Last summer, Kylee Mockler Martens completed a 10-week internship with Unidad de Desarrollo Tecnolólgico (UDT) in Concepcion, Chile. The chemical engineering major learned how to scale up a pilot plastic pyrolysis plant, which converts waste plastic into fuel, to full-scale operation. She returned home to Oregon with a set of new technical skills, motivation to move toward a career in plastic pyrolysis or another green technology, and renewed determination to pursue her dream of working internationally.
“I now feel confident that I can work successfully in almost any country or setting after preparing for the language and cultural differences,” Kylee said.
That spirit of exploration is also what drove her to go for an international degree — a demanding double-degree option that requires an extra year of coursework, experience abroad, foreign language proficiency, and a senior thesis. She’s already chalked up most of the prerequisites, including a term at the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain, during spring quarter of her sophomore year.
Come June 2018, Kylee will receive her diploma and join her triplet sisters as College of Engineering graduates. That’s right, she’s one third of a set of Portland-born triplets, all three of whom studied engineering at Oregon State. Michaela, the oldest by a few minutes, also studied chemical engineering, and Richelle, the youngest, chose civil engineering. All three excelled academically, speak Spanish, and have traveled extensively.
Her own journeys have taught Kylee the importance of embracing cultural differences and foregoing what many Americans take for granted. For example, her Chilean home was rarely heated, which made it hard to get up on winter mornings. To dry her laundry, she hung it over a warm pipe in the middle of the house, which sometimes burned holes in her clothing. Drinking tap water outside of metropolitan areas was a risky proposition, and she had to give up her jogging routine because her neighborhood in Concepcion was a little sketchy.
“Even at work, I had no cell service, which was something that took some getting used to. And I also had to deal with a machismo society, which posed challenges for me in work, travel, and my home setting,” Kylee said.
She also encountered interesting differences in the work culture, like the many UDT employees who cooked full meals for lunch using fresh ingredients brought from home. And work came to a standstill during international soccer matches. People also took umbrage when the term ‘American,’ was only applied to people from the United States.
“I became sensitive about how I used the word, because Chileans, other South Americans, and Latin Americans consider themselves to be Americans, too,” Kylee said. “That kind of thing sometimes made them view people from the U.S. as self-centered and naïve.”
Such insights helped her develop an appreciation for what many foreigners face when they come to the U.S.
“It made me consider how convenient business, traveling, and life in general can be for people from the United States. And because English happens to be the language of business, people from other countries are forced to learn a language that we already know,” Kylee said. “I believe everyone should work on learning a foreign language because it is humbling to realize how difficult it can be to live in another country where the people speak a different language.”
As graduation gets closer, Kylee is sorting out her options and hopes someday to return to Spain, but added that she’s open to other possibilities and other cultures.
“I know this involves many risks,” she added. “But I am excited for the unknown and the adventure.”
— Steve Frandzel