Patrik Kunzler grew up in Zurich, fascinated by cars. “I loved cars and was always tinkering,” says this grad student, whose great joy was once owning a 1966 Alfa Romeo.

Now, a second year student in media arts and sciences, Kunzler last summer had the chance of a lifetime when he landed an internship at Ferrari in Maranello, Italy, where he worked designing cars.

“Ferrari believes in excellence, and I was surrounded by it,” he says. “I learned about the company’s vision, leadership, attitude toward employees, how they operate, and how they make decisions. It was fantastico! My experiences at Ferrari were better than a vacation.”

Kunzler is one of thousands of students who have participated in the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), which prepares students to live and work around the world by offering internships in Japan, China, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and India.

After two years of intense instruction in the language, culture, history, and politics of a country, students spend three to 12 months of hands-on work in labs and offices across the globe. Students have taught Internet technology in China and designed sensor technologies at a worldwide company in Stuttgart. They write technical papers, present at professional meetings, and file patents –– all in Chinese, Italian, or Japanese.

“The goal of MISTI is to help MIT students create knowledge outside their home country,” says Suzanne Berger, professor of political science who directs the MISTI program. “Today, there’s innovation and development taking place around the world, and as professionals, students will have infinitely more capabilities if they’re able to join efforts with people outside the United States.”

Kunzler says an invaluable part of his experience was learning the subtleties of another culture. “I learned that the Italians prefer talking to people rather than e-mail, that you get better results when you are subtle rather than direct, and what wins their respect is if you’re passionate about your work.

“It was important to participate at Ferrari and to experience the soul of the company,” says Kunzler, whose internship gave him a new dream. “Cars can be beautiful, but they also can smell bad and pollute the environment. My goal is to design cars that are good for the city.”