It is not typical for Yale students to take a year off to construct surgical robots in Germany, but Paul Mittermiller went against type with his gap year.
Mittermiller, 23, applied to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), a program designed to give Americans a year of work experience in Germany. He was one of only 75 Americans to be admitted, and Mittermiller, who had received a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering, soon found himself in an internship at the German Aerospace Center.
Before beginning internships, all CBYX students (Americans between the ages of 18 and 24) must take classes in German language at the Carl Duisberg Center in Saarbruecken.
"After the intensive crash course during the first two months … it was a little easier to figure out words and grammar based on the context," Mittermiller said. "I had to practice a lot by either reading novels or newspapers, speaking in German as often as possible or, of course, watching German television."
He lived with three German families during his internship, and they helped him "gain insight into German culture."
At the German Aerospace Center's Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics, Mittermiller was involved in the design of a surgical robot. Attachments to the robot included an ultrasound probe to aid cardiac surgeons and a body tissue hardness sensor. For both uses, Mittermiller created fake replicas of essential organs to test the functions.
He said "simply wandering around the city" was one of the best parts of the experience. Other students at the program came from throughout the United States and studied programs as diverse as "culinary arts, photojournalism and mechanical engineering," according to Mittermiller, adding that they were all "open-minded, curious individuals who tried to get the most out of their time in Germany."
Having returned, Mittermiller is trying to make the most of his time before pursuing his medical degree at the University of San Francisco in September.
To learn more about CBYX, visit