ALTOONA, Pa. — When Tyler Vasbinder got out of the U.S. Army, he wanted to do something to celebrate. So he and a friend took a trip to Europe, jetting through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
“We didn't know what to expect, but we had the time of our lives," he said. "I knew I wanted to go back at some point and stay in one place to really absorb the culture, but I didn’t know when or in what capacity.”
He got his chance as a junior studying security and risk analysis at Penn State Altoona. In searching for a study abroad program, Vasbinder’s professor, Jungwoo Ryoo, was able to connect him with folks from the University of Applied Sciences in Sankt Pölten, Austria, who set him up with an internship at the Business and Innovation Center located right next to the university.
Vasbinder arrived in late August, and started off his emprise by attending the International Conference on Software Security and Assurance where he was able to present on a student project involving automotive security.
Through late November he worked at the Business and Innovation Center on information technology security projects, such as a categorization system to assist in the overall analyzation of raw data. It was 30 hours a week, paid, and full of invaluable experiences. “One of the biggest things I took away from working there was how much there is to learn in my field," said Vasbinder. "For example, my boss expected me to do all of my work on a Linux computer, but I’d never used a Linux system before. It was a steep learning curve.” But Vasbinder dug in and taught himself what he needed to know to get the job done.
“It was a wonderful way to gain more knowledge in my field, and it was pretty great to do something like this on an international level," he said. "I was able to see the different ways of solving problems using the tools of our trade.”
By the end of the internship, Vasbinder had completed the project, and his boss thought what he accomplished would be useful to the company.
Vasbinder feels as though he has vastly widened his opportunities for a job after graduation through this experience. “It definitely opened my eyes to finding a job internationally. I met so many people from all over," he said. "I made connections with them, and now I can use them to network. My boss' boss is in charge of the Internship Foreign Office, so if I want a job in Austria, I can contact him. A girl I met from Switzerland who’s in nursing could help me get a job there doing information technology in a hospital or something.” Vasbinder says if he were to get a job offer overseas he wouldn’t hesitate to accept it.
But what he reveled in even more than his work were the personal relationships he formed with others while he was there: “One of the reasons I was able to enjoy myself so much was that I stayed in an international dorm. I didn't even have to go ten feet to find someone from another country. I was learning about different people, different cultures, and I loved that.”
Vasbinder explains that in the dorm, all students could come together to hang out or take part in events like board game night or ping pong night. “Meeting people in the dorm was the starting point for our adventures together," he said.
Those adventures included hiking through Austria, including a good portion of the wine region Wachau; all-night dances at the university; and traveling throughout central Europe with his new friends. He visited Prague and the Czech Republic, Krakow and Auschwitz in Poland, Slovakia, Budapest in Hungary, and Salzburg in Austria. He has an open invitation to visit Finland and stay with some Finnish students he befriended, and he keeps in regular touch with about six people he met on the trip. “It was so crazy and wonderful at the same time," he said.
Vasbinder encourages students to explore all of their options when it comes to internships and studying abroad. “Just talk to your professors and find connections. There’s something out there for everyone. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said. "I can't imagine going through my life just living only in Altoona or Pennsylvania. There's so much more in the world. Go out and see it, explore it.”
Vasbinder believes his three months overseas boosted his confidence in his work skills and his adaptability. He is certain other students would experience the same through traveling and a similar program. “Don’t be afraid," he said. "Once you're over there and start studying, you start meeting people and having experiences, you don't want to leave. It may be rocky at first with the language and culture barrier, but once you get into the swing of things, there's nowhere else you will want to be.”
To learn more about internship opportunities, please contact Tom Shaffer, academic internship coordinator, at [email protected] or 814-949-5789.