What does German-US cooperation in the field of youth look like? What makes it work? Why is it important? The authors and interview partners in the IJAB USA Special show that a transatlantic exchange is worthwhile for everyone involved, especially for young people. Be inspired for your own projects by the great diversity that makes up the German-American youth exchange.
German-US-American Youth Exchanges
USA Special 2022
Foreword USA Special 2022
The United States of America is an exceptional country for its size alone, with its population of just under 330 million and a land area 27 times larger than Germany. Approx. 87 million young people aged between 10 and 29 are growing up in this land of superlatives, a country of progress and diversity. Germany and the United States of America have been bound by a close friendship for many decades. Com- mon roots, the same democratic values and a shared (youth) culture form an invisible bond across the Atlan- tic. Virtually no other country appears in our news, on our smartphones, in our living or kids’ rooms as con- sistently as the US. It comes as no surprise, then, that the country continues to be one of the most popular exchange destinations for school children and students. Young people in Germany are fascinated by the culture of the United States. Social media creates a new kind of closeness and offers insights into the lives and inter - ests of young US-Americans, unfiltered and in real time. The young generations’ interest in each other has long since transcended music, movies and the latest TikTok challenges. Young people also share their concerns and question values, societal norms and social constructs online. Within seconds, hashtags and entire social movements can spill over to Germany from the US (#metoo, #blm are just two examples). All the more rea- son to draw on this reciprocal interest and give young people the opportunity to meet in person, learn from each other and make plans together in the context of international projects.
Compared with school or academic exchanges, inter- national youth work exchanges with the US are rarer. That said, projects that venture across the Atlantic do exist. These are exchanges that have developed out of long-standing friendships, a shared passion for music, or a tireless commitment to participation and civic edu- cation. They are projects that go beyond the Statue of Liberty and fast food to delve deeply into all aspects of US-American life, and help participants explore a coun- try that is so similar to Germany and yet so different. The USA Special authors and interview partners prove that an exchange with the US is worthwhile for all par- ticipants, especially young people, regardless of where they come from, what skills they have or what they are interested in. They demonstrate the great diversity of German-US-American youth exchanges, with their dif- ferent formats and subjects, which connect with the realities of young people on both sides of the Atlantic. We hope this USA Special will be an inspiring read. Be bold and organize your own transatlantic exchange activities to give young people from Germany and the US the opportunity to get to know each other and fill the German-US-American friendship with life. After all, there is so much to discover in a country whose 50 fed- eral states between Hollywood and the White House could not be more diverse.
The Editorial Team
Elena Neu, Natali Petala-Weber and Cathrin Piesche
4. Town twinnings
1. German-US-American Youth Exchanges
Tri-city youth worker exchange: Chicago-Hamburg- Birmingham
Gabriele Scholz, State Youth Welfare Office in the Office for Families, Hamburg Social Security Authorities Forty years of youth exchanges with the US Axel Wiese, DAG Wilhelmshaven-Friesland
German-US-American Youth Exchanges
U.S. Embassy in Berlin
2. Civic Education
Civic Education as a Centerpiece of Transatlantic Exchange
Association of German Educational Organizations (AdB) Ambassadors in Sneakers – A Young Leaders’ Transatlantic Summer Academy on Human Rights Anna Steinbrich and Felix Weinmann, German American Institute Tuebingen (d. a. i.) Strengthening youth civic engagement in the USA and Germany Interview with Robert Fenstermacher American Council on Germany With YouthBridge from Munich to New York
Kolping Jugendgemeinschaftsdienste Workcamps in the US Annette Fuchs with Andy Gracklauer and Friederike Knörzer, Kolping JGD
6. School exchange
“School exchanges with the US have a long tradition”
Anna Wasielewski, AJA – Arbeitskreis gemeinnütziger Jugendaustausch Intercultural exchange and new perspectives for young people and host families 47 Conversation with Bettina Wiedmann, Experiment e. V., and Rüdiger Muermann, Partnership International e. V.
Eva Haller and Daniela Greiber, European Janusz Korczak Academy
3. Youth in the US
Growing up in New York and Berlin: transatlantic street work with the BronxBerlinConnection 22
Interview with Olad Aden of Gangway Berlin Youth work and human rights projects in the Pine Ridge Reservation Michael Koch, former employee of the Offenbach Youth Culture Office “We have eight years left, so let’s go!” Interview with activist Katharina Maier about Fridays for Future in the US
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DEUTSCH-AMERIKANISCHE ZUSAMMENARBEIT GERMAN-US-AMERICAN YOUTH EXCHANGES
Deutsch-US-Amerikan- ische Beziehung German-US-American Youth Exchanges
Bettina Heinen-Koesters, The Exchanges Team of the U.S. Embassy Berlin, Germany
gggOlorit doluptiaspic totaqui ationest, as et eum andistet ut volupta tistinv eligniam sequi omnis dis sunt. Ignis eosae. Reicipsamus volorercia quidis nisit estrum, odiorionse prestiu mquasitaere prest, sunt eos aute dem venimosandae volupta saperiatur simi, sed quae exersped erum faccus, odi im dolupid et aperspel ius, nos eum ut unt, cus am laborerem ut faccus accaessed et quiatem que iur sam dolupis sus moluptaque vent exere sequi dolor- rumque landae explisi magnat ium vellibus, si nis proribus dolum quid quam que plaborpos modi nimaxim earciendi odiam, que volorepe vendiorempor moluptatas secto es- simet quis in resto magnim dolut et facea dus, id et rerup- tas con cusam et ex excea conest essimpo “International educational exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that men can learn to live in peace – eventually even to cooperate in constructive activities rather than compete in a mindless contest of mutual destruction.” 1
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Senator William J. Fulbright’s words on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his legendary exchange program still hold true today. A mutual understanding of cultures is at the heart of any successful exchange program, and personal relationships are its backbone. Exchanges create lasting links between countries, and exchanges between Germany and the United States, which are among the most extensive and diverse, have played a key role in the history of transatlantic relations.
Berlin, 1962: American exchange students at Checkpoint Charlie.
How it came about Modern day German-US-American exchange programs developed in the aftermath of two devastating world wars and were integral to the foundation of lasting peace. Shortly after World War I, US-American organizations introduced short-term programs to encour- age young US-Americans to travel abroad and visit Germany. These programs continued to run during World War II. The greatest chal- lenge, however, was finding reliable forms of transport between the US and Europe. Para- doxically, some participants wanting to bene- fit from the peace-keeping potential of these exchange programs crossed the Atlantic on ships used to transport troops. In his third inaugural address in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stressed the importance of cross-cultural understanding. He described
a future in which personal diplomacy would be central and the role of individual men and women in maintaining security and peace would be a hallmark of post-war US-American foreign policy: “A Nation, like a person, has a mind – a mind that must be kept informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and the needs of its neighbors […].” It is not surprising that the United States saw the strategic importance of mutual under- standing as an important component of an ideal foreign policy for the post-war world. Just one month after the end of the war, the Surplus Property Act of 1944 was amended at the initiative of Senator Fulbright, allowing proceeds from the sale of surplus war proper- ty to be used to promote international good- will through student exchanges. In 1945, he laid the foundation for the exchange program that bears his name: the Fulbright Program . In
German-US-American Youth Exchanges
auspices of the U.S. Congress and the German Bunde- stag. Senator Lugar explained the reasons in the Sen- ate as follows: “The German-American relationship is unique. It is founded on the rubble of the Second World War, on the experience of occupation and reconstruc- tion, on the reintegration of West Germany into Western Europe [...].” 2 The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program is now almost 40 years old. The one-year scholarship enables 350 US-American and 360 German high school students, vocational school graduates and young professionals to spend time in each other’s country. Some 28,000 Ger- man and US-American scholars have so far participated in the program. The U.S. Department of State and the Federal Ger- man Foreign Office also co-fund the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP), which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022. This program funds school partner- ships and short-term group trips for students from all types of schools in both countries. Almost 9,000 young people participate annually. Around 350,000 young adults have so far travelled with the program. Alongside the programs presented here, student exchanges as well as au pair and camp programs are also offered by numerous private providers and organi - zations. What’s happening today? Exchange programs play an important role in terms of foreign and security policy, yet they also have a social dimension since they promote integration, equal oppor- tunities, diversity, and civic responsibility. Exchange pro- grams are open to all school children and students from Germany and the United States. However, due to differ - ent access and funding opportunities as well as varying levels of awareness about the programs, not everyone participates. Although the three programs mentioned above are scholarship programs, certain demographic groups of young people are generally poorly represented in
President Eisenhower welcomes 760 exchange students at the White House.
2022, the German-American Fulbright Program, set up in 1952, celebrated its 70th anniversary. Some 40,000 Germans and US-Americans have so far participated in the program over its lifetime. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the youth exchange program People-to-People . The final legal basis for a post-war academic exchange program was created in 1961 through the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act . Also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, co-initiated by Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio, the act extended the program’s range to include other countries. It also led to the establishment of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which today carries out programs with 160 countries around the world and in which over one million Germans and US-Americans have participat- ed so far. In the 1970s and 1980s, the younger generation of Germans developed an increasingly skeptical attitude towards the United States. The fact that subsequent generations no longer recognized the same positive his- torical and cultural references with regard to transatlan- tic relations provided the impetus for the introduction of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange . US Senators John Heinz and Dick Lugar proposed setting up a Ger- man-US-American youth exchange program under the
1 From a speech on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in 1976. 2 Congressional Record - Senate, Washington, Thursday, September 22, 1983, p. 25264
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
exchange programs. The reasons for this are manifold. Including these important groups remains a key chal- lenge, and one that must be tackled in line with the core objectives of exchange programs. To correct this imbalance, some programs have been designed specifically to address to these poorly rep - resented groups. For instance, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program , which is named after the former Congressman, offers US-American students with limited financial resources scholarships to study or complete internships abroad. In this spirit, in the 1990s the U.S. Embassy in Germany began to work with German partners to offer successful new initiatives geared specifically towards poorly repre - sented German target groups. One example is the com- munity service-based USA For You for students aiming to achieve a first or middle school diploma. With the suspension of the majority of exchange pro- grams as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020, there has been an increase in the use of digital formats. While experience has shown that they are not an equal substitution for in-person exchanges, they have led to the broader participation of young people and may therefore be a gateway towards participation in an in-person exchange. More important than ever before Exchange programs will continue to be an important driver of peace, civic engagement and equal opportu- nities. They have demonstrated their diplomatic value not only in transatlantic relations, but also globally. An exchange is a formative experience that helps eliminate prejudices about different nationalities and cultures and fosters valuable life-long connections. It has the poten- tial to show young people how they can work together to tackle climate change, sustainable economics and business practices, extremism, and other challenges. In a speech on cultural diplomacy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Cultural exchanges are a powerful
Washington, D.C., 1961: The float in celebration of the People-to-People program inauguration speech passes president John F. Kennedy.
way for people to connect across borders. […] Exchang- es can get people to see each other’s humanity, build a sense of common purpose, change the minds of those who misunderstand us, and tell the American story in a way that no policy or speech ever could.”
“Cultural exchanges are a powerful way for people to connect across borders. [...] Exchanges can get people to see each other’s humanity, build a sense of common purpose, change the minds of those who misunder- stand us, and tell the American story in a way that no policy or speech ever could.”
If you know anyone who is ready for a life-changing experience, this is where the journey starts: Education & Exchanges
DEUTSCH-AMERIKANISCHE ZUSAMMENARBEIT CIVIC EDUCATION
Deutsch-US-Amerikan- ische Beziehung
Civic Education as a Centerpiece of Transatlantic Exchange
Bettina Heinen-Koesters, Katja Greeson
gggOlorit doluptiaspic totaqui ationest, as et eum andistet ut volupta tistinv eligniam sequi omnis dis sunt. Ignis eosae. Reicipsamus volorercia quidis nisit estrum, odiorionse prestiu mquasitaere prest, sunt eos aute dem venimosandae volupta saperiatur simi, sed quae exersped erum faccus, odi im dolupid et aperspel ius, nos eum ut unt, cus am laborerem ut faccus accaessed et quiatem que iur sam dolupis sus moluptaque vent exere sequi dolor- rumque landae explisi magnat ium vellibus, si nis proribus dolum quid quam que plaborpos modi nimaxim earciendi odiam, que volorepe vendiorempor moluptatas secto es- simet quis in resto magnim dolut et facea dus, id et rerup- tas con cusam et ex excea conest essimpo In launching the Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE) pilot project in early 2021, the Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten (Association of German Educational Organizations, AdB) waded into little-explored territory. Despite a US-German connection in the realm of “politische Bildung” and youth work in post-WWII reeducation efforts, the theory, practice and structures have since grown separately, against the backdrop of two varied cultural and socioeconomic landscapes.
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Prime time for civic learning Civic education in the U.S. is experiencing what has been dubbed a “Sputnik moment”. New state and federal legislation and funding streams have sprung up as policy-makers and the public realize the importance of civic learn- ing for a healthy democracy. With increased attention, has come increased scrutiny. In a society encumbered by stark political polar- ization, civic education has not avoided being ensnared in partisan political debates, related to how to teach about race and difficult his - tories, the role of neutrality in education, and what methods are acceptable ways of engag- ing young people in active citizenship. Similar threats face youth workers and civic educators in Germany. As civic learning faces the spot- light in both countries, the opportunity to learn across contexts is all the more important.
With our project, we have convened 22 TECE Fellows (mid-career professionals in the field of non-formal youth civic learning in the US and Germany) for online and in-person exchange and engaged numerous individu- als and organizations in both countries. Our aim is to explore whether the challenges and systems of civic learning in both countries are compatible for fruitful exchange and what for- mats and topics are best suited for a US-Ger- man transfer of knowledge and experience. In so doing, our specific goals were to: » Better understand current societal trends and the state of civic learning – structures, topics, unique features - in the USA and Germany » Build a pool of transatlantic multi- pliers and concrete partnerships for future projects » Use peer-learning to share best- practice models to spark innovation and a transfer of learning to sending organizations After nearly a year conducting the project, we are able to offer several insights into the value offered by US-German exchange in the fields of civic learning and youth work, as well as the specific challenges it presents.
Compatibility of structures In comparison to the German field of non-formal civic edu - cation, the US field could be considered a decentralized “Wild Wild West”. With no national youth policy, the policy and practice is vastly different across regional, state and local levels. Compared to the robust public funding and publicly-funded institutions in Germany, funding in the
on the US side was less clear. By virtue of including “civ- ic educators” in the project title, we unintentionally gave the impression the project was intended for teachers. Adding “non-formal” or “out-of-school” to the description did little to clarify, so we ultimately amended to a gener- al description of “professionals working toward the civic development of young people (ages 14-29)”. Although this may seem a small hiccup in our recruitment process or an
U.S. more typically relies on private foundations and individual donors. Whereas in Germany we see myriad layers of networks organiz- ing the field, efforts to build a networked professional field in the U.S. are still in progress. Another key difference that has arisen often in the scope of the TECE project, is the focus on formal education as a ven- ue for civic learning in the US, with far less focus on
obscure detail, it points to the relevance of identifying compatible partners amid disparate structures. Ultimately, our selected group of US-American Fel- lows includes a diversity of professionals working at universities as professors and in community engage- ment offices, national NGOs that train teachers and produce resourc- es, and locally-focused non-profit organizations working on communi-
non-formal learning settings. “Civic education” is largely deemed a responsibility of schools, a legacy of the U.S.’ Founding Fathers ideas about public education. Certainly, the principles of non-formal education play out in other forms, such as “popular education” and even within for- mal education contexts, but the term non-formal is not used and the clear separation of formal, non-formal, and informal sectors is less evident, with many civic-focused NGOs working in partnership with formal education. Civic learning opportunities that occur outside of formal edu- cation settings often take on more action-oriented forms, such as “youth organizing”, “youth participatory action research”, and “service learning”. These structural differences in the field itself give us space for inspiration and re-imagination, but they also create complications in developing exchange experiences. With TECE, we set out to provide an opportunity specifical - ly for non-formal civic educators – a group with limited access to transatlantic exchange opportunities compared with formal teachers. In the German context, we had a clear idea of who this group would encompass and how to communicate that in the call for applicants. Identify- ing appropriate counterparts and communicating that
ty organizing and education. Despite the different work settings, formats, topics, and even target groups, there is clear common ground. Working across these structural contexts can actually benefit us by looking beyond our bubbles, but understanding these differences is a precon - dition. Finding a common language In any multi-lingual international exchange, communica- tion is a central factor. All the more so when the lingua franca is one of the party’s mother tongue, producing a power imbalance. Finding a common language, however, goes beyond this purely dialect-oriented interpretation. Unlike in the European arena of International Youth Work, a common, transatlantic working language around who we are as professionals and the work we do in the youth work and civic learning field has yet to be developed. To engage in topics at a deep level requires that par- ticipants clarify and grapple with and, when necessary, develop new vocabulary. Simply learning vocabulary and definitions is not enough to transcend the thought pat - terns and preconceptions that exist based on what our
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Logistical challenges At a practical level, there are objective hurdles to over- come in implementing US-German exchange: e.g, the distance and expense of travel, time zones, and lack of existing, robust institutional support and funding opportunities. Given these challenges, we need to think about transatlantic international exchange in a new way. Since March 2020, the field of international youth work has had to scout out new models and approaches to its work. Perhaps, rather than trying to make our tra- ditional conception of international youth work fit into the US-German context, we can use this opportunity as a way of re-thinking international youth work formats to identify and test more sustainable, cost-effective, and increasingly digitally-connected approaches in the trans- atlantic arena. Looking ahead Historically, and still today, a “negative” transatlan- tic knowledge transfer has taken place, where white supremacist and right-extremist ideas have been traded, both openly and discretely. As one TECE Fellow remarked during a morning reflection round, we desperately need a counteracting knowledge transfer in the field of civic learning and youth work to help combat these transat- lantic threats. There is much to learn, from varied topical focuses and structures, different societal self-concep - tions, ideas about the role of the state and images of the “good citizen”, that has reaffirmed my belief in the deep need for continued dialogue. US-German exchange in the field of youth civic learning provides us that oppor - tunity.
Simply learning vocabulary and definitions is not
language allows us to com- municate. In addition, it requires opening up ded- icated space for dialogical exchange and experiential processes. Despite having dedicated time in online sessions with TECE Fellows to an exploration of terminol- ogy, it was evident how certain concepts became clearer during our in-per-
enough to transcend the thought patterns and preconceptions that exist based on what our language allows us to communicate.
son meeting. One could see, for example, how the con- cept of non-formal education (NFE) became more famil- iar for US-based participants, who slowly were able to understand and ultimately challenge certain long-held beliefs and raise questions that opened important con- versations for the whole group about the value and practice of NFE. Moreover, it was clear how important a trusting and patient environment is in regard to more sensitive or emotionally-charged topics such as identi- ty, where people enter the conversation with different knowledge backgrounds and varying comfort with lan- guage around the issue. An exchange format should make intentional efforts to center language as a way to help us understand how language constrains our understanding and helps us expand our way of thinking, or it risks leading to unclear conversations and confusion over how to work across contexts.
Katja Greeson is a project officer at the Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten e. V. (Association of German Educational Organi zations) and leads the Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE) project. Originally from North Carolina, Katja worked in political youth organizing and campaigning in the US before focusing on civic education and youth work in a transatlantic context. She is a political science major with master's degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.
Ambassadors in Sneakers – A Young Leaders’ Transatlantic Summer Academy on Human Rights
Anna Steinbrich and Felix Weinmann
Ambassadors in Sneakers is a four-week educational program for 12 youth councilors (aged between 16 and 20) from Germany and the US. The program focuses on human rights, and against this back- ground participants learn about the political structures of both countries and transatlantic rela- tions. While traveling together in Germany and the US, the young participants find out about places and institutions that are of significance to the development and defense of human rights, and they compare different forms of youth participation.
During the program, participants meet activists, contem- porary witnesses, media representatives, and politicians to learn from and with each other and to bring their experiences and findings back to their own communi - ties. During visits to Georgia and Alabama, for example, participants in the first two exchanges in 2017 and 2018 took a close look at the American civil rights movement. In 2019, the Ambassadors in sneakers spent a week in Leipzig and Berlin, respectively, visiting Ann Arbor, Mich- igan, and Chicago, Illinois shortly after. Anna Steinbrich took part as the representative of the Vaihingen/Enz Youth Council. This is what she had to say about her experiences: Gaining a new perspective of our own history In Leipzig, the cultural exchange began even before Team USA had arrived. Team Germany consisted of four partic- ipants from Saxony and eight from Baden-Württemberg, some of whom, including myself, had never been to east- ern Germany before. Issues like population decline made
me realize that a piece of the Wall is somehow still stand- ing. And the way we stereotype “the East” brought home to me that the Wall still exists in some ways – above all in our minds. So initially, there were one or two prejudices. But essentially, the city isn’t that different – it’s just been shaped by its unique and sometimes tragic history.
The highlight of my visit to Leipzig was the “Runde Ecke” memorial museum. Formerly the Stasi headquarters,
the building has been a museum since 1990 and still contains the original furnish- ings and equip-
It made me realize how carelessly I treat my data online.
ment. This creates an authentic, almost unpleasant atmo- sphere, and it exhibits the methods employed by the Stasi in a striking way. It made me realize how carelessly I treat my data online. The tech companies, most of which are based in the US, might not be comparable with the Stasi, but the exhibition did make me aware of the power of data ownership.
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Short nights, long discussions and a piece of the US in the mid- dle of Berlin Second stop: Berlin. The U.S. Embassy, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the Jew- ish Museum Berlin – our itinerary sparked numerous discussions. Our evening talks in Berlin grew longer and longer and the nights shorter and shorter. "Because of the EU, Germany is simply a few steps ahead of us" is how one young American summed up the situation in Germany from his perspec- tive. Unconditional US patriotism? Far from it! Even though not everyone would endorse this view, it triggered some interesting discus- sions about the advantages and disadvantag- es of the EU. Once inside the U.S. Embassy, we were imme- diately hit by the cool a/c air and knew we had entered US-American territory. We talked to Cultural Attaché David Mees about how the diplomatic service can influence the human rights situation in other countries. Although the interview taught me a lot about the
importance of this work, I came to the con- clusion that this wouldn’t be a job for me. Lat- er on, we sat down with the initiators of the Free Interrail initiative and the activist duo Herr&Speer to discuss European identity and how men, too, can be feminists. Enthusiasm and passion for vol- unteering Four weeks after the Germany program, we flew to the US. Everywhere in Ann Arbor, we saw the big yellow or blue “M” logo, which stands for the University of Michigan (UoM) and its sports teams. But US-Americans aren’t just into sport, they’re also heavily involved in their communities. Interest in voluntary work seems much stronger in the US than in Ger- many. US citizens often have a lower tax bill, but this means the government has less mon- ey at its disposal so many areas of life depend on the involvement of individual people. One example is voluntary participation in a com- mittee that develops proposals for environ- mental protection measures, which are then discussed and voted on by the local council. →
Out of the comfort zone, into the political arena After numerous meetings, we celebrated the end of our trip. We spent the last evening all together: 24 young participants and four supervisors. Needless to say, a few tears were shed! The next morning, we said goodbye, which we hoped would be a “see you later”. These had been four incredibly informative and inspiring weeks. We got on really well as a group and made many new friends. My personal resume: I learnt a lot from the program and gained a different perspective of the US and also Ger - many. It also reinforced my view that it’s worth taking an interest in social developments, getting involved in things, and stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ll fin - ish my bachelor’s degree in summer 2022. Afterwards,
This is time-consuming work, but people in Ann Arbor are passionate about it. We talked to four climate activ- ists and realized their work has an impact – not just in the immediate neighborhood and on the UoM campus, but also at a local and national level. During the last week of the program, we travelled by coach to Chicago. Walking through the city, we saw countless fast-food chains and realized that their pop- ularity comes at a price: food containers are usually disposable, and plastic bags are free everywhere. Some young US-Americans have never heard of Fridays for Future . Chicago itself is a really cool city though, and it’s beautifully located on Lake Michigan. Representatives of the Juvenile Justice Initiative explained to us how they work with judges, lawyers, and politicians to improve youth justice in the US. Young people often receive disproportionately harsh sentences, and condi- tions in prisons – especially compared to Germany – are very poor. I’m fascinated by US-American activism, which often depends on the dedication of individual people.
I want to work in political consultancy for interna- tional security strategies – maybe even in Washing- ton, D.C. …
The next morning, we said goodbye, which we hoped would be a “see you later”.
Ambassadors in Sneakers was designed and is led by the German-American Institute Tuebingen (GAI or d.a.i.). It is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany with funds from the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economics and Energy (BMWi). Anna Steinbrich (20) participated in the Ambassadors in Sneakers program as the representative of Vaihingen/Enz Youth Council (Baden-Württemberg) because she is passionate about cultural exchange and political discussions. She is currently pursuing a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. Felix Weinmann is deputy director of the German-American Institute Tuebingen (GAI or d.a.i.) and responsible for the Ambassadors in Sneakers project.
Web: dai-tuebingen.de/en/intercultural-projects/ambassadors- in-sneakers
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Strengthening youth civic engagement in the USA and Germany An interview with Robert Fenstermacher about the German-American Sister Cities Youth Forum In 2021 the American Council on Germany brought together representatives of youth councils from five sister cities in Germany and the U. S.. The idea for this initiative came from the mayors of the cities themselves. In several online sessions and webinars, young people from Austin/Koblenz, Buffalo/Dortmund, San Antonio/Darmstadt, Charlotte/Krefeld and St. Louis/Stuttgart exchanged views on racism, climate change and youth participation. Project coordinator Robert Fenstermacher would like to see more of this in the future and tells IJAB about his experiences in the German- American Sister Cities Youth Forum .
In 2021 the German-American Sister Cities Youth Forum brought together young civic leaders from Germany and the US. What’s the idea of the project? The main purpose of the project was to bring together representatives from local youth councils and youth lea- dership programs in five pairs of U.S.-German sister cities to have a transatlantic dialogue about issues confronting their local communities. Our hope was not only to build greater mutual understanding and collaboration between the youth, but also to help strengthen the relationship and ties between the sister cities so that future exchan- ges can take place among the next generation in these communities.
Who initiated this youth exchange?
This exchange is a direct result of a series of 2020 Trans- atlantic Town Hall Meetings with German and American mayors in the same sister cities in which the mayors di- scussed how their cities have adapted due to the pande- mic and how their communities are rethinking plans for the future on issues like urban development and clima- te change, social equity and cohesion, and government engagement and communication with citizens. In each conversation, mayors specifically mentioned the need to engage more with youth in their communities on these issues, so the Youth Forum seemed like an obvious pro- ject to launch.
ment called “Guiding Principles of Communication” that outlined standards for all the discussions. This included the concept of using a “safe word” to calm things down if a conversation became tense or someone felt attacked or insulted. There is only one rule—when someone uses the safe word, you stop. No more yelling, no more tal- king, nothing. You back down, you back away. No further discussion, disagreement or argument around that topic will occur until everyone has had a chance to cool off. I was impressed that the youth wanted to have guidelines like this to ensure the safe space. In the end, however, all of our conversations were free of conflict, very open and transparent, and incredibly respectful. Looking at young civic engagement, what would you say appeared to be major differences with regards to the work of young civic leaders in Germany and the US? To be honest, rather than see major differences regar - ding youth civic engagement, I think the exchange in fact highlighted how similar youth commitment to ad- dressing issues in their communities is on both sides of the Atlantic. In all ten cities, youth are passionate about change, informing themselves about issues and pressing decision-makers in their schools and in their local go- vernments to implement new policies. Perhaps one diffe - rence between Germany and the U.S. is that many of the American youth organizations are independent, nonpro- fit organizations, whereas the German organizations are formally affiliated with, and funded by, local government agencies. In some cases, the formal affiliation means that the youth have a stronger voice in policymaking. During the exchange, youth expressed a clear desire for their views to be heard, so participants liked the concept of official “youth councils” or “Jugendräte" that allow youth greater input into the decision-making for their commu- nities. The Sister Cities Youth Forum took place online. What opportunities lie in going virtual for exchanges like these? Prior to this project, none of the youth organizations in the sister cities had had any contact with each other. The virtual exchange was a great way to begin conversations between the youth in both countries, to form relation- ships, and to start building mutual understanding on is- sues they face in their communities. Ideally, we hope that
Young people face different challenges in their life depending on where they live and grow up. Yet, racial inequality, climate change and diversity seemed to be key issues keeping young people on both sides of the Atlantic on their toes. Why is it so valuable for young people to take a peek at civic life and engagement outside their own country? Each individual community may have its own unique set of challenges, but issues like climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion are much bigger in scope. Learning how different communities and countries are attempting to tackle these issues (or not), understanding what the main challenges are, and recognizing the similarities in our societies allows youth to learn from, and support, one another. It also increases a mutual understanding that working on these issues is not just an American or German challenge, but something that is a responsibility for all of us regardless of where we live. Terms such as racism, diversity and inclusion are often looked at and used differently in German and American contexts and discussing them can be chal- lenging. Did this show in the youth forum and how did participants manage to create a safe space for open discussions around these topics? Since words are used differently, we shared a glossary of terms related to diversity, equity, and inclusion that inclu- ded words used in both the American and German con- texts which helped participants communicate with one another with a greater understanding of their meaning. During our conversations, we wanted everyone to feel that they had a safe space to talk about these topics and to share information openly because we recognized that some of the topics are very sensitive and may be difficult for some to talk about. And given the community in this project represented youth from different backgrounds and walks of life, it was critical that everyone respect each other’s opinions and perspectives. Therefore, the youth advisory council for the project early on created a docu-
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
Make a wish: What do you hope to see in the future in terms of German-American youth exchange?
the virtual exchange creates a foundation on which the youth organizations in the sister cities can build a sustai- nable, long-term relationship for further exchange and dialogue on these issues (and others) in the future, as well as in-person exchanges in their respective countries once the Covid-19 pandemic has been overcome. One of the project’s goals was to strengthen local youth engagement. One could argue that there are other ways to achieve this than transatlantic exchanges. What makes international exchanges such a unique civic learning opportunity for all parties involved? As someone who personally took part in exchange pro- grams to Germany, I believe they are extremely valuable because one is forced to step out of the daily life you con- sider to be normal and to look at issues from a different perspective. Both similarities and differences can lead to greater understanding or to finding best practices that can lead to better ideas and policies which improve the quality of life in communities. Overall, exchanges broa- den people’s horizons and openness to considering dif- ferent ways of approaching issues while simultaneously trying to solve similar challenges or take advantage of common opportunities. Looking at this from a municipal perspective, trans - atlantic exchanges can seem challenging and over- whelming, especially if built from the ground up. You are one of the initiators of the German-American Sister Cities Youth Forum . Do you have any advice for munic- ipalities who wish to go forward with their idea of a German-American youth exchange? My recommendation is to start small and to take advan- tage of virtual exchanges to start building a relationship before expanding to a larger in-person exchange that requires greater planning and funding to implement. And in terms of finding a partner in the other country for the exchange, there are 100 sister city partnerships between U.S. and German cities that can serve as a great foundation. From personal experience, each of the youth organizations approached for this project indicated that this type of exchange was on their “to do” list and was of great interest; all that was needed was someone to pick up the phone or to send an e-mail suggesting the idea. I’m also happy of course to provide more advice to anyo- ne who calls me too!
Recent elections in both the United States and Germany showed that the next generation is engaged, committed, and motivated to take action on serious issues confron- ting our local communities and the world. My wish would be that our respective governments would invest more resources and dedicate greater funding to exchange op- portunities that bring youth together to share ideas and learn from one another. Every one of the 100 sister city partnerships between Germany and the United States should have an exchange and the infrastructure to sup- port them. Our governments talk about enhanced trans- atlantic cooperation, so as one of the participants in our exchange said, “Be the change you want to be.”
Robert Fenstermacher is Chief Content Officer with the American Council on Germany . Following multiple experiences in Germany beginning with a high school exchange in West Berlin in 1987, he has pursued a 30-year career working on German-American exchange programs.
Shalia Ford, FOCUS St. Louis
ternationally with leaders. Our intent was to expand their view on the critical issues of our times by participating in forums where students can learn from and lead with their German peers. This partnership encourages students to think globally about issues of racial equity, climate change and sustainability while promoting youth participation in civic life locally where change can be realized. Founded in 1989, Youth Leadership St. Louis is an internationally recog- nized program that informs, connects, prepares and emp- owers St. Louis area youth to become civic and community leaders.
Ms. Ford, why did your organization decide to partici- pate in the German-American Sister Cities Youth Forum ?
FOCUS St. Louis is the premier civic leadership organiza- tion, preparing diverse leaders from high school to C-Sui- te executives to work cooperatively for a thriving St. Louis region. At FOCUS we educate leaders, connect leaders and facilitate the important conversations. Our decision to partner with the German-American Sisters Cities Youth Forum was in alignment with our vision and mission as well as aspirations to connect students nationally and in- The potential is great for continued youth engagement. Not only are youth able to con- nect during the virtual forums, but continue discussions between forums to foster under- standing and build lasting relationships.
What potential for local youth engagement do you see in transatlantic exchanges?
The potential is great for continued youth engagement. Not only are youth able to connect during the virtual fo- rums, but continue discussions between forums to foster understanding and build lasting relationships. At a recent forum, a youth leader from St. Louis exchanged contact information with a youth leader from Stuttgart to share more about their Action Research Project done through participation in Youth Leadership St. Louis . Youth-led ac- tion research is an approach to scientific inquiry and so - cial change grounded in principles of equity that engages young people in identifying problems relevant to their own lives, conducting research to understand the pro- blems, and advocating for changes based on research evidence. This exchange was great to hear and see! We anticipate learning of more of these exchanges and con- nections.
Shalia Ford Director, Leadership Programs, FOCUS St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Web: Youth Leadership St. Louis
German-US-American Youth Exchanges – USA-Special 2022
John Schubert, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council What did you learn about Germany that you didn’t know before? The thing I learned about Germany itself that most sur- prised me was how involved and motivated its youth are to be changemakers. Whenever anyone from the Ameri- cans would discuss a problem that we would have, the German youth were always the first to ask us what we were doing about it, sometimes pushing us to do more! The tenacity of these young leaders amazed me then and now.
John Schubert Charlotte, North Carolina
Web: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council (administered by Generation Nation )
Breonna Tuitt, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council What motivated you to participate in the G-A Sister Cities Youth Forum? I wanted to know what the political culture in Germany was like. I wanted to try and understand how Germany's government impacted the people and the way they lived, then compare this to the United States.
Breonna Tuitt Charlotte, North Carolina
Web: Charlotte- Mecklenburg Youth Council (administered by Generation Nation )
Ann Vadakkan, Austin Youth Council
What’s your biggest takeaway from the experience?
My biggest takeaway from the experience is learning ab- out a particular initiative the Germans used that I would like to implement in my school. Essentially, they created a way to track carbon emissions in their school to see how much certain factors in a school setting contributed to the overall carbon emissions. With this information, they were able to target certain areas where they could redu- ce carbon emissions. Putting this into effect in our school systems today could be a great way to decrease our car- bon footprint.
Ann Vadakkan Austin, Texas
Web: Austin Youth Council
With YouthBridge from Munich to New York
Eva Haller and Daniela Greiber
YouthBridge is a project initiated by the European Janusz Korczak Academy in which young people with diverse backgrounds, mother tongues, and religious beliefs complete a two-year leadership program. With their newly acquired knowledge and skills, the young people implement their own social, media, and cultural initiatives and build bridges between different communities. In 2018, participants from YouthBridge Munich visited their project partner in New York. Participant Daniela Greiber reports.
Lots of potential for exchange and cooperation Naturally, I felt very proud to be able to go to New York City with the YouthBridge Leadership Project and talk to so many different people about important, social - ly relevant issues. I realized again how many parallels there are: teenagers talking about their experiences at school, boys and girls playing basketball, a US-American transgender woman’s fears that are almost identical to those of German trans women, and the problem of cat- calling, which women experience on both German and US-American streets. Potential for exchange and coop- eration: 100 %. Our values are already clearly formu- lated: the future needs justice, peace, and human kindness We are all connected, thanks to globalization. At school, we are taught that globalization ensures that our value systems blend and mix. But so far, I can only really see this happening in the world of adults, in business and politics. Why don't policymakers fight harder for youth exchanges? We young people are the ones who are concerned now about our future and are taking to the
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob, and Barbie – these were my first contacts with US-American culture. I didn't make the connection back then and even if I had, it probably wouldn't have meant anything to me. When I think about it today, I find it remarkable how closely con - nected the world is and how similar children in the US and Germany must be if they all enjoy these things and so many other shows and toys. The US was a country that interested me even when I was at school. We start learning English in third grade. “I like purple.” “My favor- ite animal is a dog.” “Today I am happy.” The sentenc- es were simple to begin with, but then lessons became more demanding. Our teachers told us we should be able to communicate with native speakers by the time we graduated high school.
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