“Kulturweit”: Get Me Out of Here!
Anna on horseback in Patagonia: “You have to try something new now and then.” (Photo: Anna Ihl)
14 April 2012
The first thing many young people want to do after graduation is to go abroad. But, to plunge into a daring adventure? Anna Ihl and the other kulturweit pioneers wanted to do that, as well. By Katina Klänhardt
“After graduation all I wanted was to get away – I didn’t have to think it over very long; I said ‘yes,’” relates Christian Mücher. A short time later, the feeling of euphoria was joined by a queasy feeling about the proposed location: Kosovo, in the city of Priština. That’s familiar from the newscasts. Friends and acquaintances of the graduate are not exactly thrilled either. “Don’t do it,” they tell him. His grandmother, who was at first not told about her grandson’s proposed placement, had the most unruffled reaction. “Go! When you come back you can tell me what it’s really like there.”
So, Christian dared it and ventured out as a kulturweit volunteer to work for two partner schools of the Goethe-Institut in Priština. Six months later, Christian is sitting with 40 other Goethe-Institut kulturweit volunteers in a youth hostel on Werbellin Lake. During the follow-up seminar, the participants talk about their experiences and look back on the past months. Christian is positive about his encounters. He enjoyed working with pupils very much and was even more delighted that his initial Kosovo reservations were entirely unfounded. “I’m very glad that I went there and that I can tell people about it.”
The other returnees also seem satisfied. Most have come straight from the airport and their impressions of the past six months are still very fresh. It is perceptible that they can’t wait to get home, but also that their leave-taking from new friends was less than 24 hours ago.
They are 40 of almost 400 volunteers who go abroad every year for six or twelve months. kulturweit, the volunteer service of the German Foreign Office, has existed since September 2009. It is the place for young people between the ages of 18 and 26 who would like to get involved in foreign cultural and educational policy. The applications are sent to a central office and then conveyed to one of the six partner organizations. The Goethe-Institut offers the opportunity to work directly at an institute abroad or at one of the 1,522 partner schools. This spring the thousandth volunteer was dispatched.
Volunteer work up close – a film about kulturweit
A film by Götz Lilienfein (length: 37:17 minutes)
“Naturally, we are very happy about the reception of this cultural volunteer service. The number of applicants is always rising and the quality of the applications we receive is very high,” reports Katharina Winkler, who coordinates the programme for the Goethe-Institut.
For many of the applicants, kulturweit is also a good alternative to going abroad on their own due to the additional educational programme. “The volunteers are not left to their own devices. There are preparatory and follow-up seminars in Germany, an interim seminar in the host country and the option of taking a language course on location,” Winkler explains.
A lack of language skills is not a criterion for exclusion from selection. “It makes things more complicated, but you shouldn’t be afraid to communicate with your hands and feet,” says Anna Ihl. After her university studies, she first worked as a journalist for a newspaper. But she wanted to get away from the life she’d been leading. kulturweit was the perfect opportunity and her placement in Santiago de Chile suited her to a ‘T.’ “I arrived and felt right at home.” Living together in a flat with three Chileans and an American contributed to this. Finding a place to stay, though, was an adventure in itself. “I combed through the advertisements on the Internet using translation tools and posted one myself – successfully. It was clear to me that if I didn’t dive right in I’d never learn the language.”
Anna was also able to make use of her experience in presswork at the Goethe-Institut Santiago de Chile. Yet ultimately she enjoyed teaching most of all. So much so, that now, after her return to Germany, she plans to change her profession.
On a large pin board in the youth hostel on Werbellin Lake, under the question, “What am I taking with me from my time with kulturweit?” there are now lots of colourful slips of paper with replies: “Friends,” “The certainty to continue pursuing my professional goals,” “Spanish skills,” and even “Central and Eastern Europe are the best!” Christian’s grandmother is surely glad to know this, too.
Applications for volunteer service starting in February 2013 can be submitted here until 30 April 2012.