate

Civil engineering student Alisha Rodriguez '18 had always dreamed of studying abroad. but thinking about an internship in the Czech Republic was a little bit scary at first. Thanks to her perseverance and the encouragement and support of her Pacific professors, she took on the challenge. The result was a tremendous learning opportunity and a life-changing journey of self-discovery. Here's her story.

Internship Experience
My internship was an eight-week research program in Prague, Czech Republic, called Research on Vadose Zone for Understanding Water and Chemical Transport at Various Scales. In this program, I studied water and chemical transport through the vadose zone, which is the layer of the Earth that's between the surface and the water table. The program was funded by the National Science Foundation and included four American students, myself and three other students from universities in Nebraska. We spent the summer working with faculty and students at Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague. 

Most of the research we performed was focused on the calibration and testing of a six-station prototype, the Automated Minidisk Infiltrometer. Infiltrometers are used to measure the ease at which water flows through soil or rock. This prototype infiltrometer, if successful, would allow users to place an infiltrometer on the soil and leave it alone for hours. In contrast, the infiltrometers now in use require someone to constantly monitor and record water levels. What was fun about this project was that it was completely unique to CTU, and it involved technology and equipment that wasn't in the United States yet. 

In addition to the calibration experiments, we spent two weeks doing fieldwork, presented research at a conference, visited a CTU facility that included a green roof, took soil samples to Brno for CT analysis, sat in on lectures and much more. The other students and I created a blog* of everything we did during the eight weeks. 

I enjoyed the fact that there wasn't a typical day on the job. For example, one week was spent in the Jizera Mountains, a mountain range near Poland, where we performed infiltration testing, took large soil cores for CT analysis at a facility in Brno and performed ponded infiltration tests to find saturated hydraulic conductivity. 

The days started early in the morning and lasted until we were finished with experimentation, which sometimes went to 7 p.m. I had never performed fieldwork before, so the experience was challenging, but also rewarding. Other weeks were spent completely in the lab, performing lab ponded infiltration experiments, calibrating the instrument or sitting in on a lecture on environmental isotopes. I was thrown a lot of information in the eight weeks, but it was exciting to know that I was always learning something new.

Another great thing about the program was that I could travel on the weekends, as well as explore Prague when I was done with work. I took weekend trips by train to Vienna, Budapest and Český Krumlov. There were also inexpensive flights that allowed me to spend a weekend in Oslo and five days in London. The program took me all around the Czech Republic, including Děčín, Brno, the Jizera Mountains, the Broumov region and, of course, Prague. I had never been to Europe before, so getting to see five countries in eight weeks was a dream come true. The culture and traditions in Europe are incredibly rich, and it was amazing to see those sights in person. 

View the blog at

Looking Back
It's crazy to think that I almost didn't apply for the program. My adviser, Dr. Mary Kay Camarillo, heard about the program from a colleague and sent me the link for the application four days before it was due. Even though there was a huge time crunch, I applied, because it had always been a dream of mine to study abroad. 

Thankfully, I was able to find professors who were willing to write me letters of recommendation on such short notice. I believe what landed me this internship was a combination of my letters of recommendation, grades, and the diversity of classes that I have been able to take through the civil engineering program at Pacific. My professors emphasize that the classes that we take only prepare us for a small amount of what we will see in the work force, so it's important to focus more on the problem-solving aspect of engineering. 

In this program, I learned a lot of the techniques in the field. My coursework at Pacific allowed me to think critically, and to apply knowledge from one subject to another. I found that I could pick up on new techniques quickly because of how focused the faculty at Pacific is on creating critical thinkers.

My biggest advice for anyone who has the strong desire to do an internship abroad is to talk to your advisers. They have so many connections, resources and years of experience that will bring you opportunities you never imagined. If there is a country you really want to visit, do some research on it, talk to Office of Cooperative Education advisers and be proactive in your desires. My adviser brought the opportunity to me because she knew how much I wanted to study abroad. 

Another piece of advice is to keep an open mind. I never saw myself spending two months in a country where I didn't know the language or any of the other program participants beforehand, but you may surprise yourself. There are numerous amazing experiences out there if you take a little time to look for them.

This internship experience was initially terrifying for me because I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know any of the other students, had no knowledge of the Czech Republic, and I didn't have any plans except to get on the airplane. I had always thought that I needed others to go on adventures with, but through this experience, I was able to become more independent and confident in myself. I loved that I was constantly learning new things and becoming more comfortable with the realization that I still had so much to learn. I realized that I enjoy fieldwork and research, which solidified my decision to pursue a higher degree. 

About Alisha Rodriguez: I am studying civil engineering with a minor in music at Pacific where I will be graduating in May 2018. I enjoy being involved and am a member of various Greek organizations, honor societies, and professional clubs, such as American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and I'm a Pacific Ambassador. I am currently in the process of applying for PhD programs in groundwater research.