Live from Randolph, USA


Thanks to a new project of Schindler Vocational Training, ASTA – Abroad Schindler Technical Apprentices, this year for the first time an apprentice can work abroad for three months during his apprenticeship.

Electronics Engineer Ivan Zimmermann will fly to the USA to another Schindler agency at the beginning of July to improve his acquired skills and gather intercultural experiences.

The challenge is situated in the fact that he has to catch up with school content despite the distance and the time difference. In the following blog, Ivan will report about his fields of experience.

In addition to Ivan’s personal enrichment, ASTA makes it possible for us to gather first findings for the future:

  • Accomplish part of the Vocational Training abroad thanks to digital media
  • Promote intercultural exchanges an identify differences
  • Support Schindler agencies worldwide to implement the dual education system
  • Bind qualified and specialized employees in the long term to the company

The ASTA project is conducted in collaboration with the Education Department of Lucerne’s Government within the program MobiLingua and the Vocational School Emmen (BBZW).

Ivans Blog


The last week of school should be slightly different than the ones before. Tele1 visited my school and filmed the afternoon lessons. They wanted to know what kind of benefits you have, who you are doing part of the apprenticeship in America and how school and learning work out. The compiled reportage was broadcast on TV on the same evening.

Furthermore, I had my final presentation in front of my boss. I have shown what I have been working on during my stay and how the current state of it is. I also must hold a slightly different presentation in Ebikon when I get back. This was and will be a good exercise for the next ABU (general education) tasks, such as the VA (in-depth work).

This week is my last week in Randolph and my job is just to hand over my current projects.

High Point State Park
High Point State Park

Final spurt

My stay in the US is slowly but surely coming to an end. This week will be my last school week before the autumn holidays. Next week will be the last one I work in Randolph. After that I will spend a week in New York City.

For me that means completing tasks and projects or bringing them to a point where I can easily hand them over. This week I fortunately had enough time for everything. At school I had an exam and therefore not so many homework.

At the weekend the weather was beautiful again. So, I walked up to the the High Point. This is the highest mountain in New Jersey. But with a height of 550m this is nothing compared to Switzerland’s mountains.

During the hike I noticed that the parks where you can stay are huge. They have huge playgrounds, a beach, jogging tracks and many hiking trolleys. The Parks here have unimaginable capacity.

Cooperation with the school

When I work on so many different and exciting projects, I quickly forget what else to do. For example, I often do my schoolwork one or two days later than my classmates because I don't have fixed attendance times at vocational school like them.

Nevertheless, the cooperation with the school works very well. I have some co-learners as contact persons to clarify any questions during the week. But not only that, I also have a regular appointment with my class teacher every week. There I focus my questions mainly on problems with test setups and theory. These meetings are run by Microsoft teams and they help to stay on track.

Online meeting with the teacher

Furthermore, some theory blocks are recorded by the school, mainly that I get the details from the theory. But also, to reuse them later for training purposes. The videos are therefore cut together in an elaborate way.

As mentioned above, I can spread my schoolwork over the whole week. This has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that I can work on something until I am in a good place to stop. A big disadvantage, I have no real routine. I've started doing part of my schoolwork on Monday and ABU on Friday morning so that I get a certain regularity.

Next week we have the first test I am allowed to take. Then we will see if and how the stay will affect my training.


Safety system (emergency call)

There are many different safety systems in a lift. On the one hand electrical such as fuses and on the other hand mechanical as the fall protection for example.

This week, I've looked more closely at the emergency call button in the cabin. This is one of the projects I've explained in an earlier blog. At the beginning of 2020, new safety regulations will come into force in the USA. These offer a new level of usability for deaf and blind people. With this change, the current solutions are no longer enough. 

My task now is to upgrade the current system, which basically consists of a telephone. The upgrade will include a video recording showing the contents of the cabin and a simple text system with yes / no questions such as "Are you stuck?"

Since several people were already working on it, I first gathered all the information that was already there. It also came out a first prototype. The prototype is built on a Raspberry Pi (a simple small computer). I personally have no experience with the Raspberry and so it came as it had to come, I've done something wrong that I couldn’t edit it anymore. Luckily, could fix it.
Next week I may try it again with another route.

Ivan at work
Ivan at work


Time is flying by. There are 5 weeks left to spend here in New Jersey. But the school looks, that I do not get bored. They had put together some tasks, that are partly graded.

Like the interview in ABU (General Education), that I mentioned last week. We should ask our vocational trainer about the application process.

This week I have prepared some interview questions for this task. I realized that I simply assume that the American application process is the same as in Switzerland. But this is not the case. The applications here are much simpler. You do not need to write a detailed CV or a letter of motivation, but you get a questionnaire from the companies. Applicants have to fill in the questionnaire and attach only one single page. With the new knowledge I have to rewrite all my questions again next week.

BK (occupational studies) was a bit easier for that. I made relatively good progress and could even work a bit further than the other students at school. But I did not get as far as we should. We had to calculate a control system for an oven and then put it together on the subject of control technology. But the calculation took so long that I did not have time to build it up. That means for me, that I must get faster next week.

Model of an oven
Model of an oven

School start

On Monday, the school in Switzerland started again and as we know, at the beginning of the school year all changes of the rules, the planned school material and the contact details were checked and explained. That was the easy part.

I had the first problems when I wanted to download the required worksheets from the class website. The servers were probably so busy due to the school start that SharePoint crashed every 5 minutes. As a result, I spent a lot of time getting my worksheets.

When I finally got my worksheets, I started doing my homework. I had to read and write a small theory block and then solve some comprehension exercises. That was all for Monday.

On Friday we continued with ABU (general education lessons). There we have a new teacher, who also presented the plan for this Semester. Luckily it was very understandable and insightful what I have do during my stay. I could work the subsequent tasks through without major problems.

But what would the school be without its tests? This semester will not be spared either. There will be two exams during my stay in the US. The first is an electronics test on some old topics. The second one in ABU, there I am supposed to do an interview with a person and write down the answers. The content of the interview should refer to job applications. What will be considered, how will a job interview be conducted, etc. After the autumn holidays I have to write an application based on the answers.


After vacations

After my wonderful vacation, I got some interesting assignments. The tasks are now a bit longer than those before the holidays.

First, I got a kind of upgrade to the emergency system. The problem is that in the new elevator guidelines, which will come into effect next year, it is mandatory to install a text function and a camera in addition to the already existing phone. This improves the security for mute and deaf people, because they cannot properly operate the current emergency phone. My job is to study the current system so that I can place a screen to implement the text function and the camera.

Furthermore, I may put together a battery charging print test stand. The print is simply said to charge and discharge a large battery pack. Now, some of these charging prints break when trying to charge the batteries. The long-term solution is to find the issue on the prints. I am working on the temporary solution. I'm supposed to build a test bench for the factory, so they can detect errors and sort out defects before they get into the system.

School starts again next week, so I had to read and learn a bit about the topics in advance. This semester we learn Java in hard- and software engineering and control technology in electronics. What I read from the school plan, the control technology is something I can look forward to.



Stay in New York

After a three-hour train ride, I arrived in New York and left at the Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station). It was the first time I saw the skyline this close and it was breathtaking. The city is not comparable to Boston. New York is loud because of the traffic and the people. Everything is huge, and you can feel the stress of some people. I planned with my siblings to meet in our hotel, there I also waited a while, since they stood for over an hour and a half in the entry queue.

Finally, we arrived in the city center and it was already getting dark. But as soon as we got to the Time Square it was bright as day because of all the lights. The next day we went to Staten and Elis Island and I was surprised because the Statue of Liberty was that "small".

The parks are very nice designed, and it is nice to spent time there. I was a little surprised by the amount of homeless people on the streets. As our hotel was close to Broadway, we saw a musical called “Beetlejuice”. This is a comedy about death and ghosts.

There are many different very good restaurants here. We ate Vietnamese, sushi, Mexican, American and Italian. But there were many more restaurants. I really enjoyed my stay in New York and I gained a lot of new impressions.

First holiday week

For my first holiday week, I have made up my mind not to fall into stress, so I have planned only one day in advance. As you may have noticed, I want to go hiking at least ones a week. This week is no different, as I was at the Deer park in Flemington the first day. I slept in Moorestown near Philadelphia.

On the second day, I wanted to know something about the World War II. I drove the Atlantic City Express (highway) down to Cape May, where I got into my first big problem in the USA. Namely in the US you must pass so-called Toll stations. They serve to finance the highways. The problem is, that you cannot pay by card and I thought until then that I do not need cash here…

The result was that I had to retravel the route within two days to avoid 200-dollar fines and / or imprisonment.

In Cape May I visited a fire control tower and the US Navy airport. The fire control tower was built to use field artillery against German submarines. American naval bomber pilots have trained on the airfield and now there is a small museum and a memorial for the pilots trained at this airfield.

When I finally managed to raise cash, my first act was to pay my tolls. So I drove back on the Atlantic City Express. For the rest of the day, I've been on the USS New Jersey. I was a bit surprised by a thunderstorm, that got me stuck in the battleship.

Philadelphia Skyline
View from USS New Jersey to Philadelphia
M.I.T. main entrance
M.I.T. main entrance

I spend the rest of the week in Boston. There I visited the M.I.T. (compare with the ETH) and Harvard on Friday, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Technology (compare with the swiss museum of transport) on Saturday and the Freedom Trail on Sunday.

Boston is an impressive city. There are a lot of young people, because the focus is on education here. Alone in a 10-mile radius around the M.I.T. are 40 high schools! There is not much traffic and the city is mostly well lit and safe.

Soon I'll be on my way to New York to meet my siblings.

Education systems, flood warning and field trip

At the beginning of my second week in the USA, I introduced the Swiss education system to the Interns here in Randolph. They were very interested and compared it with their educational system. Some were amazed at the complexity of the Swiss system, but at the same time impressed that it is possible to do all kinds of further education due to its complexity.

Watch Tower
Watch Tower at Stephen State Park

On Wednesday I witnessed a storm in New Jersey. I was in a show of Campions of Magic with my host family, during the break the disaster alarm went off. After the performance, I saw that the streets had turned into streams. When I asked, I was told that this was normal.

Once or twice a year, the E3 / Mod. (Modernization) Team goes in the field to get feedback from technicians and end users. We were at two different locations on Thursday. One was in Jersey City and I was able to see the New York skyline for a short time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture because I was sitting on the wrong side of the car.

Thanks to a lot of input from co-workers, I now have some weekend plans. On Saturday I went to Stephen State Park to hike. But I quickly realized that the part of the park I was in, was more planed for BBQs and not for hiking. But that didn’t bother me, I liked the trip to the park anyway.

Schindler Randolph
Schindler Branch in Randolph


I landed well at John F. Kennedy Airport on July 14 after a long flight. From there I was driven to my host family. As it was foggy in New York, unfortunately I could not see the skyline but that's not too bad because I'll visit the city later.

On the first working day, I got a car and I realized that the road signage in the United States differs from Swiss. I was a little lost in the first few days. The good thing was that I saw something from the neighborhood. New Jersey is heavily wooded and it has many housing estates known from movies.

Otherwise, I have already settled in well. My work is very interesting so far and I get along great with the other employees. I have already completed a safety training and I can now do tasks in the test tower. This is especially interesting because I am working directly on the elevators.

Next week, I'll sit down with some employees and learn about their school system.

Prior to departure

In mid-October 2018, I was invited to a meeting concerning a new task. Since I had no idea what to expect at that meeting with my trainer and the ASTA project manager, who mainly mentors apprentices from the French part of Switzerland (I remind you that I am from the German part of Switzerland), I was curious and unbiased. When I was told about the project and that I was chosen, I was a little bit overwhelmed. After that moment of excitement, I agreed to participate in the project.

But to work in the States I need a visa. From the Schindler agency in the US, we were told that I needed a J1 visa (for students). Since we were told a visa application takes about 2-3 months, we thought we had plenty of time. But since the Swiss school system with the dual education is so different from the US school system, I had to submit more and more documents showing that for one part I am attending school and for the other part I am working in a company.

So, I lost a lot of time with all this back and forth. After more than 3 months and many documents, we could finally continue with a mandatory interview with the US. In this interview, I was once again allowed to explain the whole Swiss dual education system. After about 20 minutes, they decided to refuse the J1 visa request not understanding the dual system.

After this disappointment, we contacted the US Embassy directly. They told us that we needed a B1 in lieu of H3 visa (short: visa for trainees). Thanks to the process within the J1 request, we already had all the documents. This request went surprisingly fast and after two weeks, I received my passport back with the visa for the US.

Now I am ready for the USA and I cannot wait to let it start.

We are here for you.