UC International co-op – what's that?

My experience abroad and what you can do if you want to co-op internationally

Headshot of Gretchen Spears

Gretchen Spears

Mechanical Engineering '24

Former peer Teaching Assistant for the Department of Engineering Education, University of Cincinnati Resident Adviser and International Cooperative Education student.

As someone who really wanted to travel while in college, the International Co-op Program at the University of Cincinnati seemed to be perfect opportunity. Plus, the fact that I would get paid to live in another country while crossing items off my bucket list only made the decision to participate easier. 

My experience

Gretchen Spears poses in front of a beachfront city and holds a stuffed cow.

Gretchen Spears spent her fourth and fifth co-op rotations working in Germany. Photo/Provided

The international co-op is completed as your 4th and 5th co-op rotations so, around the time of my 3rd co-op rotation, I was actively applying and interviewing for jobs in Germany, my preferred country. I finally received an interview and a few weeks later I accepted an offer from Karl Storz Endoscopy. I was all smiles because my dreams were finally coming true. UC had me enroll in a few courses to prepare me for language, culture shock, and how to be professional in different cultures. At the same time, I was working with my new company to navigate the visa process and search for housing options. 

The best I can do to sum up my international co-op is to say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a challenge, but one that I am so glad I took on. When I landed in Germany all I knew was the house I was living in and the company I was working at. When I left Germany, I had so many friends to say goodbye to and memories that I will never let go of. 

My German co-op

The co-op was set up similarly to my previous co-ops in the U.S., but being in a new country, I was able to learn about and adapt to the work and cultural differences in Germany. I was working as a Research and Technology Intern in the Special Projects Department of Karl Storz Endoscopy located in Tuttlingen, Germany. I was a bit anxious for the first day, but when I arrived, they showed me around and the team was so welcoming and happy to have me. During my time there I worked on researching new approaches and applications of medical devices currently used in the endoscopic surgery industry. I learned a lot about a new department of engineering and found that I really enjoyed it. I am now more confident in professional settings and know how to communicate with a cross-cultural team. Even better, I have international work experience which makes me a competitive candidate when applying for full-time jobs both internationally and domestically. 

Gretchen Spears (left) and friends pose in front of a mountain and waterfall

Gretchen Spears (left) made many friends while on co-op in Germany. Photo/Provided

Gretchen Spears (left) and another student hold up UC flag.

Gretchen Spears spent much of her free time outside of work traveling Europe during her international co-op. Photo/Provided


Gretchen Spears (left) with other students skiing. They hold a UC flag.

Gretchen Spears (left) skied in the Austrian Alps while adventuring in Europe. Photo/provided.

The second key part of the international co-op experience was learning about other cultures and making the most of my time in Europe. During my seven months abroad, I traveled to a total of 14 countries with new friends I had made and sometimes by myself. I tried lots of amazing food and got to see so many cool places. I skied in the Austrian Alps, went canoeing in Croatia, saw Buckingham Palace, swam in the sea at the Blue Beach in Nice, drove on the F1 circuit in Monaco, hiked in Lichtenstein, visited Zürich and Hamburg and Berlin, and so much more. I learned that you always have to be prepared for the unpredictable (especially with public transportation) and to enjoy the little things in life. Best of all, I met one of my best friends and built a life I had dreamed of. 

Interested in participating? Here's how to apply to the International Co-op Program.

Discuss your goals with your academic adviser and your co-op adviser, they can help you adjust class schedules and search for co-op opportunities. Visit the International Co-op Program website to learn more about it. If you have questions, contact Associate director for international programs, Erin Bove. Finally, you can apply for an international co-op on the website. 

Featured Image at top: Gretchen Spears stands on a mountain during a hike while on co-op in Germany. Photo/provided. 

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Get answers to all your co-op questions

At the University of Cincinnati, undergraduate engineering degrees take five years to complete, unlike the typical four-year bachelor's degree program. But that extra year is incredibly valuable for students to gain a head start on building their careers. Students receive unique, hands-on experiences during their time at the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) through the cooperative education (co-op) program. Co-op is built into the curriculum and students alternate between semesters in the classroom and semesters working full-time in industry or research.