Loë Guthmann talks about his choice to do a dual degree in Paris and London, his experience of living abroad and his love of football.
First of all, congratulations on winning the British Council IELTS Award, Loë!
Can you tell us something about yourself and your background?
I grew up with my mother in Kessenich, a district in Bonn. The most valuable lessons I learnt from her. She taught me to be resilient and open to change, to be grateful, and to treat others with respect. It was her, too, who showed me the world of books. They broadened my horizon. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t think about studying in Paris and London.
After high school, in 2013, I studied Political Science in Mannheim, a city I had never been to before. Most classes were in English. Plus, thanks to Erasmus, I would be able to study abroad for a year. In 2015, I packed my bags and went to Dublin, where I studied at Trinity College.
In Mannheim, I thought of English as a mere tool to access the academic world; in Dublin, by contrast, I became more aware of how style, in both written and spoken language, can help bring a message across. Suddenly, English – and language in general – evolved into a form of art, and I started using it outside of the academic world, writing poems and short stories in a language that was not my mother tongue.
What are your study plans for the coming year?
I am going to study for a Dual Degree in International Development. It combines a wide variety of topics and thus my modules focus on different issues: food and agriculture in the global agenda, media and democracy, development economics, or preventive diplomacy and multilateral conflict management. I will complete my first master’s degree at Sciences Po in May. Then, in September, I’m off to London to start my second master’s in International Relations at King's College.
What impact do you want to make after finishing your degree?
I hope to assist in making spaces more inclusive and accessible. Without meaningful civil society participation, the Sustainable Development Goals are bound to fail. If civil society is empowered, and people to whom doors have long been shut are included in political processes, I believe we will witness plenty of new and exciting solutions.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
An important part of my decision to study for a dual degree in both France and England was to experience two different learning approaches. At Sciences Po, research is more praxis-oriented; most of my courses are taught by professionals rather than academics. It is somewhat less academic, but arguably the best vocational preparation you could hope for and gives you first-hand insights into international affairs. In England, I expect to participate in more theoretic, less praxis-oriented debates. The two approaches complement each other.
While more and more master’s programmes in Germany are being taught in English, the majority of them are still in German. The number of international students is therefore much smaller than at Sciences Po, for example, where around 70 per cent of the master’s students are internationals. This is particularly important in the realm of international relations; we all have different backgrounds, and so many stories and experiences to share.
Why did you choose Paris and London as your study destinations?
Bonn is in many ways an international city. But sometimes it feels as if people were nonetheless expected to subscribe to a certain norm. In Paris and London, this seems a little different – at least from an outsider perspective. It may be a myth, but the two cities give you the impression that you can realise your full potential. Both cities draw strength from their diversity, which is what has always drawn me to them. People from different cultural backgrounds live together and learn from each other. Given the current political climate in Europe, Paris and London remind us of all the benefits of multicultural environments. They also remind us of the importance of protecting minority rights, which are under attack in many places around the world, including Europe.
How were your first weeks in Paris?
At first, Paris can be overwhelming – especially if you are from a small city like Bonn. Paris is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there is so much to do. There are tons of events and people are sociable, so my moving there was a great way to make friends.
Based on your experience so far, what would you tell young people who are thinking about studying abroad or living abroad?
I have yet to meet someone who thinks that their stay abroad was a mistake. It is normal to be afraid of the idea of living by yourself in a country you are not familiar with. Not everything will always go as planned, but even negative experiences are part of the process of growth. And in the end, you will see that you will have made friends from all over the world; that you gained confidence; and that new doors – maybe even the doors you had never thought of before – opened for you. All this sounds cliché, yet in my personal experience it was true, which is why I wouldn’t hesitate a second to recommend studying or living abroad for a while.
In order to study abroad you needed to pass an English test. How did you learn about IELTS? Why did you choose this test?
Friends of mine took IELTS, and they were really happy with the structure of the test. I like its academic approach. For instance, I think it is much more intuitive to write an essay on a given topic than providing short answers to short questions. Besides, I would rather talk to an actual person than to a computer.
What was your experience with the test?
I took IELTS in Düsseldorf and my overall experience was great. I prepared for it using the material provided by the British Council. The videos in particular were helpful. The registration process took only five minutes. On the exam day, everything was well-organised, and the instructions were very clear, which helped the participants relax.
How did you hear about the British Council IELTS Award?
When I got accepted at Sciences Po and King’s College, I was thrilled. At the same time, however, I was extremely anxious about financing the project and not being able to find the resources. Through Stipendienlotse.de, I heard about the British Council IELTS Award. I thought my chances were marginal, but I figured I had nothing to lose. What I liked about the IELTS Award was that it emphasised the need to contribute to society after one’s degree. That doesn’t mean that applicants are expected to change the world, but the Award does recognise that the process of studying should always serve a greater cause.
Would you recommend IELTS to students who are aiming to study abroad?
I would recommend IELTS on the grounds that it gives you the opportunity to actually express yourself. Similar language tests often ask very abstract questions that, in my opinion, fail to measure students’ level of English in a fair way.
You have experience of being a volunteer in Africa. Please tell us about it.
Europeans volunteering in developing countries often do more harm than good. The programme “kulturweit,” which allowed me to work at the Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO (CNRU), is aware of that. They make sure that participants – in the realm of culture and education policy – only work in projects for which they have the required qualifications. In a two-week seminar, participants learn about Whiteness, the lasting effects of colonialism, and anti-racism measures. Most important, they make sure that there is exchange happening – meaning that people from developing countries also volunteer in Germany. All volunteers are financially supported by the German Foreign Office. Though these measures help alleviate some of the problematic aspects of volunteering, they of course do not eradicate complex power dynamics.
At CNRU, I worked in the departments of communication, education, culture and social sciences, and technology. Also, my colleagues and I cooperated with a local NGO and helped launch a project which uses murals to spread positive messages among primary school and high school students. The project was implemented by the students themselves. It received a funding of about €5,500 from the German Embassy in Kigali.
You love reading and writing. What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
We live in a world in which people are almost always accessible. This has its advantages but also contributes to feelings of stress. Both reading and writing help me relax. I also like spending time in nature.
Besides reading and writing, I am crazy about football. I was a shy kid; football helped me express myself in ways I never could off the pitch. I used to play for the youth teams of Fortuna Bonn during my childhood. When I moved to Mannheim, I joined VfR Mannheim. In Dublin, I played for the university team. Now, in Paris, I even get credits for playing football at university.
It goes without saying that I also have a favourite team: Arminia Bielefeld, a club that has always had its ups and downs, and makes you feel all kinds of emotions. Whenever I am in Germany, I try to see their games in the stadium. Even abroad, I will still follow their matches wherever I am.
Thank you Loë for the interview. We wish you every success in your studies in Paris and London! We are looking forward to hearing more about your experience in the coming months.