“This program challenges all its participants to examine their preconceived notions about other parts of the world,” says Joseph Hawker, who spent five months working in Berlin at the German Parliament, the Bundestag, as part of the International Parliamentary Scholarship.

(SoGerman) How did you hear about the International Parliamentary Scholarship and why did you apply?

(Joseph) Two friends with whom I took several undergrad German courses were IPS alumni from previous years, and they both recommended the program very enthusiastically.

I studied German history and politics in both undergrad and grad school, so it was a natural fit. I had not worked in Germany previously, and to do so inside the heart of the federal government was an exciting prospect.

(SG) What sparked your interest in the German language and the culture?

(J) This was a bit random: I wanted to study a new language or two when I first got to university. German classes were the only beginner-level courses that weren’t at 8 a.m., so I that’s what I chose. I fortunately had several extraordinary professors who encouraged me and propelled my interest in the language and culture.

(SG) Tell us about your preparations for the trip. What were you most looking forward to? What were some of your concerns?

(J) I first lived in Berlin in 2006 when I studied at Humboldt as part of my undergrad degree, so IPS was my second long-term stay.

I was most excited simply to be back in Berlin and to reacquaint myself with the city. Any sort of travel has always been a thrill for me, but it was a special opportunity to be somewhere for a prolonged second stay, especially in a place that I already loved. I was concerned—nay, terrified!—about my ability to function linguistically in a high-level German work environment. I was fluent in the language by that point, but most of my experience had been either academic or social. So, it was a bit of a Feuertaufe when I first started.

Now, I try to get back to Berlin as often as possible, usually once or twice a year.

(SG) You arrived in Germany. What happened then?

(J) I arrived in Berlin a couple months before IPS officially started in order to conduct field research for my MA thesis. Once the program started, the first weeks were devoted to getting settled in our apartments and taking care of other logistical needs like visas and enrollment at Humboldt.

(SG) What did you do as part of the International Parliamentary Scholarship?

(J) The cornerstone of the program is of course working full time in the office of an MdB (member of Bundestag). In addition to that, though, we constantly had visits to and meetings with various governmental and political institutions both in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany. I also managed to squeeze in two courses at Humboldt to polish my German a bit further.

(SG) What were your role and responsibilities working at the Bundestag?

(J) I worked in the office of an MdB who maintained relationships with several American organizations. I was the only one in the office who spoke English, so much of my time was spent translating communications and other material back and forth between the two languages.

(SG) What did you do in your spare time during the five months in Germany?

There wasn’t much spare time! But I did manage to do plenty exploring of the city with my IPS companions and other Berliner friends. I was also fortunate to have a lot of visitors from North America while I was there, so I was glad to play tour guide throughout Berlin.

(SG) What moments will you never forget?

(J) This is a difficult question—all these memories are bottlenecking in my mind! One highlight was the SPD Spargelfahrt (“Asparagus Cruise”—yes, you read that correctly) on Wannsee, when my friends and I had the chance to have some surprisingly long chats with Frank-Walter Steinmeier (currently Federal President) and Sigmar Gabriel (currently Vice Chancellor). In a more personal context, one of my favourite memories is of when one of my newfound IPS friends from Macedonia asked if we could switch from German to speak English for a while. She proceeded to speak in a flawless Southern California cadence; I was so astonished that I almost dropped my teeth.

(SG) What did you take away from your time in Germany?

(J) The obvious takeaways were improved language skills and improved understanding of the German parliamentary system at a granular level. Most important to me, however, were and are the bonds I formed with fellow IPS participants from over two dozen countries. I learned immeasurably from them and their life experiences, and I will always treasure the many deep conversations we had during those five months—and continue to have today.

The program was an ideal way for me to wrap up my MA degree—der letzte Schliff, as they say. I work now in academic programs that facilitate mobility and dialogue among students and faculty, primarily between Germany and North America. Having worked in Germany generally and the German political system specifically has formed an indispensable background for that work.

(SG) Why is it important for young adults to participate in programs like the International Parliamentary Scholarship?

(J) In short, it’s important for anyone regardless of age to know what they don’t know. This program challenges all its participants to examine their preconceived notions about other parts of the world; it’s virtually impossible not to reconsider your views when one is constantly conversing and debating with 100+ other brilliant, highly qualified people from such diverse backgrounds. For many IPS participants, this is a vital step in developing and strengthening democratic political culture in their home countries. But as has become increasingly clear from the desperate political situation in the United States, it is also urgently important for young Americans to get out of their comfort zones and be in situations where they are forced to engage with perspectives other than their own.

(SG) What would you tell students and young professionals who are considering applying for the International Parliamentary Scholarship?

(J) Read the news—a lot! I happened to take one last glance at Spiegel as I left the hotel for my interview at the German Consulate in New York, and the morning’s headlines came up in the discussion. Being up to date on current political developments is a must even during the application process.

 

2017 marks the first year the International Parliamentary Scholarship is open to young Canadians. Find out more on bundestag.de. Deadline for applications is August 31, 2017. 

 


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