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 mum in Bonn. Looking back, the most valuable lessons I learned from her. She taught me to be open to change, to appreciate friendships, and to treat others with respect. It was her, too, who, first, showed me the world of books, and, secondly, the places in which these stories were set: Jamaica, Namibia, Thailand, the United States, to name a few. 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, the city I had never been to before. Most classes were in English. Plus, 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, in contrast, I became much more aware of how the concept of “style,” in both written and spoken language, can help bring a message across. Suddenly, English – and a 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. As it combines a wide variety of topics, it is no surprise that my modules focus on different issues: food and agriculture in the global agenda, media and democracy, development economics or preventive diplomacy in Africa. I will complete my first master’s degree at Sciences Po in May, but I would love to stay in Paris for the summer. Then, in September, I’m off to London to start my second master’s at King's College. I am also hoping to further improve my Chinese. I started learning it during my three-month internship at the Goethe Institute in Taipei, Taiwan.
What impact do you want to make after finishing your degree?
I would like to make a valuable contribution to development – be it in the area of environment, digitalisation, education, security, or development cooperation. The challenges are vast but so is the potential for innovation.
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. Sciences Po is more praxis-oriented and most of my courses are taught by professionals. It is somewhat less academic, but arguably the best vocational preparation you could hope for. It also gives you valuable insights into the dynamics of international affairs. At King's College in London, by contrast, I expect to be part of more theoretic, less praxis-oriented debates. The two concepts, I believe, complement each other perfectly.
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 lower than at Sciences Po, for example, where around 70 per cent of the master’s students are internationals, or at King's College in London, where students come from some 150 countries. 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?
Despite Bonn being an international and tolerant city, I feel that you are expected to subscribe to a certain norm. In London and Paris, however, people care less about what others think and, in turn, also accept other people’s lifestyles, as long as it does not harm others in any way. In such environment, creativity inevitably thrives. This is what has always drawn me to the two cities; at least at first glance, they give you the impression that you are able to realise your full potential. Both cities are extremely diverse. People from different cultural backgrounds live together and learn from each other. Considering the current political climate in Europe and many other parts of the world, Paris and London serve as crucial reminders that multiculturalism works.
How were your first weeks in Paris?
At first, Paris can be overwhelming. It is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there is so much to do. There are tons of events and people are really sociable, so my moving there was a great way to meet people.
The biggest surprise was my coffee experience. I love coffee and so do the French, but we have different definitions and habits, I suppose. Americanos are not common here. Instead, people drink “un expresso” or “un double.” Though unfamiliar at the beginning, I got used to it by now.
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 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 in Paris and King’s College in London, I was thrilled. At the same time, however, I was concerned about the financing of the project. Through Stipendienlotse.de, I heard about the British Council IELTS Award. I thought my chances were extremely 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.
I stayed in Kigali for six months, working at the Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO (CNRU). The programme, “kulturweit,” is an initiative by the German Foreign Office and the German Commission for UNESCO. The idea is to give young people aged 18 to 26 years the opportunity to get involved in Germany's foreign culture and education policy. All volunteers are financially supported and are able to take part in free seminars and language courses. Simultaneously, people from the Global South volunteer in Germany.
At CNRU, I worked in the departments of communication, education, culture and social sciences, and technology. Also, I cooperated with “Edified Generation Rwanda,” a local NGO that aims at improving the lives of Rwanda’s youth. We launched the project “Together We Can,” which uses murals to spread educational messages among primary school and high school students. It received a funding of about €5,500 from the Embassy of Germany in Kigali.
During my stay, I got a better sense of global responsibility. It became much clearer to me that, in times of globalisation, nothing takes place in a vacuum. A political decision made in Europe, even if unintended, could potentially affect the life of a Rwandan farmer. From my experience in Rwanda, I ultimately concluded that I wanted to be part of a new generation of development practitioners.
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 certainly has its advantages, but it also, in a way, results in a constant feeling of being stressed. Both reading and writing, for me, are ways to relax. Moreover, I like spending time in nature.
Besides reading and writing, I am crazy about football. As a child, I was rather shy; football helped me to 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 happen to be in Germany, I try to see their games at the weekend. Even when I am abroad, you can be sure that 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.