Sunday, July 26, 2009

Warum Deutschland?

[ Why Germany? ]

For many people now, my name is synonymous with my love for travel and experiencing foreign countries, and often times, instead of "what next?" I am asked "where next?". Aside from my excitement and seeming fearlessness to leave for 12 months ["you are not coming home for CHRISTMAS??!?!"] to live with a new family and foreign language [let's just say I seem cool on the surface...] I know everyone has raised eyebrows on why a guy that has studied Japanese and Polish language, and traveled before with interest in Japanese and Scandinavian cultures, is all the sudden dedicating 5% of his entire life thus far to... Germany? This is where my Einführung gets a little detailed and long, but the CBYX interview team and essay readers seemed to follow, and granted me this opportunity, so maybe it isn't too crazy ... or maybe that is just its charm.

If asked a year ago as I was packing my bags to leave to Couzens dorm at UofM if I was going to study abroad in Germany a year later, I would have probably shrugged, laughed, and wondered how I could ever pull it off. I had my little agenda in my head of the next decade planned out [not joking], and Germany frankly wasn't slated for the pre-graduation of 2012 time slot. Well, just months later, at the annual study abroad fair, the small Poland exhibit unfortunately couldn't offer me any opportunities until I was an upper classman or grad student. Right next door, bordered the German table and a CBYX post card that had the little asterisk * No previous German experience necessary. That is all it took - My curiosity, excitement, and eagerness were all already flowing. Let's just say I made a spontaneous agenda swap to accommodate for this application. It was worth a try after all, and I had a lot of ideas.

Don't get me wrong, Germany's history and language have always interested me. Just before traveling to Japan, family friends of mine were involved in hosting a German student part of a large group coming to my high school. Having fun with them, while preparing myself for my own adventure to Japan allowed me to connect with the student's excitement. If I had another hour in the day, I would definitely had taken German in high school, but it obtained the backseat to Japanese with the [will-attempt-later-on-in-college] label. Even with the cool language aside, and the Über-fascinating compound nouns that baffled me, [pardon the Über-cliche expression - consider it ridden from my system for the remainder of the blog...] Germany has actually had some profound connections to other major learning experiences in my life.

As a high school exchange student in Japan, sitting in class fumbling through overwhelming Kanji characters on the blackboard, I learned that the internationally acclaimed Japanese education system was actually structured in accordance to the German system. Fast forward a year, and Finland's European perspective on politics and life intrigued me. Whereas unique in comparison to Germany, I had my first taste of European Union politics, as well as all the other quirks of European current events while in Scandinavia; and what country has the greatest pull in EU votes and serves as the headquarters of the Euro European Central Bank? - Germany.

A year later, leaving high school and preparing for college with eagerness and motivation, as well as the inspiration and ideas from two great international experiences and host families, I was searching for my first real job [because if you know me well, speaking a bit of Japanese as the host of a local sushi restaurant was definitely more of a hobby that I just so happened to be paid for ;) ] That summer, I applied to become a Bank of America student leader, which is a great internship opportunity to work at a non-profit within your metropolitan community, and become more involved in positive change in southeastern Michigan. As a BoA student leader, I worked alongside 4 other metro Detroit teens at the non-profit, Focus:HOPE in inner-city Detroit. The internship experience was, without exaggeration, paralleled to the foreign experiences I had in both Japan and Finland. Many situations and people pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I came out of the summer meeting so many great people and hearing many stories and thoughts.

Focus:HOPE is a non-profit that specializes in community development in Detroit through food centers, education programs, and urban beautification to list a few things. During the internship, I learned a great deal about the non-profit sector, our government, a LOT about Detroit and the GREAT people that live and work there, and I also was able to visit Washington D.C. [one of my favorite places] and hear great speakers and seminars [including John Conyers, Debbie Stabenow, and even a little handshake with at-the-time senator Hilary Clinton! to name a few] about community development and non-profit work. The summer was a great experience, and only provided me with more inspiration heading into college.

Oh, but Germany... Chris, how does this tie together? [ I think you are getting a taste of how my interview went and how difficult it was to cram my thoughts into little 250 word essay fragments! ]

While at Focus:HOPE I learned about the riots of Detroit in ’67 that prompted the creation of the non-profit. My experiences paralleled my interests on Germany, and how a nation with a history with huge scars in the past century was able to build itself into a successful superpower in world affairs. Working and observing Detroit at an intimate level only encouraged me to connect how my potential experiences in Germany could prove beneficial when I bring them back to my home community. The reason that Germany has interested me so much is because of its development in the past half century. When I lived in Japan I became very interested in education policies and education structures in a country and as I mentioned, learned about Japan's connection to the German educational system. Education is something that I have really taken interest in, especially during my internship experience learning about the opportunities in Washington D.C. with Education policy reformation, the other opportunities that Focus:HOPE gave me as well, and also my work study job tutoring reading and writing to 1st graders at a Detroit elementary school twice a week while at UofM through America Reads at the Ginsburg center. I think that learning about other education programs is the only way to modify our own- I am a strong believer in observing other countries to improve things here at home.

The other aspect about Germany that has interested me just recently is its recovery from a very taxing and destructive breakdown after WW2. While working at Focus:HOPE, I became so intrigued at the stories of Detroit's recovery from the '67 riots. Since I had just finished studying European history in high school, I couldn't help making many connections between the histories, and that is precisely why I am so interested to study how a nation like Germany was able to revitalize its cities after its struggles. With issues like governmental organization, economics and the auto industry, Detroit's Mayoral situation, and the overall state of the city as a whole, there is much to learn, I feel, from other places to bring back to Detroit. I am a huge optimist about the great possibilities in Detroit and south eastern Michigan.

My educational plans have evolved around public policy, international relations and foreign languages in preparation for work in U.S. foreign services and community development, and how the skills from each can enhance the other. Throughout my past working at non-profit organizations and charity work, I have accrued a passion for understanding the way communities live, the problems they face, and proactive solutions for their futures.
My expectations in Germany would be to experience the thriving areas of the country, balanced with the areas that are currently struggling or developing and analyze what strategies Germany uses to solve such issues. Of course, these experiences will be tied in with the great adventures meeting new friends, partaking in my favorite hobbies while abroad including some cooking, performing and aimless bike-riding, as well as a language barrier that I look forward to stress me out of my comfort zone.

... wow,

after that, I am not offended if you need a nap, or had to divide that reading up to a few sittings. I have a lot of ideas, and this is an abridged version. I think my excitement to be departing to Germany now is emulated in the craziness of tying this all together. It has displayed to myself how everything I have accomplished so far has connected myself to another positive experience and how many more are to come. I think from this *long* sample, my enthusiasm about history, culture, food and family life, college life, and everything in between will be proudly documented in my future blog posts. I have a huge adventure ahead of me, a lot to learn [oh my gosh... I don't know German...] , and 12 months worth of people to meet and places to see. [what did I just get myself into...]


  1. Chris!!! I miss you already!!!
    Sending viele umarmungen (many hugs) from Ann Arbor,

  2. wow the fact that i just read this entire thing is a testament to how much i love you chris!

    the focus:hope thing sounds freakin AWESOME, i never knew you had that cool of a job!!!

  3. you know chris, if you weren't so busy traveling, i'd say you'd make quite the fine writer.

  4. Chris, my goodness you are amazing. Cant wait to read more entries of your adventures in Germany! And I agree, you are a fabulous writer!