Name: Lena Schneider
Where you’re from: I live in a place called Regensburg, one of the most beautiful towns in Bavaria (if I do say so myself)! The city is both old and new: its history goes all the way back to the 9th century and it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 for its uniquely well-preserved medieval Old Town. At the same time, the universities make it feel very young! It’s a great place to have grown up.
Where and what you’re studying: I am in the final stages of gaining my Bachelor’s degree in political science and British Studies, having studied in Regensburg and Hong Kong.
What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?
Being an intern in the economics department at the embassy, the tariffs on steel and aluminium introduced by the United States during my time in DC had a great impact on my work: it was fascinating watching the political process at such proximity! I also really appreciated the department itself because it covers such a wide range of topics. For example, I was able to gain insights into farming and agricultural exports, the implications of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the US, but also the challenges of migration and developmental work by visiting various events around the city and aiding colleagues in their research.
What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?
I can only echo what my fellow interns have mentioned in this section: finding and preserving unity – both domestically and within the EU –, strengthening the transatlantic relationship and tackling the rise of populism around the world are issues that must be taken seriously. Likewise, making sure the art of diplomacy and skilled conversation is not lost in a world where a Tweet travels faster than actions.
What are some cultural impressions you gained of the United States?
I love how open and communicative people are in the US compared to Germany. Every conversation here starts with a “How are you?” – be it a random person on the street or your Uber driver. If you ask cashiers in Germany about their well-being I can guarantee all you will get are strange looks.
What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?
I have never been to a place that is more political than DC! This city lives and breathes politics, be it all the government agencies and organizations that are based here, the think tanks and the events they host, or everyday life in general. When you meet somebody here, chances are they work on the Hill, for the World Bank or an NGO. As a student of political science, the atmosphere in this place is a dream!
What do you miss about Germany?
Apart from my family, friends and my dog I’d have to say living in a small country! It’s a weird thing to miss, I know. One of the joys of living in Europe is having so many different cultures, languages and traditions in such proximity. A four-hour drive is not considered a quick excursion as it is in the US! One thing I definitely don’t miss, however, is not being able to do your shopping on a Sunday or after 8 pm. That’s one convenience I have come to appreciate a lot and that will be sorely missed when it’s time for me to return home.
What has been your biggest lesson learnt during your internship?
Be prepared for lots and lots of small talk! DC is the capital of networking. I have lost count of the amount of business cards people have given me during the two short months I have been here. Having a few easy topics of conversation on-hand makes life a lot easier!
What has been your biggest challenge living here?
Dealing with all the single-use plastic. It is nearly impossible to avoid when doing the weekly shop and often it is utterly superfluous! It should not be possible to buy individually plastic-wrapped potatoes or pre-peeled eggs and oranges in plastic containers, yet these things are readily available at my local grocery store. I am glad, however, that DC has introduced a 5-cent plastic bag fee; it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?
Sadly, even the most fun internships must end someday… I will be returning home to Regensburg and will be greeted by an exam and term papers before finally finishing by Bachelor’s thesis. After that, who knows where life will take me!