Laura Campbell '12 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Tackles Online Journalism in Germany
Laura Campbell applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to intern with the Germany Hands-On program in Bonn, Germany. Campbell is a double major in German language and philosophy with a minor in creative writing from Greenwood, Va. She studied abroad in Bavaria, Germany, during a W&L Spring Term program in 2009 and hopes to return to Germany for another term abroad, as well as for post-graduate study. Campbell has been involved with the Generalprobe German theater program at W&L, participating in the group's productions for the past two years.
The sun rises early in the summer in northern Germany and spills in through the sheer white curtains of my fourth-floor bedroom. I'm living in the Bonner Südstadt: the south-side of Bonn, a scenic district of nineteenth-century pastel façades, wrought-iron gates and prim city gardens of roses and fragrant boxwood hedges just a block away from the Rhine River. Even if Ludwig van Beethoven hadn't been born in this town, Bonn would still have plenty to brag about. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the sunlit breakfast room of my host parents' home, flipping through today's Bonner Stadt-Anzeiger, and then amble out to catch the subway to the office.
I work for Aktion Mensch, the largest private sponsorship organization in Germany. They operate a social lottery, which means that when you buy a lottery ticket, about a third of the money you pay goes to support social benefit programs, focusing on equal opportunities for the handicapped. Basically, it's a really impressive organization, and you can tell that all of the employees really take their work to heart. They're a great bunch of people, and they've made me feel very willkommen. I feel like a character in a movie, walking past slick, geometric modern art and walls of glass and slate to my third-floor office, and exchanging "Guten Morgens" with my coworkers.
One of the best things about my job is that I get to write every day. Writing has always been my number-one passion, whether in English or in German. As a journalist for the website respect.de (a blog-forum-news portal aimed at getting teenagers thinking about socio-political, cultural and ethical issues), I have multiple projects to work on at any given time. I spend my time in the office writing articles, editing them with my project managers, doing research and planning upcoming projects. Six weeks into the internship, I still can't believe how amazing it is that I was given this chance to indulge in my passions for German language, culture and creative writing while gaining valuable work experience at the same time.
The philosophical aspect of my work has been especially fascinating to me. The projects that Aktion Mensch sponsors focus on pressing, current philosophical questions like bioethics and environmental ethics. I was pleasantly shocked when my team leaders suggested I take a weekend trip to Berlin to conduct interviews regarding politically-oriented posters (the results of a competition that respect.de recently conducted). While there, I even got to meet and tour a partner agency, which works on advertising and media projects for social-benefit companies. The variety of work experience I've been gaining is phenomenal.
Twice already I have seen my articles published online. It is such an amazing feeling not only to be published, but to be published in German. If someone had told me at the beginning of the school year that I would be publishing articles in German during the upcoming summer, I would never have believed them.
In the afternoon after work, I enjoy exploring the city and visiting museums. There is an abundance of great museums in and around Bonn; I've also travelled to Hanover (just a few hours by train) to see the collection of a favorite poet/artist, Kurt Schwitters, to whom I was introduced in German 314 this past fall. To see the hometown that inspired his work, and to see his work firsthand... it was definitely one of the crowning experiences not only of my trip, but of my whole life to date. It's been great to have this chance to totally indulge in the culture that I love studying so much: the so-called Land der Dichter und Denker (the land of poets and thinkers).
It's also been nice to hang out with real-live Germans. In the evenings I enjoy going out with my friends from work, to the cinema or for drinks in the Altstadt (the old-town, where lots of students hang out).
The sun sets late; at twenty-two hours, the sky is just darkening over the Rhine.
My language skills have, of course, improved vastly, but my experience with this Johnson Opportunity Grant has enhanced my studies in innumerable other ways. In addition to experiencing German culture (both modern and historic) and philosophy hands-on and learning how to write journalistically (in German, at that), I've gained valuable work experience, overcome a lot of stress and become a lot stronger and more mature as an individual and a student. I am grateful beyond words to the Johnson Program, W&L and the German department for making this possible!