Portal. Die Potsdamer Universitätszeitung
Ein Südstaatler im Wilden Osten
Das Semester an der Universität Potsdam zählt Stephen Andrew Armstrong zu den wunderbarsten Erfahrungen seines Lebens

In 1997, Stephen Andrew Armstrong came to Potsdam as a participant of a youth exchange programme of the Congress-Bundestag and the American Congress to study economics. His stay was rather short, only a semester. Nevertheless, it was filled with self-discovery, challenging intercultural experiences and the development of friendships that still last today. He was an impassionate participant in the student strikes, a busker in the underground and the streets of Berlin, he was an enthusiastic explorer of the treasures of Brandenburg and a historian researching into the curiosities of the former Eastern Germany. His Potsdam-experience has influenced his personal development as well as his professional career. Today, he works in Corporate Strategy with a small business information and research firm in Washington, counting big German companies among it’s clients.


Auf Picknicks in Georgia fühlt
sich Stephen Andrew Armstrong heute
oft an seine Ausflüge an den
Heiligen See erinnert.
Foto: privat

Mit 23 Jahren war Stephen Andrew Armstrong 1997/98 als amerikanischer Programmstudent an der Uni Potsdam zu Gast. Er belegte ein Semester lang Wirtschaftswissenschaften und Volkswirtschaftslehre, wenn er nicht auf Entdeckungstour ging oder das Leben mit seinen Kommilitonen teilte. Der heutige „Associate Director" einer kleinen Unternehmensberatung in Washington DC berichtet begeistert von einer Zeit, die seine Welt tiefgehend verändert hat.

Mein Semester in Potsdam war voller Selbstentdeckung und herausfordernden interkulturellen Erlebnissen, und es begannen Freundschaften, die heute immer noch bestehen. Ich war Teilnehmer des „Parlamentarischen Patenschaftsprogramms". Neben einem Semester an einer deutschen Universität bestand das Programm aus einem zweimonatigen Deutschkurs in Köln bei der Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft und einem Praktikum in einem deutschen Unternehmen. 48 Amerikaner wurden in acht verschiedene Gegenden Deutschlands geschickt. Und ich war voller Freude, als ich erfuhr, an was für einen historischen Ort es mich verschlagen würde, der auch noch in so großer Nähe zu Berlin liegt. Ich war neugierig auf das Leben im früheren Osten, hatte ich doch zu Hause intensiv moderne deutsche Geschichte studiert und aus der Entfernung großen Anteil am Fall der Berliner Mauer genommen.

Einfach toll war meine Unterbringung in Steinstücken. Nicht nur wegen der historischen Bedeutung und der Wohnqualität, sondern auch wegen der unglaublich interessanten Leute dort. Am ersten Abend schon traf ich meine Wohngemeinschaftsnachbarn. Sie, beide „Ossis", hätten unterschiedlicher nicht sein können. Der eine war groß, blond und links, fast anarchistisch. Der andere dagegen war eher klein, mit dunklem Teint und außerdem ordentliches Mitglied der Jungen Union. Die beiden waren sehr gastfreundlich zu dem komischen Amerikaner, der kaum Deutsch sprach und hießen mich mit einem Kasten Jever Pils willkommen. In dieser Nacht warteten sie geduldig ab, bis ich alle meine Ansichten über die interessantesten „Ami-Themen" in meinem begrenzten Deutsch geäußert hatte: die Geschichte der Indianer, den Vietnam-Krieg und, ganz wichtig für einen Typen aus Alabama wie mich, die Bürgerrechtsbewegung der 60er Jahre.

Der Höhepunkt meines Potsdamer Semesters war aus akademischer wie interkultureller Perspektive die Studentenproteste in dieser Zeit. Obwohl es keine Lehrveranstaltungen gab, waren die Streiks eine Lehre für sich. Anders als amerikanische Studierende waren die deutschen politisch sehr aktiv. Themen wie Studiengebühren und Hochschulpolitik gingen sie an. Obwohl ich schon viel über die Geschichte von aufbegehrenden und frei denkenden Studierenden und ihre Aktionen gelesen hatte, hatte ich doch keine Ahnung gehabt, dass ich einmal Teil eines solchen Aufstandes werden sollte. Und ob ich das wurde! Zwar hatte ich persönlich weder was zu gewinnen noch zu verlieren, aber ich unterstützte die Streikenden nach Kräften, nahm an heißen Diskussionen über den „freien Zugang zur Bildung" als Recht für alle Individuen teil, für mich eine völlig neue Idee, und demonstrierte zum Roten Rathaus in Berlin! Bei dieser Demo fühlte ich mich der europäischen Studentenbewegung auf einmal verbunden, ja sogar dem ganzen Land, in dem ich war.

Wenn ich nicht gerade protestierte oder mit der deutschen Sprache kämpfte, spielte ich Gitarre und sang. Mit einem Freund habe ich sogar Straßenmusik in Berlin gemacht. Innerhalb eines Monats hatten wir die eindrucksvolle Summe von 80 DM verdient. Leider habe ich mich überzeugen lassen, das Geld an der Börse anzulegen, so dass davon heute vielleicht drei bis fünf Euro übrig sein dürften.

Wirklich schön war es auch, Brandenburg zu erkunden. Ich kostete Spreewälder Gurken, genoss die leuchtenden Sonnenblumenfelder und die Gastfreundschaft von Freunden. In Jüterbog interviewte ich einmal einen Hundezüchter, der zu meiner Überraschung stolz berichtete, dass die Wachhunde an der Berliner Mauer zum Teil aus seiner Zucht stammten. Auf meinen Reisen lernte ich, „Roter Adler" zu singen, verliebte mich in den „Trabi" und begann zu verstehen, dass die Leute „hinter der Mauer" nicht ausschließlich unglücklich über ihre frühere Art zu leben gewesen waren. Bei diesen Reisen habe ich Südstaatler wirklich etwas verstanden.


Lieben gelernt: Picknick am Heiligen See.
Foto: Fritze

Ich erinnere mich heute oft an die Picknicks am Heiligen See, wie der Hund einer Kommilitonin immer bellte, wenn der Professor die Politik von Helmuth Kohl in einer Vorlesung pries, wie ich Kanu von einem früheren DDR-Leistungssportler fahren lernte und natürlich an die Mensa-Partys, die, zumindest für die ersten paar Biere, zu den Deutschland-Erfahrungen gehören, die mir am meisten die Augen geöffnet haben. Wie viele amerikanische Austauschstudenten werden wohl mit Hits wie „Biene Maja" verwöhnt? Übrigens möchte ich behaupten, dass ein Amerikaner, der etwas vom „Grand Prix d’Eurovision" mitbekommen hat, von sich behaupten kann, etwas von europäischer Kultur zu verstehen. Das gilt besonders für Ereignisse mit Leuten wie Guildo Horn.


Foto: zg.

Heute lebe ich in Washington DC und arbeite für die kleine Informations- und Rechercheagentur „The Corporate Executive Board" im Bereich Unternehmensstrategie. Ich bin stolz darauf, dass sehr wichtige deutsche Firmen zu unseren Kunden zählen und dass ich einigen Anteil daran habe. Ohne meinen Deutschland-Aufenthalt hätte ich auch nie die Möglichkeit bekommen, einmal für ein Jahr in London zu arbeiten, um mein Unternehmen auf den europäischen Markt zu bringen. Im Moment bereite ich mich auf ein Studium zum Master of Business Administration vor, das ich an einer stark international ausgerichteten Hochschule absolvieren möchte.

Als Fazit möchte ich sagen, dass ich durch meinen Aufenthalt in Potsdam ein viel größeres politisches Bewusstsein und eine interkulturelle Perspektive gewonnen habe. Außerdem glaube ich, dass ich jede Herausforderung, in Zukunft in ein fremdes Land zu gehen, beruhigt annehmen kann. Wenn ich es geschafft habe, ein Jahr lang in ein neues Land und in eine neue Sprache einzutauchen, dann kann ich doch eigentlich alles wagen.

Stephen Andrew Armstrong

Kontakt: Stephan Andrew Armstrong, Tel.: +1 202 777-5141, E-Mail: ArmstroA@executiveboard.com.

 

Im Original schrieb Stephen Andrew Armstrong:

Einmal War Ich in Potsdam

My time at the University of Potsdam still remains in my mind one of the most wonderful times of my life, filled with self-discovery, challenging intercultural experiences, and the development of friendships that still last today.

I was a participant in the Congress-Bundestag Young Professionals Program, known in germany as the Parlementarisches Patenschaftsprogramm. The program consisted of three parts - two months in Koeln studying German withthe Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft, a semster at a University, and an internship in a company. All in all, there were about 48 Americans sent to Germany, each to a different area. I was thrilled when I learned that I would be sent to Potsdam to study - the idea of being in such a historic location in such close proximity to Berlin was thrilling. I was also very curious about life in the former East - in University in my home state of Alabama, I had studied extensively modern German history, and of course remembered vividly the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I was also quite lucky to be housed in Steinstucken, another "bonus" of being in my particular exchange program, not just because of the historical significance of the area, or the fact that the housing was top-notch, but mostly because of the opportunity to meet and interact (and eventually become close friends with) some of the most interesting people I have met to date. I lived in a 3-bedroom apartment; on my first night, I met my two new roomates , two "Ossis" who could not have been more different. One was from a small town in Southern Brandenburg, was tall, blonde, and was decidedly socialist-leaning (edging on anarchistic) in his politics. The other, by contrast, was shorter, of dark complexion, and was a card-carrying member of the Junge Union.

They were very hospitable to this strange American, who didn't speak German that well (I had only been in the country for 2 months), and welcomed me with a Kasten of Jever Pils on my first night. While my language skills were not the best, they were patient with me that night in waiting for me to express all of my views on the most interesting "Ami" topics - the history of the American Indian, the Vietnam War, and, important for a guy from Alabama, the Civil Rights movement from the 1960's. Peppered as I was with questions about the US, its role in world politics, and my own background and views, all in a language I was just beginning to comprehend, I felt like I held my own with my two new flatmates, and we all quickly came to respect one another.

From an academic perspective, and also an intercultural one, my semester at the University was highlighted by the student Strikes in 1997-1998 against possible tuition increases. Although no classes were held during this time (outside of the off-campus classes that some professors and students held during the strike), the strikes were an education in themselves. Unlike those in the US, the students in Germany are very "activist" in mindset, taking personal ownership over such things as tuition increases, university politics, etc. Though I had read much history on the tradition of rebellious, free-thinking European students, and was indeed inspired by the stories of their actions in support their convictions, I had no idea that I would be a (willing) participant in such an uprising. Though I had nothing personal to gain or lose by the institution of tuition fees for German university education, I supported the students by attending rallies at the university, engaging in conversation (when I could muster the vocabulary) on the topic of "free education" as a right of all individuals, and participating in the march on the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin. During that march, I walked with several of my German friends and a French socialist/law-student who was very vocal in his opposition to the establishment of tuition fees. During that march, I felt very caught up in the European-ness of the student movement, and felt very connected to the entire country for the first time.

While I wasn't protesting the government or stuggling with German language, I was spending time with a good friend from Bremen playing guitar and singing popular songs by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, die Aeronatuen, and other bands. On a whim one day, the two of us took the S7 to Berlin and played for money in the subways and on the streets of the city. It helped to pass the time while classes weren't meeting, and gave us each the chance to find further connections to each other, though from different countries and different cultures. Also, we earned what I thought was a great deal of money - 80 Deutschmarks! - over the course of the month. Unfortunately, I let him convince me to allow him to invest the money in the stock market...I believe our collective holdings now amount to 3-5 Euro. Still it was the experience itself, of course, and not the money, that stays with me today.

Another of my favorite past-times while at Potsdam was exploring the surrounding towns, villages, and cities of Brandenburg. I made multiple trips to the beautiful Spreewald to enjoy real Spreewalder pickles, acres and acres of sunflowers, canoe rides along the old Spreewald waterways, and the hospitality of my friends' parents with whom we would overnight while there. I also made a trip to the small village of Juterbog to interview and meet a dog breeder - while there, he informed me that he was one of the breeders of the dogs that guarded the Berlin Wall in the 1980's!

These trips were more than simple excursions into the vast unknown of a Germany that tourists rarely (and unfortunately) see; car and train rides gave me the opportunity to learn about my new friends from Germany, their histories, and their ideas. It was on these excursions that I learned to sing Brandenburg’s state hymn, Roter Adler, fell in love with the curiosity called the Trabi, and for the first time understood that the people "behind the wall" were not necessarily unhappy with their former way of life - this was an eye-opening experience for a guy from the US, especially for a Sudstatler from Alabama!

Of course, living in Steinstucken provided me ready access to a group of both foreign and international students, with whom I am still in nearly weekly contact. Students from Sweden, France, Norway, Australia, and the UK added as much to my experience as a student in Potsdam as the setting of the university itself.

Many other things come to mind when I think back on my Potsdam-Jahr - studying modern German history in a classroom full of attentive students (including a big black dog that barked angrily when the professor extolled the virtues of Papa Helmut); swimming in the Heiligen See with friends on sunny afternoons; learning to Kanu; and, of course, the Mensa Parties...along with the aforementioned roadtrips, the Mensa parties were probably the most eye-opening (for the first few beers at least) experiences in Germany. How many other American students were treated to such hits as "Biene Maya" and other schlager? The Mensa parties were a time to meet new friends, catch up with the slightly older ones, and shake off some of the stresses of being an international student trying to do more than just get by in a strange new country.

My Potsdam Jahr was also the year when the legendary Guildo Horn and the orthopaedische Struempfe rocked the Eurovision song contest. In my humble opinion, an American who has never experienced Eurovision (esp when the likes of Guildo Horn are the main attraction) can not truly say they know much about European culture.

Of course, there were sad occurrences during the year as well: the Germans beat the Americans in the World Cup that year, and I was forced to endure verbal (but humorous and well-intentioned) abuse by one of the dominant soccer nations. By that time, my ability with German had progressed so that I was, in terms of language at least, not defenseless. Too, the university during my last week in Potsdam began tearing down some of the houses and older buildings around the Steinstucken camp...these structures - from the old warehouse next to the ZEIK building to the old smokestacks behind one of the houses - were the icons of my experience in Potsdam, and I wished for some of that old student activism to present itself and protest the removal of the structures.

Today, I live in Washington, DC, and work in Corporate Strategy with a small business information and research firm called The Corporate Executive Board. Among many other companies in the US that we count as clients, I am proudest to know that such well-respected German companies as BMW, Siemens AG, Beiersdorf, Reemtsma, and Allianz are all clients of ours, and that I have had some hand in introducing them to my company. Indeed, I was, while living in London, very lucky to travel to Munich to meet the then CFO of Allianz AG, Paul Achleitner, and introduce him to our work in corporate finance. Without my experience in Germany, and without the benefits of living in the very supportive environment of the University of Potsdam, I would likely never have had such an amazing opportunity.

Now, I am preparing to enter graduate school to study business and earn an MBA at a school here in the US. As I consider which schools I should apply to, one of the most important considerations for me is whether the school has a strong international component to the curriculum. The schools with the strongest international programs, and preferably those that encourage international summer internships, will be the top choices for me.

When I look back now on my Potsdam Jahr, I think on all the things I carry with me that have helped me in my current endeavors - a unique political consciousness, gained from the conversations with German students about American politics, German and American history, or globalization; an international cultural perspective, which helped me win the opportunity to spend a year living in London, working to help my company expand its European footprint; and, of course, the confidence to take on any new challenge knowing that, if I can thrive in a new land, in a new language, for a year, I can take on just about anything.

 

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[Letzte Aktualisierung 25.01.2004, Knappe]