by Isidro Barragán
CDSsense (The Magazine of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals)
Caption: American Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals participants Elaine Goeders, Eva Moore and Isidro Barragán at the Americans for Informed Democracy-sponsored conference in Berlin, Germany.
The weekend I spent in Berlin attending the Bringing the World Home conference, sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), was much more than simply leaving Munich for a weekend, revisiting my favorite sights, or even giving me more insight on U.S. foreign politics. I am glad I was able to participate. What took place was a form of patriotism, and one that I had not experienced until now.
U.S. students studying abroad from all over the world came together to discuss a variety of issues. We were there because we cared. We were there because we realize that no matter where we are in the world, there is always something we can do to ameliorate the image of foreign policy or change negative stereotypes about the U.S., as well as finding the paths that will help us understand who we are as Americans and what our responsibilities are in this ever-evolving and interconnected world of ours.
The conference was very well planned and coordinated. Every panel and activity arranged for us was meaningful and left an impression. The retreat brought together hundreds of Americans staying abroad for a weekend of workshops, speakers, and discussions focused on techniques for raising global consciousness in the U.S. Thanks to financial sponsorship by the Rockefellers Brothers Fund, Open Society Institute, Hewlett Foundation and Connect US Fund, expenses for the participants were paid. AID, the organization that sponsored the retreat, is a non-partisan education organization that seeks to raise awareness in the U.S. about world opinions. There are currently more than 100 university chapters in over 10 countries.
Arriving on Friday morning we were greeted and then introduced to the organization AID. Soon after we were split into small groups. These small groups turned out to be where we were allowed to express any feeling or worry about the panels or the themes for discussion during our small group. The panel and presentations were a mix of workshops and town-hall-style meetings. During these we had the opportunity to ask questions of the guest speakers and further discuss the topics. The themes were very diverse, including those which I found most insightful: “American Power and Global Security, A European Perspective”; “The Next Four Years, What the 2004 Elections Mean for the US Role in the World”; and “Individual Diplomacy.” Not only did we converse about what the U.S. government does and assess its impact on the rest of the world, but we also had dialogues about our own individual abilities to have a diplomatic license.
There were moments where I linked the conference my participation in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX). We discussed our own study abroad experiences and times in which we were harassed and accused because of our nationality. However, most of the responses were positive. I then thought about my current purpose and experience in Germany with the CBYX program. Arriving in Germany without any prior language instruction and knowing we were to be abroad for almost a whole year was not the simplest decision some of us made, but rather a thorough and brave one. I came to Germany to participate in the program because of innumerable reasons. To simplify, I would describe them as follows: to live abroad a whole year without my family, to better understand myself and abilities, to develop my persona through the acquisition of the German language and to get great experience via a paid internship.
The CBYX Program and the conference in Berlin serve to support certain beliefs of mine. Leaving home to live in another country only makes one stronger mentally, spiritually and academically. In Berlin I met many students who told me that by living abroad they have acquired a whole new sense of their life and their mission, of what it means to be American, and a greater awareness of the intricate and interconnected umbilical cord that ties the essence of humanity together. No matter where we are, how different our language and characteristics, in the end we are all human beings and have needs. Basically, thousands of miles away from home, far from political parties and routine idiosyncrasies, we are able to find people with whom we can connect. Isidro, originally from California, has been living, studying and working in Munich since August 2004, as a participant of CDS International’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.