After a few months in Poland, José Pablo Barahona talks about his internship at the Kraków School of Brewing of the University of Agriculture in Kraków, his current studies, activities at the labs and general study abroad experience. Listen to him in the video (6 min) or read the short interview below.
So, for me, brewing, put in simple and plain words is just happiness.
Full written interview with José
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your academic background?
My name is José Pablo Barahona, I am 28 years old and I come from San José, Costa Rica. My family still lives there. We are a family of 5 members, two older sisters and my parents. I studied Chemical Engineering in my home university called Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) and currently I am doing a six-month masters internship at URK with the Kraków School of Brewing group.
How did you get involved in brewing?
I’ve always been a passionate beer drinker, I really enjoy and appreciate the different flavors and aromas that each different beer style has to offer. During my chemical engineering studies, me and two friends from Uni came up with the idea to start homebrewing. We invested in some pots, hoses, bunsen burner, a chiller and cleaning agents and we started our first home brew in one of my friend’s back terrace at his place. I remember we bought „How To Brew” by J.Palmer as our main homebrewing source of information. We brewed a stout, with no „major” bumps during the actual brew, however the final brew turned out to have a very acidic flavor. Probably it got contaminated at some point. In spite of this, we didn’t get discouraged and we kept brewing whenever we could, trying out different styles each time.
Why did you choose brewing as an academic field?
After I graduated as chemical engineer, I worked for around 4 years in a completely different field (Biomedical Devices). Throughout those years I knew deep inside that I wasn’t fulfilled and I wasn’t being truly happy with my professional development. After some heavy introspection, it finally struck me. What really made me happy was brewing, and up until that point I hadn’t done anything in specific to reach that goal and then I knew that brewing was the thing that would make me happy. I decided, therefore, to make a drastic shift in my life and go back to academia. I ended up applying and being accepted in an Erasmus Mundus masters programme called Food Science, Technology and Business hosted by KU Leuven University in Gent, Belgium.
What does your internship at the University of Agriculture in Krakow entail? What are your activities? Research?
I am basically here everyday to help the PhD students on whatever they require assistance. From lab work like preparing solutions, cleaning glassware and equipment, pipeting, to microbiological related tasks like preparing agars and cultivation mediums, sterilizing equipment, yeast propagation, cell counting; performing physicochemical analysis of beer and wort samples, and ultimately providing help during the brews, like handling raw material, programming the mashing and boiling regimes, yeast pitching, transferring to fermentation vessels and bottling the final product. The great thing is that you learn from different areas, every day.
Tell us about the master programme you’re a part of.
I am currently enrolled in an Erasmus Mundus masters programme called BiFTec, which stands for Food Science, Technology and Business. It’s a two-years programme, that is hosted by KU Leuven University in Gent, Belgium. During the first year, the students attend lectures in a total of three universities, between compulsory and optional modules. These three universities are KU Leuven, in Gent, Belgium; Universidade Católica Portuguesa, in Porto, Portugal and Anhalt Hochschule in Köthen, Germany. The second year is meant for the student to have a professional competence module during six months and the following six months dedicated for writing a master thesis.
Could you tell us a bit about your study abroad experience?
It’s been a roller coaster of emotions so far, but honestly I don’t regret it even one bit. It has taken me to a vast number of places that probably in other scenarios I wouldn’t have visited and/or experienced. It’s been an mind-opening experience, from the fact that you get to meet people from all around the world, with different perspectives and views on culture, politics, religion, society and of course in the professional field, to being completely independent and responsible for your own actions. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and opportunity.
What kind of beers have you brewed? With whom and why?
So far I’ve assisted in the brewing of wheat beers and pale ales mostly. In the following days I’ll be assisting PhD. Jonas Trummer to brew some experimental batches with different proportions of lentil malt to will be part of a sensorial analysis that is part of his research.
Tell us about your experience so far in Kraków.
So far, I can’t complain, luckily. I’d say that the biggest hurdle to overcome is the language, lately Google Translate has been the #1 app in my mobile. I have had some funny moments dealing with the local commerce but mostly because they spoke little or no English at all and my Polish is basically non-existent (dziękuję bardzo, dzień dobry, tak/nie, jedno piwo proszę). I actually started with polish lessons two weeks ago to shorten that linguistic gap. In my own experiences in other countries, people do tend to treat you better and be more open with you if they see that at least you are trying to communicate in their own language, and they appreciate that. I loving the Stare Miasto’s sights and its history, as well as the wide array of restaurants and bars that are sprinkled all around the city.
Could you talk about some of the challenges that you have faced both personally and academically?
One of the biggest challenges it has been being away from family and friends with whom I have spent practically my whole life, and try to maintain that balance between my circle of loved ones that stayed in Costa Rica, and the new group of friends that I have encountered here during my time abroad. It’s a considerable time difference between here and there and that’s another added layer of complexity to the issue.
Academically, I’ve been facing practically a new topic and field to what I have dealt before in both my studies in chemical engineering and working as a quality and process engineer with the biomedical devices industry. Of course I took some modules during my bachelors related to food science and its processing, but not to the depth that I have taken during this time. But I think that’s what moving out of the comfort zone is, and it allows growth in almost every area of your life, so I welcome that change.
What are your plans for the future?
My immediate priority is to finish my masters programme and pursue a job opportunity in the brewing sector here in Europe. In an ideal scenario, I would like to continue educating myself in the brewing field while working at a brewery. I feel I still have much to learn and do, but time will tell which doors will be opened for me.
What do you miss the most from Costa Rica? What’s the beer scene like there?
Like I mentioned before, what I miss the most is my family and closest group of friends, I miss having face to face conversations and interactions with them. We have a newborn in the family and another is coming by the end of this year, so that has everyone excited as we enter a new phase together as a family.
As for the beer scene in Costa Rica, it has been gaining quite a lot of momentum and what started as basement breweries are now starting to become well established breweries with really good products. We do have a very strong influence from the tendencies coming from the USA, but we have been adding our own „touch” and you’ll find quite interesting combinations of flavors and aromas in Costa Rican craft beers.
What’s your favourite kind of beer? Beer in Poland?
In general, I am very open when it comes to beer styles, but if I had to choose I’d go with Indian Pale Ales. I like the bitter taste! Lately I had good experiences with sour beers too. Here in Poland I have had the opportunity to try really good beers, which has made me very happy. With no bias whatsoever, I would say my favorite so far is Harbour APA.
What do you like about Kraków? What don’t you like?
Aesthetically the city is beautiful, and it is loaded with history. I think everyone should give themselves the chance to explore what this city has to offer, in terms of food, drinks, art, culture and traditions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of gastronomic offers the city has. You’ll find practically any kind of food that crosses your mind. The only thing that comes to my mind in terms of improvement opportunities for Kraków would be to have dedicated bike lanes so people feel safe to ride their bikes throughout the city. This will benefit everyone, bike riders, car users and pedestrians alike. I’ve seen that rush hours here in Kraków can get very crazy.
Any advice for future interns at KSB-URK?
I would say to them to take full advantage of the knowledge that this team has, and try to develop a proactive attitude, because that’s how you learn, by doing, experimenting and learning by trial and error. With the KSB peers you’ll feel fully supported and it’ll be a win-win situation for everyone. Don’t be afraid of interacting with other people if you don’t speak Polish, try to mingle with the local culture and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, contrary to the first impression that many people could have about Polish people in general. Join karaokes, stand-up comedies, attend to concerts and any other local festivities. All of that will make your experience here more wholesome and you won’t regret it.