Two Mondays ago (January 10, 2011) I gave a speech to an audience of about 200, 150 of which are students from the nine institutions of higher learning in Hamburg. The central theme of the evening, perhaps, is the financial difficulties of international students, or students in general. Students walked out of the hall as a sign of protest on scholarship cuts. I hear you, fellow students, as I mentioned your/our plight in my rhetorical speech that I delivered, and here is its transcript.
Good evening Senator Gundelach. HafenCity University Vice President-Professor Dr. Sternberg, fellow students, guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Like most of you in this room, I am a student from another country, the Philippines to be more precise- and now living in Hamburg. And like some of you, I struggled or continue to struggle to speak German, cope with the bitter cold winter. Like some of you, I like Franzbrötchen mit Streusel bitte, but have never tried Labskaus. I can no longer say I am new to Germany. I first set foot on this country almost four years ago, not here in northern Germany, but down south in the small and beautiful university town of Freiburg, where I pursued my Master’s studies. Back then and up to now, as an international student, I still have the same worries: running out of visa, applying for scholarships, and wondering when I can finally hand in my thesis or dissertation.
I’m almost quite sure that at least a hundred nations and a few dozen languages are represented tonight. The most international age group representation in this city is perhaps those of ours, students. I am always amazed to find such diversity in one place, in one city, and now in one room.
But what made Hamburg our city of choice? It is easy to say that we are here in Hamburg because the university admitted us. Or it is here where we found work. These are partly correct answers. As a cities enthusiast and a student of urban planning and development, please allow me to offer an alternative explanation.
Hamburg is not touted as a university town, despite the nine universities present in the city. Sometimes I’d like to believe that a university town is another word for a small town, or a village. Imagine walls and buildings could talk and a conversation about the age of German universities, it would go something like this:
The University of Hamburg would ask, “Hi, how old are you? I’m only 91 years old.”
The University of Freiburg, where I finished my Master’s degree, would say, “I’m old enough to be your great great grand grandmother: I’m 553 years old.”
The HafenCity University, where I am studying, is just 5 years old.
But this is not to say that Hamburg universities are not competent when it comes to research and creating knowledge. The University of Hamburg has its share of Nobel Prize laureates, Max-Planck-Institutes, and other research communities.
Hamburg universities and other educational institutions are young compared to other universities in Germany, because, first and foremost, Hamburg is a port city. Its rich history and culture, and a thriving economy dates back to the heydays of the Hanseatic League. The consequences of a Hanseatic Hamburg can be felt up to this day, with Hamburg being a city state. As a post-industrial city, it does not only manufacture planes and fleets of ship. The city itself has become attractive to other creative sectors, such as IT and media, also known as to make up the knowledge economy. Are we ready to take our slice of this creative pie?
As a gathering of scientists and researchers, the pursuit and production of knowledge is perhaps our key contribution to this city. Later, we will most likely talk about the progress (or lack of which) of our research projects may it be on synchrotron radiation, earth system modeling, or a digital city.
Hamburg attracts bright minds, which is the reason you are here. Our universities may be young compared to other universities in this country, but it does not mean we fare any less than much older universities. Let us use this to our advantage, with the support of the city and look at the vast opportunities ahead of us as we study or conduct our research.
No one assured us that studying will be easy. Especially in our case of studying away from home, it can take its toll on us financially, mentally, and sometimes even emotionally. In the face of uncertainty, we always look for signs of stability and assurance. Our worries as students in a foreign land may not easily go away. Now that you’ve made it all the way here from our home countries, and as we work inside the knowledge laboratories of our respective institutions, let us be reminded we are not just in any city. We are in an emerging global city; we are in Hamburg, a creative and learning city.
As parting words, let me borrow the wisdom of someone from closer to home, a true Hamburg local, the former West Germany Chancellor Helmut Schmidt who once said that “Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps”.
Thank you and a good evening.
For a write-up about the event (in German) and more photos, click here.