Before I start on the main topic, I’m going to digress a little bit and briefly talk about my internship.
Having finished my second week of internship experience in Germany, I have gained a lot of knowledge about legislative benefits. Because public health is such a demanding field all around the world, knowledge about pensions, statutory contributions, and paid leave–three examples among many–are crucial. While constantly entering numbers into excel worksheets, editing client reports, and scouring all kinds of websites for benefits info inevitably became mundane tasks for a fresh intern, I value each task I have the opportunity to be involved with. I value the knowledge I have been able to discover and the relationships I have been able to build along the way. World renowned 21st century philosopher Miley Cyrus once said, “Ain’t about matter what’s waiting on the other side…it’s the climb.” Ich auch, Miley. (English: Me, too, Miley.)
And back to the main topic!
Thursday morning, former U.S. president Barack Obama visited Berlin to engage in a discussion titled “Being involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally” with current German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His visit was also in celebration of Kirchentag, a biennial celebration of the Reformation. This year’s Kirchentag also fell on the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses, which makes this occasion even more special. The discussion consisted of lighthearted jokes made between the leaders about each other’s country and serious discussions about equality and peace. The world is ever-changing: it is marked by constant differences and disagreements. Often, these differences and disagreement have come at a cost of human lives and relentless oppression. Yet, some have come together to have a discussion that may lead to compassion and understanding. During this discussion between the leaders of two very powerful nations, I was surrounded by an audience that was mostly German, but were Germans of different ethnicity, races, beliefs, and ideas. In those one and half hours spent listening to Obama and Merkel speak, I felt like I was part of a much needed discussion: the coming together of leaders and different perspectives.
Politics are relative. What is viewed as left or right in the United States is different than right or left in Germany. Angela Merkel’s party the Christian Democratic Union is considered “conservative” in German standards and as an individual, Merkel is considered more left of her party. Under U.S. standards, Merkel is considered somewhere left of Bernie Sanders; however, the conservative party in Germany is considered left of the democrats by U.S. standards. Free education, universal health-care, strong government control on guns and other dangerous weapons, high tax rates, and public welfare are topics not questioned heavily in Germany. These topics become part of the political life that spill into society, affecting how some people live their lives and how they interact with each other.
One similarity between Germany and the United States lies in its ethnically diverse population. With regards to the immigration crisis, Germany is more open with its borders than the U.S.; while Germany provides a safe haven for many escaping war and destitution, the unpreparedness of many support systems have led to conflicts and tensions within refugee communities and between refugees and German citizens. In some refugee communities, many homes have been burned down by extreme-right activists. Anti-immigration sentiments can also be seen with the large Turkish community in Germany. For example, one my co-worker is ethnically Turkish, but was born and raised in Germany. Although she is fluent in German and exhibits much of German culture, she continues to experience isolation from the “real”, native German community because she does not look “German”. For many Turkish people here, they are alienated because they don’t look German despite being fully integrated into the society. Many factors play into these relationships such as history, where the tense relationships between both Germany and Turkey have heightened these tensions. Despite my family and I being immigrants to the United States, I’ve lived out most of my life in the U.S. and have internalized much of its culture. I’m a Chinese-American, but my family isn’t readily accepted by some people. Despite my mother and I holding American citizenships as of very, very recently, we are sometimes told to go back from which we came. These experiences are not only limited to Turkish people in Germany or the Chinese in the United States. In both Germany and the United States, these sentiments exist for many groups of people and emerge onto the political stage.
One of the main topics of Obama and Merkel’s speech was acceptance and tolerance, and I believe that I see a lot of it, too. The company I intern for, Vencon Research, has employees from all kinds of backgrounds. Through this, we have been able to share our experiences and stories with each other. We all speak different kinds of language, and being able to communicate with different kinds of people in these languages bridges cultures and countries. All together, my company knows languages such as Russian, German, Mandarin, English, Arabic, Spanish, and French. Not only is this a good cultural practice, it is an astounding business practice as well.
While it is difficult get the topic of immigration off of both politics and society, it is important to acknowledge that significant contributions have been made by the these diverse communities.
We must continue to have discussions about these differences and understand that diversity is very crucial for a growing community.