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From orphan to member of the Bundestag

The year 1989, when people in the German Democratic Republic took to the streets to protest for freedom and ultimately brought down the wall, marked the beginning of a period of uncertainty for Karamba Diaby. The native of Senegal had come to the GDR a few years before on a scholarship to study chemistry at Martin-Luther-University of Halle-Wittenberg. “What happens when the country that invited you no longer exists?” he wondered. What would happen to his scholarship? Would he have to return to his home country, without a degree and therefore labelled a “failure”, as he feared?

Fortunately, that did not happen, as Dr. Karamba Diaby told the story in late November 2019 at the welcoming celebration for DAAD scholarship holders from Berlin and Brandenburg at Freie Universität in Berlin (FU): The DAAD stepped in and continued the scholarship programmes of the GDR, allowing several thousand young men and women to continue their studies. “I am very grateful to the DAAD for taking over my scholarship back then,” Diaby remembers. He has come a long way since then: Since 2013, he has been a member of the German Bundestag – the first with African roots.

Study scholarship in the GDR

More than 200 bachelor’s and master’s students, doctoral candidates, postdocs and researchers, all of them current DAAD scholarship holders, listened to Diaby’s riveting account in Berlin. The fact that his life’s journey would take him from Senegal to the German Bundestag was anything but foreseeable. Diaby had lost both his parents when he was still a child and had been raised by his sister. Despite such hardship, he managed to score high marks in his school leaving certificate in the natural sciences.

At the university in Dakar, he heard about the possibility of studying abroad and was granted a scholarship for the GDR. “It was one of the greatest days of my life when I received that fax,” says Diaby. Now he had an opportunity to earn his degree abroad and learn a new language. “Now it is all up to you,” Diaby remembers thinking the moment he arrived in the DDR. The fall of the wall would be a stroke of luck for him personally as well.

Inspired by the critical spirit at German universities

For many of the young listeners at FU Berlin, much of their experience in Germany still lies ahead. One of them is Michael Adu Gyamfi. The native of Ghana has been working on a doctorate on renal diseases at Berlin’s Charité University clinic since October 2019. His research focuses on antibodies that are connected with the rejection of transplants. “I was looking for a way to continue my training and get to know the latest research technologies in this field,” says Gyamfi. “Here in Berlin I can do just that.”

Romanian native Greta Dadalau has been in Germany longer. She first earned a bachelor's degree in civilisation studies at the University of Koblenz-Landau on a DAAD scholarship. Since 2018, she has been working on her master's degree in Eastern European studies at FU Berlin thanks to a follow-on scholarship. Her time in Germany has already benefited her greatly, the student reports. Among other aspects, she is inspired by the critical spirit at German universities, she says. “Critically questioning even the articles by the professor in a seminar – that was new to me in the beginning,” says the 23-year-old. During her stay she has already built a large network of people from very different countries and has made lots of friends.

Funding for study and research visits

Every year, the DAAD funds well over 100,000 students and academics like Michael Adu Gyamfi and Greta Raluca around the globe – which makes it the world’s largest funding organization for academic mobility. Through the DAAD scholarship database, students, doctoral candidates and PhD graduates can find funding for study and research visits at universities as well as non-university research institutes.

At the event in Berlin, DAAD Secretary General Dr. Dorothea Rüland emphasised the importance of an active exchange with other cultures. The exchange creates “a cultural understanding and more openness toward others.” These personal experiences, she said, are the basis for the larger, more far-reaching effects of international academic exchange. All of the great challenges of our time, such as climate change, are global challenges, Rüland explained. Their solutions absolutely depend on international cooperation.

“International impulses shape the way we do research”

FU President Professor Günter M. Ziegler illustrated how greatly universities benefit from the exchange: “International impulses shape the way we do research and the way students live on campus.” FU is hosting students, doctoral candidates and teachers from 130 countries. 14 percent of academics at FU are from another country – and if the President has his way about it, that number will continue to increase.

The number of international students should keep growing at the national level as well, said Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. “We want even more to come,” says Müntefering. Currently, more than 375,000 international students are enrolled in Germany. In an international comparison, Germany comes in at 4th place – and it is the first non-English-speaking country on the list.

Progress through opposition

She is worried about the fact that in recent years, scepticism toward an open society and foreigners has grown around the world, Müntefering further stated. That goes for the academic realm as well. In many countries, facts are questioned more strongly, science budgets are cut and researchers cannot publish freely. “We must not allow this to happen,” said Müntefering. “We believe in progress through opposition.”

Academic freedom is indispensable for democracy, for progress, development and prosperity. It is about finding answers together to the question of what kind of world we want to live in. “Where exchange is possible, reason has a chance – and where reason has a chance, communication does as well,” said Müntefering. “And where communication has a chance, peace has a chance too.”

author: Hendrik Bensch

What experiences have you had in Germany?

Let us know in a comment!

December 2019


AJAYI Oluwaseun Damilola
11 December 2019

First I appreciate the DAAD for a life changing experience. I will NEVER forget the 23rd of September, 2019 when I received that mail (I screamed).

From my visa application to forms processing etc and on to my arrival in Germany and more specifically, Regensburg (University of Regensburg), I again appreciate DAAD for a seamless experience.

With exactly two months to go from this write up, I can say quite a lot as I have had the opportunity of networking with great friends from all over the world; I enjoyed the warm spirit of Germans and their culture (time consciousness and honesty); their admiration of excellence in all ramifications.

The DAAD has put me on a global competitive advantage and I do not talent for granted as I am radically leveraging on this opportunity. The University of Regensburg also has provided me with second to none research infrastructure (top tier journals of real estate; textbooks etc). I also got the opportunity to access what so many people in the world are in chase for - global data on real estate (USA, Europe etc).

I am super happy at this opportunity as I even already regret to applying for six months as against the three I applied for. I am considering coming back though for a postdoctoral position as the environment suits my career aspirations.

Thank you DAAD. Thank you University of Regensburg. Thank you Professors Karl Werner Schulte and Steffen Sebastian. Thank you Germany

Ortyom Neer
11 December 2019

My study opportunity in University of Cologne, Germany, has been the greatest feat so far achieved in my life. I was happy to have studied Culture and Environment in Africa for a Master degree level in this University.
Studying in Germany exposed me to a more rigorous academic experience, modest life-style of having a balanced view on comparative discussions or subjects as it needs to be. I learned a manner of living wholly unknown to me. Been sincere in everything without any iota of prejudice in my sense of judgement. I also learned to be time-conscious as against my previous experience.

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