Internship Field: Internationale Beziehungen
Duration: June-September 1999
Description: "I was supposed to divide my time between working with the work group "Freiwillige Rückkehr nach Bosnien' and an independent research project. In the work group I translated several documents from German into English. I also performed some basic tasks such as photocopying, answering telephones, etc. The theme of the research was the resettlement of Bosnian refugees in Germany to the United States. For this, I interviewed many people (German and American) who deal with the various aspects of refugee resettlement. I also spent many hours on the internet and in the library looking up relevant information on this topic. At the end of the internship, I turned in a report on my research in the length of about 25 pages for the use of the office of the Commissioner for Foreigners Affairs." (PS by the internship coordinator: this turned out to be a practically very useful working paper for Sarah Fessenden's work team.)
Comments: The work I did with the work group was not as worthwhile as I had expected. -There was less work for me to do than I expected and I felt that their expectations for an intern could have been higher. The translations I did have were difficult in subject matter, but I enjoyed the challenge and felt that I was making a worthwhile contribution to the group. The research I did was very useful and I became very interested in the topic. I also enjoyed the fact that the research I did has actual effects in the real world ‚ something that research for classes at college doesn t normally entail. I acquired good interviewing skills and had the opportunity to perform half of my interviews in German, something which was a great experience for me.
Working at the Office of the Commissioner for Foreigners Affairs is a great opportunity for anyone considering going into the field of International Potitics. The topics they deal with are always current and international, and the experience the office provides can be seminal for people who are still unsure whether or not to enter the realm professionally. There are chances to assist in legal counselling for foreigners who come into the office for advice, conduct independent research on a theme of your choice (within the areas of interest to the office), or to work with one of a number of work groups who concentrate their efforts on a pressing theme of importance to the international community and especially Berlin. (For example, I worked with a group on the Voluntary Return program for Bosnian refugees and conducted research on the process for those refugees who wished to resettle in the United States rather than repatriate.) This is also a great chance to find out more about the way people interact in the German workplace.
I feel that I have an idea about the different relationships between people in the German workplace. Many times in the U.S. people are hesitant to suggest things that an employee is doing incorrectly or could be doing better. Mistakes are looked down upon in the U.S. work environment. I felt here that, as an intern, it was expected and understood that I would make some mistakes and sometimes not know the correct way or the best way to accomplish something. When I was corrected, I didn't feel like it was a negative experience, just that I had learned something new. There are also cultural differences in the workplace, such as the last day of work for an employee. In the U.S., the other employees usually send the employee out with some sort of farewell celebration, while in Germany I was surprised to find out that the employee leaving is responsible for this. Other more important cultural differences involved how to decide with whom the "Sie" form is appropriate and with whom the "Du" form of address is appropriate."
"This internship helped me to know that I don't want to be in a profession where I do nothing but research, nor do I intend now to involve myself in a political office on the bureaucratic level. I do enjoy interviewing people, though, and interacting in a professional environment. I'm also interested in the process of advising and counselting that I observed here from time to time. I am also now greatly interested in refugee politics and developments.
I enjoyed the opportunity to work in an office where I spoke only German and to interact with coworkers who were from many different nationatities (Germans, Bosnian, and Croatian).
German language skills:
I am now able to easily switch usage between "Du" and "Sie" forms and to know when to correctly apply each. The tanguage I learned in the office was often very subject specific, especially from the translations I did. While my listening comprehension increased a lot in the office, I think the Majority of the improvement in my spoken skills came from the opportunity I had from the internship over the summer to live another three months in Berlin in an apartment with a German roommate. I've also acquired the ability to understand a few different dialects (especiabby useful is understanding certain phrases and terms used in Berliner Deutsch).
Where and with whom to live during the internship?
While many interns feel the desire to move into an apartment in Berlin with someone else they know (maybe a fellow student or fellow American), I think this can be a mistake. The best experience I had during my summer and the thing that improved my German the most is the fact that I moved into an apartment with a German woman around my age. She and I became great friends and talked all the time. This is the best way to fully appreciate the cultural and linguistic exchange that you came here for! On that note, I would recommend when looking for a place to live being very careful about the roommate instead of concentrating solely on the accommodations. You want to move in with someone you can easily relate to and will spend time with. I also recommend living in East Berlin if you've already spent some time in the West. The area is a lot more colorful and lively with many more young people, besides which it is really interesting to note the changes between the two parts of the city."