Germany and educational exchange

My first major interaction with another country’s public diplomacy program occurred when I was 16, studying German in high school. I was selected to take part in a program run by the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, which is a bit of a mouthful and therefore normally referred to as the PAD. The program basically entailed an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany, spending two weeks with a host family and another two weeks in a group travelling around the country. At the time, I thought it was just a nice thing that the German government did, but I can now look at the program with fresh eyes in the context of public diplomacy.

I turns out that the PAD is a collaborative effort between the 16 state governments of Germany to promote international exchange and cooperation in the education sector. What also didn’t occur to me is the double-edged benefit that the program achieves—it not only improves education outcomes in other countries, but it also enhances the education systems of the respective states.

While I was already studying German in high school, the PAD trip cemented my affinity for Germany and its language. German became not just something I did at school, but rather what I used to converse with friends that I’m in contact with some eight years later (many members of the student group spoke only German and their mother tongue, so English was not the lingua franca).

I think PAD’s program is is a good example of the kind of knock-on effect of collaboration guest lecturer Aimee Fullman was talking about. I learned more about Germany, but also about Kazakhstan, Finland and many different places. It also gave German students we interacted with the chance to take their English out of the classroom and become young ambassadors for Germany.

9 thoughts on “Germany and educational exchange”

  1. Thank you for your post. As I mentioned previously in class I believe that getting students involved internationally as early as possible is extremely important in order to help create lasting, lifelong impact. I have trouble believing that waiting until students are in the college age years to make it a requirement to learn a language or to offer option to go abroad is far to late for those who do not see the value in experiencing a different culture. While there are certainly financial constraints that keep many from going abroad, the failure for people to value in it for future understanding is detrimental to the the future success of cross cultural interactions and exchanges. We need greater cultural competency in order to deal with an ever shrinking world.

    Our guest speaker touched on the value of building long lasting relations and the depth of such engagement. Diplomacy is about building such relationships and programs abroad help to support this. Getting people invested in building healthy relationships with people of different cultures abroad can offer students an avenue to grow personally outside of school and without having to wait until college to begin to begin expanding their horizons.

  2. I think this is a very interesting post for people like many of us and our classmates who not only study cultural exchanges and public diplomacy, but have also participated in them. Oftentimes I believe that the individuals undergoing a cultural/educational exchange don’t realize the significance of what they’re participating in. They just go with the flow and treat the trip like an extension of their traditional schooling or a cool vacation.

    These exchanges, as we know, are so much more than that. They are a lesson in personal growth and broadening ones horizons. They teach you how to be a global citizen and open your eyes to another culture and how they live life (and you then bring this new perspective back to your home country and share it with others). These are lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom, they’re only present in public diplomacy through what Nicholas Cull refers to as “dialogue and collaboration…an opportunity to bring people together and create new relationships across international lines,” in his article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-cull/jamming-for-uncle-sam-get_b_659850.html).

    Unfortunately, many students do not recognize these benefits until many years later and in some cases not until they extensively study cultural/educational exchanges. At that point it becomes an “ah ha” moment and they then can reflect on their personal experiences and really acknowledge the value in their exchange. I would definitely fall into that category in regards to my study abroad semester in college.

    This makes me wonder if we should teach students participating in exchanges about the underlying benefits and purposes of their trips before they depart—or if we should let the process unfold organically. I’m not sure which way is better. I’m not sure if a student is amenable to learning about exchanges until they have a personal experience to drawn upon.

    1. I think there is room for both student exchange programs that unfold more organically and without any sort of ‘added lesson’ as it were, and programs that are more intentional about promoting values of diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. As a successful example of the latter, I could mention one of my practicum clients, the International Student House DC, (http://ishdc.org). Obviously I’m a bit biased, but I think that ISH DC does a great job really explicitly incorporating cross-cultural learning into their mission and programs. The graduate students, interns, and visiting scholars who stay there have to apply and be accepted in the house, and at least according to the research (survey research and interviews) we’ve done so far, many of the residents chose to live there specifically because they wanted to be part of a multi-cultural community. A lot of the residents definitely understand that by living in the ISH, they are constantly learning about other cultures, and are reaping benefits and experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their life.

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