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Meet Paulina Heuss, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for January 2020

From “strangers” to friends in Philadelphia, and beyond: Being welcomed into the home of Eagles fans for Thanksgiving dinner was just one highlight of Paulina Heuss’s CBYX year so far. In our interview we wanted to know more about this encounter (described in her Participant of the Month profile), but also the broader cultural experiences of the custom tailor in the community of Endicott, NY and throughout the United States.

How did you find out about CBYX/PPP, and how did you decide to apply?

During my apprenticeship as a custom tailor my boss received information about the CBYX/PPP. She knew that I was interested in going abroad after my apprenticeship and told me about the program. I did some research on the CBYX and was immediately convinced that this is the perfect program for me and applied.

Could you tell us a little more about your training as a tailor in Germany, and how your professional background relates to what you’ve experienced in the United States? How do the systems differ in regards to training, qualifications, and other standards of the field?

I started the apprenticeship as a custom tailor shortly after my graduation. Part of this training is four workdays and 1 1/2 days at a trade school. I worked at a small bridal and evening couture shop, where my boss taught me how to manufacture bridal and evening gowns and also casual clothes for women from scratch. From what I’ve experienced, this kind of craftsmanship is more appreciated in Germany than in the US. Here, in most smaller towns and cities one barely finds a custom tailor. Mostly people are looking for someone who makes adjustments from already finished clothes. Spending time in New York City showed me that this is the place to go if you are interested in fashion. In this city with headquarters of many big fashion brands, craftsmanship and a practical oriented training like I have gone through in Germany, is highly appreciated. 

In the US there are several programs at colleges that open up a way into the fashion world. Since I am living in a small community I found a good way to expand my knowledge within the fashion industry and still be able to use what I’ve learned about fabrics and materials during my apprenticeship. Working for a small and local boutique in Binghamton, NY I find myself learning more and more about the business side of the fashion field.

What does community service mean to you as part of your CBYX experience? Any favorite moments so far?

As part of my CBYX experience community service means very much to me, since it enables me to participate in so many different ways in my community. Working with little kids, teaching them German and sewing was probably my favorite experience so far. Seeing how interested they were in another language, made teaching it so much easier. Although all of my volunteer experiences have brought so much joy and fun! No matter if working at local events, with kids, at the food pantry, everyone is so thankful and open-hearted, which makes this so special!

Could you tell us a bit about your trip to Niagara Falls with the International Student Organization? Have you had the chance to travel to other regions of the USA?

The Niagara Falls are about 4 hours away from my hometown Binghamton, which made this a one day trip. Visiting the Falls was amazing. When we took a boat to the bottom of the Falls, I knew that this is a unique experience! It also was a nice way of getting to know other members of the International Club. 

As I am very interested in the American culture and the whole country, I am trying to explore many other regions and places. Since Upstate New York has much of incredible nature to offer, when I am going on a trip outside that area, I try to visit bigger cities, such as Chicago or LA. Of course I make it to New York City relatively often, since it is not too far away and this city has so much to explore.  

At the Thanksgiving dinner with Eagles fans, you talked about German and American sports and cultural prejudices. Could you tell us a bit more about this, how the discussion developed, whether you reached any conclusions?

As a foreign exchange student, cultural prejudices are definitely part of the experience. Being able to set them aside or sometimes even finding some truth to it, is what makes an exchange special. During the conversation with our neighbors from the Eagles game, we obviously talked a lot about American football and what meaning it has for many people. For great athletes sport is often a way of getting into a college or a university, regardless of how much money you have. Talking about popular sports in Germany, we also realized that ‘handball’ has a totally different meaning in the US. What here often is being played at the schoolyard just for fun, in Germany is considered a competitive sport with a big audience. Talking about those similarities and differences made us notice that sports in the end brings people together, no matter which country it is played in.

What do you hope to take with you from your CBYX year, and how do you think it will shape your life?

So far the CBYX year taught me so much, I never really thought about before the year. Especially the experience of dealing with unexpected situations, which will be so valuable for my future as well. I am sure many of the skills I learn during this year, I will appreciate even more throughout my life when I am looking back to experiences I had here. This year has and will shape my life especially in a way of cultural exchange and the importance of a community. But most importantly, I am already thankful for the people I met, the places I saw and all the memories that’ve been made.

By Jacob Comenetz, German Embassy

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