There are brands, groups, and institutions, which seem to be omnipresent around the world. No matter where you go if you keep your eyes open, you will find them. The most famous one might be Coca-Cola. As Konrad-Adenauer Scholars, however, we are part of an institution, which does not lack too far behind the red and white soft drink in terms of internationality. With over 100 international offices, spreading from Argentina over Lebanon to Mongolia and Australia, KAS can be found working with governments and organizations. But in addition to this kind of work, these offices often provide a lot for students and alumni as well. So, what does it mean to be a KAS Scholar abroad? I had the chance to live and study not just in Germany, but also in New York, Boston, and Beijing during my time as a scholar and KAS was accompanying me to all these places.
Shortly after I joined KAS in Germany during my undergraduate program, I decided to go abroad to the US. For my exchange semester(s) I applied at Columbia and Harvard, hoping that maybe one of them would offer me a place. In the end, contrary to all my expectations and even to the official guidelines of my university, both of them offered me a place for a different semester. As happy and excited as I were, however, I quickly realized the financial burden this would come with. The enormous US tuition fees, New York rent, and living costs seemed unbearable, even when adding financial support from my family and savings. In the end, KAS was a major factor allowing me to accept this unique opportunity. The financial support for flights and tuition fees added to the monthly stipend made one of the most exciting experiences in my life possible.
After arriving in New York, however, KAS support was not limited to financial aspects. Soon after getting used to my student life, I started contacting other scholars at Columbia with the list of local students I had. Over coffees and dinners, many nice acquaintances were made, and a lot of fascinating conversations came with it. Furthermore, I was invited to take part in exciting events at the Downtown office near the UN headquarter. Together with alumni, I had a very informative evening with Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, at that time the coordinator for the UN Security Council team monitoring ISIL, Al Qaida, and the Taliban. Over Chinese food, he explained to us the processes of sanctions, control of monetary flows related to terrorism, and we talked about the future of international security. In the end, also thanks to the international experience of Dr. Stefan Friedrich, the head of the New York office, who built up one of the China offices before, the evening ended with a fascinating discussion about Europe and Germany’s place in the new Sino-US competition.
While this was my first contact with KAS China, it should not be the last one. Having studied Sinology in Erlangen before, I was already planning to study at a graduate program with connections to China. Short after my return from the US, it turned out, the among some of the most elite programs there, KAS Scholars were already studying and trying to help others to follow their paths. With Gian Marco Brizzolara, I got in touch with a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua, who offered to help me. Although I later joined the competing Yenching Academy at Peking University, a first step into the Beijing and China network was done. We continued meeting after I started studying and thought of further engagement for us abroad. Over the next months, a lot was done and, until the Virus outbreak, we already became board members of the German Chinese Association of Artificial Intelligence in Beijing, starting to organize events using our professional, personal, and KAS network. Now, being stranded in Germany until the Virus is under control, I again was supported by KAS. Not only did the stipend allow me to fly back from China on short notice, my supervisor got me in touch with the local KAS groups.
Overall, KAS does not only offer unique and outstanding opportunities and a network that helps to develop academically and career-wise, in a changing world, it also gives us the opportunity to be a shaping part of the world. I can only encourage everyone to use these opportunities, as it is a great privilege.
Author and Photos: Michael Gritzbach