It’s a Friday in July 2014, admission seminar. My first contact with Witten/Herdecke University. There are seven other potential students applying for a place to study. Competitors? Not a bit. We are open with each other; everyone has to recount something and everyone is quite special in his or her own way – an exciting Bachelor’s degree (e.g., in Islamic studies, sinology or physics) or interesting work experience in companies and NGOs. Above all, however, a candour and curiosity that thrilled me. I am sitting in the seminar room, together with professors and current students. The professors don’t ask for my grades, they ask why exactly I would like to study here and how I have turned out to be the one I am today. While driving home in the afternoon, I know: I would like to graduate here!
What made me apply in Witten and finally study there? After having acquired my Bachelor’s degree in theology and economics at Goethe University Frankfurt and after working for almost four years in asset management, I was looking for a Master’s programme that does not look at economics from only one perspective; that does not only allow of cultural, political and social issues, but also integrates them; that differs from the usual economics Master’s programmes at ordinary universities. I found it on the Internet: Philosophy, Politics and Economics in English. A real-world master, as the university calls it. During my admission seminar, we were supposed to discuss strategies against the propagation of ISIS in a group activity while considering economic, political and ethical reasons. Since, in order to be able to analyse major social challenges and identify solutions, you have to integrate business and politics – and this integration is optimally reflected and supplemented by philosophy. This is, in short, the approach of this Master, which has inspired, challenged and encouraged me from day one.
Today, I work as a research associate for a Member of the German Bundestag. Among other things, I am responsible for the committee work (Labour & Social Affairs and Europe); i.e. I prepare speeches, presentations and guest articles and elaborate ideas and political initiatives together with other Members. This is a job which is incredibly exciting, very labour-intensive and varied and which I enjoy very much. How did UW/H prepare me for this job? First of all: by providing basic knowledge, fundamentals of economic models, political theories, philosophical ideas – always useful. Much more important, however: thinking critically. During the first few weeks you may get annoyed when older fellow students question everything, literally everything. Every word. It helps, however, to adjust to this way of thinking: not to take everything for granted, and to realise that there is more than only one good argument, more than just one point of view. That it is necessary to view challenges such as climate change, migration or digitization from different perspectives in order to find a solution. In political practice, this is particularly important.
As a matter of fact, however, it’s not only the hard facts and not only academic knowledge that matters in Witten. At most universities, fellow students say: Oh cool, you are involved in a student initiative! At Witten/Herdecke University, fellow students ask: In which initiative are you active? Or: in how many initiatives are you active? Without this student commitment, UW/H would not be the same. All this may sound incredibly artificial, but I really feel that way. The initiatives are an expression of the freedom the university provides. If something bothers you, take care of it. If you want to make a difference, just do it! There are times I wish the whole society would adopt this approach. By the way, my initiative was and still is the Erasmus Student Network, which supports international students and, at a higher level, promotes European integration.
Some time ago, I was back in Witten again – attending the alumni meeting 2018. Former students came from across the world, a lot of good friends and old contacts. While wandering through the streets, I soon met people I knew - as always in Witten. This familiar feeling was back again straightaway. Even though there’s much more going on in Berlin, even though Frankfurt is my hometown, Witten is simply a part of family.