"I have always found learning about the past most enjoyable when I could share it with others."
Hi Michael, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background? Where are you from and what are you studying or working on at the moment?
I grew up in Trier, a city on the Western edge of Germany and just a 15-minute drive from the Luxembourgish border. Trier is often said to be the oldest city in Germany, and its well-preserved Roman buildings still attract tourists from all over the world (and serve as useful reference points for us locals!). So growing up, I could see and touch history wherever I went. This sparked my fascination with the human past, and I have always found learning about it most enjoyable when I could share it with others. After leaving school, I moved to Heidelberg in the South-West of Germany to study History and English at university. As part of my degree I spent a year studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and taught German as a Foreign Language Assistant at a school in rural England for a year. In this role I soon found that learning languages can be a tough pitch to teenagers on a Friday afternoon, but I still loved every minute of it! After graduating, I stayed in Heidelberg to work on a PhD in History and to teach at university. I am now looking to combine my interests in history, teaching and working with young people in a new career in education.
How did you hear about IELTS and the IELTS Award? What made you apply?
I heard about IELTS and passed my first test when I was still at school. So when I found out that I needed an English language certificate to apply for my current course, I chose to go with IELTS again. In my experience, IELTS is the most widely-recognized English language test around. I have never come across a university that doesn’t accept it. The British Council’s large number of test centres also made it possible for me to book an exam at short notice and near where I lived. Since I had done an IELTS test before (albeit many years ago), I also roughly knew what to expect and how to prepare. It was actually quite satisfying to see how much my second test score improved on my first one after years of studying the language! When I checked my results online, I saw the IELTS award announcement on the British Council website and decided to go for it.
What are your study plans for the upcoming year? How do you want to make a change with the degree you are aiming to obtain?
I will be studying History Education at UCL Institute of Education for the next year, which will involve both theoretical and practical modules. There is a common misconception that the past is “dead and gone” (and boring), but I don’t believe that at all. On the contrary, the way we think about past events is always changing. What we claim about them is informed by our present views, and in turn our ideas of the past shape the way we see the world today. Many people are instinctively fascinated by the past (think Downton Abbey or even Game of Thrones) but are put off by the way that history is communicated to them in school or in museums. I think children and young people need and deserve inspiring teachers to unlock the excitement, opportunities and insight that learning about the past can bring to their lives. I hope that my course at UCL will give me the tools that I need to do exactly that!
UCL Institute of Education is one of the leading institutions in the area of education worldwide. Besides its excellent reputation, what made you choose UCL and the study destination London?
The Institute of Education (IOE) is a dynamic and captivating place. Everyone here, from staff to students, is passionately committed to the study and practice of education, and this spirit is very palpable on campus. The IOE’s library is also the largest specialist education library in Europe, and the university regularly hosts talks and debates on current issues in education. So if you’re interested in all things education, the IOE is without a doubt the place to be. Its location in central London also means that I can make the most of its links with other institutions such as the British Museum and the Centre for Holocaust Education. The IOE is also a door-opener for its graduates. Just this year it was ranked the top university for education worldwide, for the fourth time in a row. Incidentally, I secretly have a soft spot for Brutalist architecture, so the IOE’s Bedford Way campus has always been a big plus for me!
You have a strong connection to the UK since your first visit as a teenager. Can you tell us more about this connection and what excites you about the country and the people?
At school I had an inspiring English teacher who organised regular exchange programmes to England, and I first went when I was 14. For many of us, it was the first time we ever travelled abroad without our families, and we loved every minute of it. In the mornings we had language lessons, and in the afternoons we usually went on trips to cities and across the countryside. Looking back, it seems almost like a cheesy coming-of-age story, but it really was a defining experience for me. I’ve never lost the excitement that I felt for the UK back then, and I’ve always felt very at home here. I like that many people in Britain don’t take themselves too seriously, and I enjoy the everyday interactions that are common here: joking around with the cashier at the supermarket or just having a chat with a stranger on the bus, for example. In my experience, most people in the UK are very sociable and often have a cracking sense of humour. As a history buff, I also like that the UK very much feels like a country with a rich cultural heritage that is well-preserved and cherished.
You said that the result of the UK referendum has made you even more convinced to come to the UK and to contribute to its future. Can you elaborate on that? Why do you believe the exchange of ideas, opinions and knowledge between countries is crucial to a prosperous society?
As trivial as it may sound, the fact that the UK is leaving the European Union does not mean that it’s no longer part of Europe. Britain and the EU countries still share many interests, similarities and historical bonds. It’s important to me that the political separation won’t lead the UK and the rest of Europe to drift apart on a cultural and interpersonal level. On the contrary, what we need now is a real push towards cooperation, respect and empathy. It’s become fashionable to talk about echo chambers recently, but I do think it’s unhealthy when people only talk amongst themselves and dismiss or ignore differing opinions and life experiences. A healthy flow of ideas and perspectives is always a crucial element of mutual understanding, whether it’s within or across borders. This process starts at the grassroots level, and that’s what I’d like to work towards in my own (very small) way.
You have a keen interest in field archery. What excites you about this sport?
Field archery is practised mainly in forests and relatively rough and irregular terrain. This means that it combines hiking outdoors and challenging yourself in a way that requires precision, mental flexibility and physical fitness. If you usually live or work in a city, scrambling through a forest all day trying to shoot targets of varying distance and difficulty can be a very wholesome experience. Archery builds and requires upper body strength, but most of it happens inside your head: it’s all about focus and trying to recreate that perfect shot that you know you’ve managed to pull off before. It rests on challenging yourself rather than other people, and that makes it an incredibly social sport. At field archery tournaments, you move through the terrain in groups, and everyone is focussed on doing the best that they can do rather than beating others. You’re very much your own worst enemy or rival! Because of this, archery has a strong competitive element in that you are always striving to do your best, but at the same time you’re rooting for everyone else to do well.
Based on your personal experience and how it has impacted you, what would you tell students who are contemplating to go abroad as part of their education?
I would strongly urge anyone to study abroad if they can. Not only is it an awful lot of fun, but it’s likely to be a very formative time in your life. Moving away from my support network and outside my comfort zone helped me grow in confidence, and immersing myself in a different culture opened up entirely new ways of thinking about the world. It’s not always easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. Studying abroad is such a unique chance not to just visit another country, but to actually live there like one of the locals. In a way, it’s almost like slipping into someone else’s skin, but the experiences, memories and friendships are yours to keep! My main advice would be to try and immerse yourself as much as possible in your host country while you’re there. Spending time with other exchange students can be fun and comforting, but meeting people from outside your peer group will give you a more thought-provoking experience.
Finally, where did you take your IELTS test with the British Council and how was the test experience for you?
I took my IELTS test at the University of Mannheim, and had a great experience all around. The staff who were there on the day were very friendly and professional. They were eager to ensure that everyone had a pleasant experience and could focus entirely on their test. I felt that the mock exams that I had done on the IELTS website before the test came in really handy, and I would strongly recommend these to anyone thinking about sitting an IELTS exam. The exam itself is very fair, but it definitely helps to know what examiners are looking for and what you can do to improve your band scores. IELTS has the advantage that the marking process is fast and results are very easy to access. In the end I got my highest mark in what I thought was my weakest area and vice versa, but I was definitely happy with my overall result!