Name: Bastian Harms
Where you’re from: I was born and raised in Oldenburg, a picturesque city in Northern Germany only around 45 minutes from the North Sea.
Where and what you’re studying: I studied law in Osnabrück, the “city of peace” due to its part in the Peace of Westphalia after the end of the Thirty Years´ war. Subsequently I pursued an LL.M. in International Legal Studies in Washington DC. Funny how life brings you back to places you love!
I am now completing my legal clerkship in Hamburg – as a northern German it is great to be back in a city that is close to water and the sea!
What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?
The highlight of my work at the Embassy was to accompany and attend to the press that travelled with Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas. I was able to get a first-hand experience how a political visit is planned throughout all stages. This gave me a multitude of insights, beginning with the way the press prepares. I was stunned to see how much detailed work goes into the planning of such a visit. To be able to see press meetings and conferences at the State Department and the White House was a true privilege.
As an aviation enthusiast the visits gave me the opportunity to be at the airport regularly to see Germany´s government aircraft and enjoy some time on the tarmac.
Aside from these highlights, drafting the daily press brief was fulfilling work. Knowing that your work goes out into the world and will inform colleagues about the coverage of politics really does make a difference. Although I have to admit I did not enjoy the early mornings, having to compile lots of information into precise sentences was something I can really take away from my time here.
What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?
I believe Germany´s main foreign policy challenge begins domestically. Germany needs to be more involved and “out there” with regards to international crises in every part of the world. That will require creating domestic acceptance for this extension in foreign policy and can and should not happen within a too short period of time. I also believe that challenges like Brexit show that the European Union needs to be strengthened and reformed while not forgetting that while we stand united as Europeans we also have different national backgrounds and cultures.
What are some cultural impressions you gained of the United States?
It is always nice to see how open-minded and open people are in the States. While it might be harder to find “true friends”, especially in a professional environment it is so much easier to have an enjoyable conversation. This holds especially true as someone who’s from Northern Germany, a place where it takes time to warm up to new people.
What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?
Since I had lived here before, there were no big surprises. However, being in a professional work environment this time, I was surprised at how many events, think tanks, political discussions etc. happen on a regular basis. And while I knew it was international, I was stunned how many people from around the globe actually work in DC permanently.
What do you miss about Germany?
I miss German prices. The cost of living in Washington is something you really need to get used to – over and over again! I also miss the German lifestyle – especially being able to sit in a public park – for example by the Alster lake in Hamburg and enjoy a beer or two while barbequing.
What has been your biggest lesson learned during your internship?
The daily press brief gave me some experiences I have not had before. It showed me that getting up very early can actually mean quite the productive start in the day – I never knew I could even think at that time of the day. Seeing how a wide array of topics has to be compiled in 2-3 pages (in a very condensed while still informative manner) is a lesson that I know will be useful in my future legal clerkship as well as my career. Sometimes it is not about writing lengthy (legal) arguments, but about getting the point across.
What has been your biggest challenge living here?
Overall, the length of the internships (a short 3 months) makes it challenging. Once you get used to the procedures, the building and the technical equipment at the Embassy, you´re almost about to leave — which also means leaving interesting and great colleagues behind who you only just started to get to know.
Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?
I will continue my legal clerkship in Hamburg with a large international law firm.