Jonas Lähnemann
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Out of Germany, why Kenya?

My interest in the Berlin-Nairobi exchange program arose after first becoming aware of this unique chance for Berlin physics students more than a year ago. I decided to keep this possibility in mind. However, being in my second semester and having just returned to Germany from my alternative service in Israel, I chose to wait another year. During the following months I learned more about the exchange through conversations with a former participant and the information provided by the website. After receiving the e-mail announcing the program for 2004, I did not hesitate any longer to apply.

But why go to Kenya, while most students prefer to spend a year in the US or Britain?
For a long time already I was sure that I would want to do some of my studies in a foreign country. I am actually convinced that in todays globalized world it is important to learn more about other cultures. This cannot be done by short touristic visits, but only by entering a foreign society and living as a part of it. I have already experienced this while staying in the US and Israel. By going to a country I am not acquainted to and which like Kenya is so different from my home country in cultural aspects, I expect to learn a lot more than during a stay somewhere in the so called "western world". Especially as I have not been to Africa, except for a short visit to Egypt, which surely still is very different from a sub-Saharan country.
Actually, living in Germany, I never learned much about Africa. Our media mainly mention the civil wars in African countries, but even these receive far less attention than other conflicts in the world. Hardly ever background information is provided. For German politicians Africa does not play a very relevant role, which was for example shown when our chancellor on visiting the continent totally ignored that also Germany played a role in colonialism. During history lessons at school I did not learn anything about pre-colonized Africa. I am therefore interested in getting to know an African country with it's history and culture (maybe even learning a bit of the local language Swahili), as well as todays problems and politics.
Nairobi with the University of Nairobi, said to be the best university between the Sahara and South Africa, offers this possibility while at the same time I can continue my studies in physics. Actually being integrated into the university will surely give an interesting perspective on Kenya's society.
This would also allow me to get to know a different university system with its advantages and disadvantages, one of the aspects being research and teaching with a lower budget than in German universities. During my school time in the US I experienced that while it is not always easy to adjust to some circumstances, it can also be enriching and even motivating for the studies to get in contact with different methods of teaching. For sure I would be able to judge better the German system. From a first glimpse at the courses offered by the UoN physics department I noticed that subjects like "history and philosophy of physics" and "environmental physics" are included in the curriculum - classes I would like to attend, which are not offered at FU-Berlin.
I would not go to Kenya with the expectation of learning about all of Africa. This continent is more diverse and some less developed country, Kenya being the most advanced in the region, might give me better insights on many of the problems faced there. The combination with my studies, however, would be difficult elsewhere.
Through reports I would send to friends and family, my visit would be a small step to advance knowledge about Kenya and Eastern Africa in Germany. Living in Nairobi I would show people I meet an interest in their country going beyond simple tourism.

During the information evening on the exchange program I have become convinced that this initiative is not only about studying physics somewhere else. I especially like the philosophy of not simply wanting to bring development aid, but helping to integrate Kenyan scientists into worldwide cooperation and raising awareness of the existence of good universities also in countries like Kenya. In view of this I think it is important also to have a backwards exchange of Kenyan students to Germany and it thus is a pity that the DAAD funding for next year was cancelled. As participant and afterwards I would try to do my best to benefit the exchange program, not only seeing it as a chance for myself, but also as an idea worth promoting.
Another idea I like are the different projects. Until now I have not decided for a particular field in physics, however, participating in one of the projects might help me in this decision. I take special interest in the solar energy project, on the background of my environmental activity dating back to my school time. Particularly I am concerned about nuclear and fossil energy production and alternative possibilities. In this context I consider the chance of bringing together my interest in physics on the one side and the environment and politics on the other side as an attractive prospect. Kenya will have an increasing demand for electricity in the future, so I was very pleased to hear that physicists in Nairobi work on photo-voltaics. Apart from this project, however, I could as well imagine working on the laser measurements of air quality or science policy topics.

Not to forget, I am interested in the nature and climate of Kenya, as it lies in a region of the world I have never been to. Former participants have stressed the beauty of Kenya's National Parks and Mount Kenya, where I would definitely enjoy hiking.

Through staying in the US and Israel I have some foreign experience. Especially being in Israel after the outbreak of the second Intifada was not always easy. On the other hand I had the chance to learn about the Middle-Eastern conflict from a totally different perspective. However, I am aware that being in a "third world" country I would surely face more and especially different challenges. Participating in a program which already exists for six years will ease things for me, as the way was paved by former participants. I am not sure if I would make such a step without the backing of an existing exchange program.

In conclusion I believe a visiting year at the University of Nairobi would allow me to learn about Kenya's culture, history and politics, while at the same time advancing in my academic studies.

I would be very delighted if I were chosen to participate in the Berlin-Nairobi exchange program.

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