News Overview 2015

Going Abroad - Acting at Home

German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets young people with international experience in Berlin

"I see we’re starting with the easy questions," he joked, after a seventeen-year-old school student asked him why it’s not possible to enact a climate change treaty that’s binding for all nations. Steinmeier made the trip to the Berlin Office of the Robert Bosch Stiftung as part of the Federal Government’s program of national dialogs. He discussed what it means to have experience of other countries with participants of the Foundation’s international programs and the kulturweit voluntary initiative run by the German Commission for UNESCO. What it means for you. For an ever more globalized world. And for Germany – a country that is currently trying to offer refugees from all over the world a chance to live in dignity. These refugees are the victims of political crises that are playing out far away from Germany’s borders. But Germany is also a country that always has to remember its role in Europe. It’s a country that is dependent on intercontinental developments and, in the long term, a country that won’t have any clean air left to breathe if China, the US, and Australia descend into smog.

A cultural science student spoke about his experiences in Russia. "As a German, I come from a pluralistic society. In Russia, people have a different notion of pluralism – and that frustrates me. Is this kind of frustration part and parcel of international experience? In your role as Minister for Foreign Affairs, do you experience similar frustrations?" Steinmeier’s answer sounded pragmatic yet positive. He emphasized the need to maintain dialog with Moscow in particular and pointed out that communicating solely by means of sanctions and threats is not exactly conducive to peace. He also argued that the same principle applies in civil society.

Why are there so few international meeting places in Germany? How strongly do people feel a shared European identity? How should we deal with German society’s lurch to the right? How does one explain Pegida to Muslim friends in India? The attendees had plenty of questions for Minister Steinmeier, who encouraged his audience to go back out into the big wide world: "You shouldn’t feel that international experience obligates you to take a stand in Germany. Instead, you should see it more as the freedom to change things."

Some of the attendees have already found a role for themselves in Germany following their time abroad. Having returned from Indonesia, Lena Mallmann (23), for instance, has become a member of the judging panel for the German–Indian Classroom program and joined AFS Interkulturelle Begegnungen e.V., where she helps other young people prepare for their time abroad.

Or take Hannah Bauersachs (29). She spent three years as a Robert Bosch lecturer in Kyrgyzstan, where she struggled with the new language and different attitudes to the role of women. She now teaches German to refugee children from the Caucasus and wants to return to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

(Dimitrij Kapitelman, October 2015)

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We are looking for strategies and ideas to improve the framework conditions for international student and youth exchanges so that every young person in Europe gets the chance to gain international experience.