"It is actually like a melting pot"
Young people from Islamic countries and Germany met for three days in Stuttgart – a lot of informative input and a special experience in terms of culture exchange. Three participants of the CrossCulture Internship programme who participated in its summer workshop talk about their impressions and new ideas born from the encounter.
Interview and photos by Dominic Konrad
ifa (Institut für Auslandbeziehungen): Three days of workshop, that must have been a lot of information for you. How are you feeling today, what are your impressions?
Samira Sadeque: I feel like I’m part of a really strong network: So many people from different parts of the world, from different cultural backgrounds and values, and working in many different sectors. You know, no matter how much you learn about countries and people – nothing affects you as much as being exposed to the people and to initiate a conversation. I feel more enlightened now in certain fields thanks to this definitely very diverse group.
"Nothing affects you as much as being exposed to the people and to initiate a conversation."
Ulrike Zillmer: We have touched many topics already in the three days. But I feel we could go on for three more months, staying together all the time and continuing this exchange with people from all over the Islamic world. I would love to do that.
Saddik Abdelhaq: (laughs) Even three more years! Because I feel that the way our workshop coach is approaching our class is really interesting and informative in an indirect way actually. She makes us discover new ideas instead of pointing them out to us in a direct way. I find that really interesting.
ifa: Ulrike has mentioned this workshop being an "exchange with people from the Islamic world", but I guess there are in fact many differences within this "one Islamic world" as there are so many differences, for example between North African and Bangladeshi people. Was it easy working together with people from so many different cultures and backgrounds?
"I think when you are in a place where people from different countries come together, you are experiencing that you are unique and the others are unique as well."
Ulrike: Well, it's my everyday work. I work with international students in Germany, mostly with Asian or European students. And this was one of the reasons why I applied to this programme: I wanted to have a fresh experience, to discover countries and talk to people from other parts of the world. I will go to Morocco next year. That will be my very first time in North Africa. So far, I have been more in touch with Japanese and American people.
Saddik: It is actually like a melting pot, because we come from different cultural backgrounds. You are learning during the lessons or the workshop, but also from someone's reaction to a specific situation that might be totally different from your own reaction.
During the first day of the workshop, we talked about how people greet each other in different places: some people use their nose, some people kiss, some people hug. This is just a small example among many others. I think when you are in a place where people from different countries come together, you are experiencing that you are unique and the others are unique as well.
Samira: Once my roommate suggested that due to our differences, we obviously would face lots of challenges. But what I learned is that people have of broader acceptance and that they can go along with each other. As Saddik has mentioned, these are just different gestures. What can be offensive in one culture can be a sign of respect for other people or in a different context. You just have to be open-minded.
ifa: You three are in very different stages of your CrossCulture internship. Saddik, you have been in Germany for the longest time. How much have your impressions of Germany changed?
Saddik: I am very grateful, because CCP gave me the chance to come to Germany and that's really something. Once I had set foot on German soil, a learning process began. You are seeing different cultures, things that are done in different ways, some things aren't done at all. Concerning CCP, it also gave me the chance to discover how teachers are teaching in German schools. It is really interesting to observe how teachers from Germany, but also from other countries, are educating their students. For me it was an opportunity to borrow from them – if I could say so – new techniques that I adapted during my teaching lessons.
ifa: Samira, you are now having your internship in a field that is totally different from your work in Bangladesh. What new perspectives are you hoping to get?
Samira: In Bangladesh, I am a journalist. And here I am working with an NGO that dealing with election issues. These are different fields but they definitely have a lot of common ground. My hope is that I can specialise or train in that specific field. It is something that I can use in my job, once I am back in Bangladesh. Elections are a particularly sensitive topic in Bangladesh. We recently experienced elections which didn't meet democratic requirements.
"I'm really glad that I could get two months away from my usual work, from my profession, to learn something completely new and CCP gave me the chance to do that."
It's a topic that is still very much alive and I would like to learn enough and do enough research on it. I am very thankful to CCP for placing me in this organisation. Initially, I wanted to do my internship at a publishing house, but as I don't speak German that wasn't possible. Now I'm really glad that I could get two months away from my usual work, from my profession, to learn something completely new and CCP gave me the chance to do that.
ifa: Ulrike, you haven't started your internship yet. Do you think the workshop has prepared you for the time you will spend in Morocco, facing this different culture?
Ulrike: I do this kind of workshops myself; in this regard it was good to see how different trainers prepare people for their stay abroad. Actually I am planning to do a one-week-long workshop like this in Morocco, taking up different aspects of culture and intercultural communication and learning about the Moroccan way of communicating as well as contributing things I know about Germany. I will stay at the University of Rabat and work with Moroccan students who study German language and literature. I was so happy to find a CCP brochure in the magazine KULTURAUSTAUSCH. You see, I am now over 30 and this programme is the only one I know that allows young professionals over 30 to participate. I was so happy to get a new opportunity to travel abroad and to gain new experiences. I don't want to prepare too much, because I want to experience things that international students in Germany are experiencing on their arrival.
"I was so happy to get a new opportunity to travel abroad and to gain new experiences."
ifa: You have worked together for three days now. Could you imagine cooperating with some of the other workshop participants in the future?
Ulrike: Of course! We really hope that we will keep in touch, both on a private basis and a professional basis.
We have talked about viable forms of cooperation we can imagine and I really am into the interdisciplinary approach: Every single one of us comes from a different professional background: We have artists, we have teachers, we have scientists and journalists, and people working in education. I studied cultural studies where this approach is very highly thought of, so I am really happy practising this right now. I am looking forward to finding a way to combine all these skills and the knowledge in some projects someday.
Saddik: I think cooperation should be the essential fruit reaped from this workshop. We have started networking yesterday when everybody was presenting his host and home organisation. It's really interesting because you realise how we can collaborate and learn from each other's experiences.
ifa: Last question: What is the influence that CCP has had so far on you personally and on your professional life?
Samira: Being in Germany for the last few months has taught me to live very independently. I am not used to that. Now I'm living on my own in Berlin; where I come from that's rather unusual. The workshop has been a very good reminder again of how easy it can be to interact with people from different cultures. It's always very easy to put a whole country or a whole population into a stereotype-based definition. But the workshop encouraged us to keep an open mind when it comes to foreign people and their countries.
"We really hope that we will keep in touch, both on a private basis and a professional basis."
Saddik: I believe that a lot of things have changed for me personally. I am the kind of person who is not organised at all. Here in Germany everything has to be well organised, everything has its correct place. That's a really good thing. And I think it makes life much easier. That's something we lack in Morocco, for example in public transport. It is never on time. This is really a big difference and a big lesson for me. When I arrived I already had an idea of Germany and Europe. And for most people I think – at least Arabs – Europe is some kind of Eldorado. So everybody dreams of coming here and finding a job. Whereas I come to realise that I might prefer being in Morocco – with my family, having the food I prefer, all these things...
Ulrike: It's a little different for me than for most of the others because I already knew what to expect. Intercultural communication is my main subject. So it's more like additional training. Of course, I cannot travel every country in the world but at least I can pick some places. Maybe I am very German: I have already everything planned. I've already booked my flight and I started to learn some Arabic so that I can communicate at the supermarket. I hope to improve my English, my French and my Arabic. Since intercultural issues are central in my profession, I try to focus on the languages as well. This is maybe a great opportunity I see in CCP. Indeed, the scholarship is very generous. I don't know if I would have ever done this kind of field trip without CCP. It is very, very good. Thank you.