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America Through Sonja Haenzelmann’s Lense

November, 2010

The International Exchange Center is proud to announce Sonja Haenzelmann as this month’s Exchange Visitor of the Month. Each month, we select an exchange visitor who has made an effort to get involved in his/her community and explore American culture. Sonja is also the winner of last month’s photo contest on our Facebook page!

Sonja came to the United States from Spain, but is originally from Germany. She is doing her training in the field of bioinformatics at Sage Bionetworks in Seattle, WA. Sonja came to the U.S. with an open mind. “I had this America from the movies in my head but really didn’t want to think of it and just see what I find.” Not believing in stereotypes, Sonja was ready to explore all of the different aspects of her new home which, she says, is not as sunny as Spain, but greener!

She has found everyone to be very welcoming and has been able to make friends and settle into her new life quickly. She especially appreciates her new professional colleagues who have helped her to understand particularly challenging aspects of her training. She also has formed a future collaboration with a visiting scientist. Sonja has been able to share aspects of both Spanish and German culture with her colleagues including delicious German cookies. At the same time she has learned a lot about the history of the Seattle area and, of course, its coffee culture.

Outside of her training, Sonja has taken advantage of Seattle’s many outdoor activities such as rock climbing and kayaking. It was on one such kayaking trip that she took her contest winning photo. “Me and a friend from Italy who I met here, were doing the sunset tour of the Northwest Kayak Center here in Seattle. I have done a whitewater kayak course with them before and they were great, so we decided to do the sunset tour. When we dragged the kayaks out of the water after about 2.5 hours of paddling into the sunset I made athta snapshot. It was the last day of my friend’s stay so it was the last ting we did together here and I wanted to a memory of this.” Before she finishes her program at the end of December, Sonja plans to go on a snowboarding/skiing weekend with some of her new friends and colleagues.

When asked what makes a successful J-1 Exchange Visitor, Sonja replied “Listen to the people, they love to tell you about their country and they are also curious about yours, which leads to nice exchanges.” This is great advice for all of our other trainees and interns!