The WiFi Lounge is home to a diverse set of people seeking to find a space for refuge. They can be found hypnotized by their phones, tired from staying up all night because of procrastination, or quickly finishing up an assignment. However, last Tuesday the lounge was brought together by the Germania Culture Club with special guest speaker German Consul Jan Peter Schmitt.
From the moment Schmitt arrived on campus, he was immersed in the warm hospitality of the Germania Culture Club. He was greeted by the club president Olivia Bueno and other members with flowers and hugs, while clad in traditional German dirndl, folkloric dresses.
“I love Pasadena very much,” an ecstatic Schmitt said as the discussion began. “I’ve been here many times.”
Before Schmitt began to work in social services, he was given the option to join the military, but opted for the other position. After a year in social services, he began his route to engage in diplomatic services for about three years. Now as German Consul, Schmitt is always on the move.
His position has let him travel abroad to places like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia. He spent a coast in Kiev, Ukraine and lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia for five years. As of now he’s lived in Los Angeles since the summer of 2015. In addition to speaking German and English, Schmitt can also speak French and Ukrainian.
Schmitt wasted no time in beginning the discussion. With his broad experience and knowledge, he encouraged students in the following Q&A session to ask questions, for “there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.”
The following questions and answers were taken from the discussion held, where students asked any questions they had and Schmitt answered.
Q: How does free college work in Germany?
S: In Germany public universities are free. Actually you can study in universities round up to 10-12 years. There was a discussion about how after 6-7 years students should start paying fees. A lot of people said no. On the other hand, education must be generally free regardless how long they take.
Q: Do you think it is important for anybody to get an education and go travel?
S: You can get benefits from it. To see and accept other race of life. It is vital in today’s time.
Q: What does Germany look for if you want to join diplomatic service or social service?
S: German state department are looking for generalist. They’re looking for a broad range of subjects and want mix of interdisciplinary people that come together to give good results.
Q: In your time in service what areas do you cover in the U.S.?
S: Well I’ve been to Southern California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.
Q: What is the difference between social service and military service?
S: Well what my friends had to do, like washing the trucks and were just bored most part of the time, playing video games. I wonder sometimes who actually had the harder job. Those at the social service who had to help morning to evening wash disabled people, help change [their] diapers or someone [like my friends] who played video games in the military base.
Q: What are some of the biggest cultural differences between different places you’ve visited? What aspects do you like from certain cultures?
S: There are things I like and dislike. Russia is a very different country. It seems a little closed at first, but once you can get access to them you can call them at 3 a.m. Here [in Los Angeles] there’s many diversity and I really enjoy it.
Q: Why has Germany been able to resist the wave of right wing populism that has taken Europe?
S: We learned a valuable lesson from our past. Once we didn’t have the strength to resist it and then it became the biggest nightmare for the world. In Germany people are sensitive to right wing populists. [Since then] no right wing party has established itself until now, which is fairly strong. There is some psychological thing in Germans which is somehow reluctant to the word leader. It has an uncomfortable touch to us.
Q: How do you think Germany feels about the refugee crisis?
S: Well I feel polarized about it. Many people in Syria started their way into Europe. At the beginning there was a lot of support, but there were also many concerns. People became overwhelmed, the feeling of things got out of control. There was no proper registration, we didn’t know who was coming in. There is heated debate right now. Some have said are we doing the right thing? Are those people really refugee or do they flee from a worse economic status in their country? It is not okay to generalize any refugee as a cheater who wants to escape the economic crisis in their country. Yet in eastern Europe people are very cautious, they are not comfortable with refugees. However, Europe has a responsibility. My personal opinion is that migration most natural thing in the world. Some people will go to places where they see better chances. I see no problem with that.
Q: What do you think Americans can learn from the [refugee crisis] that is happening in Germany?
S: It is a difficult situation. Very unclear what should be done. The election might bring more right wing populist. Years ago this seemed unimaginable. We are living in interesting times. A lot is moving. It is really hard to predict what Europe would look within a year. I don’t think right now Europe can be seen as a role model because its still trying to find itself.
Q: In America we call it soccer, but in Europe you call it football, what team back home do you favor or support?
S: Sadly they were relegated last year, but sit first place this season in the second division. The team is Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart and when I’m in Germany I enjoy watching them play.
At the end of the discussion, Bueno presented Schmitt with a pin and certificate on behalf of the Germania Culture Club in order to name him the club’s newest member.
Despite his travels, his first-hand view of different cultures, and the variety of languages he can speak, Schmitt has never forgotten his roots. When asked what was his favorite place is to visit, Schmitt happily responded: “My favorite place? My favorite place to visit is home.”