Students on the Move

Gus Fessant-Eaton

My experience with the European Summer Institute in Kassel during May-June 2019 was one that I found both enjoyable and greatly informative. As a political science student, my natural impulses are analytical; I arrived subconsciously determined to “test” Germany on its ability to respond to real or perceived challenges of the 21st century, weighing the results against my own perception of the United States. Immediately, it became clear to me that German society as a whole was taking environmentalism more seriously, with weekly protests, smaller cars, and numerous windmills. As far as making an environmental transition, Germany appeared to be succeeding; in other areas, larger divides were visible. A striking feature of Kassel is its contrast to most images of Europe; far from the commonly accepted notion of homogeneity, the city itself functions as a testament to German diversity. Of course, some fault lines were visible, and this is a point that is often touted by observers, who rightfully ruminate about the rise of xenophobia. This was visible, not only in the AfD posters but also the vestiges of both social and economic segregation. However, there can be no doubt that both immigrants and their allies (whom I observed, promisingly, to be largely among the younger generation) enliven the country greatly. For a vegetarian like myself, what might have been a supremely difficult quest to find food was made immensely easier by the proliferation of establishments operated by a varying degree of nationalities (Turkish, Syrian, Afghan, Iranian, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, Greek). While it may be easy to write off the importance of food, compared with the alternative of homogeneity there was an undeniable impact even to me, a temporary visitor. This was evident further in an educational sense. The University of Kassel, and their General Political Economy and Development program in particular, boasted similar diversity; the chance to interact with people of various perspectives was invaluable in this regard. Last but not least, I was able to witness the importance of immigrants within the indispensable medical sector. Confined to a Frankfurt hospital for two days due to a peritonsillar abscess, the calming influence of the nurses, from countries like Albania, Romania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina made the experience far less anxious than it could have been. Even with language barriers, these interactions showed how easy communicating with the whole world can be, if one is in the right place. For Germany, like the United States, acclimation towards a diverse society has represented a major point of fracture, yet all the while it is visible that the present successes of German society too could not exist without immigrants.