Allie Drexler, a Raleigh-born graduate of George Washington University, was one of the chosen 8 Americans from the 2016 program. She began learning German in high school and continued studying it in college to connect to her German heritage and because she was interested in German history and culture.
Allie was kind enough to answer our questions on her experience in the German Bundestag.
What made you want to apply to the IPS program?
After interning at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and studying abroad there, I knew that I wanted to go back to Berlin after graduation. Furthermore, through my time there I gained a huge amount of respect for the German government and the people as a whole. IPS had the potential to provide great hands on work experience and provide exclusive insight into the hearts and minds of Germany, while expanding my practical knowledge of politics.
What were you most nervous about in starting?
Going into the program we knew very little in advance. All I knew was that I was going to be working for a member of the Bundestag and that was it. I was very nervous to see what kind of work I would be doing and especially who I would be working for. But it all worked out!
How would you say your German improved over the course of your IPS program? What level of language did you need?
Obviously, it is important that you are competent in the German language. It is important that you are confident in your abilities and can discuss important topics and write clearly, but I learned so much on the job. Even if you have studied the German language extensively for years and have written papers or done research in German before, there is always room for improvement and you will learn more practical phrases and language that will be more applicable to the working life in a German speaking country. All participants start at different levels and everyone experiences their own challenges and successes, but a strong foundation and a willingness to improve is absolutely necessary.
Did you experience cultural differences working in a German setting? What were they?
Some of the stereotypical German behavior holds true. Like “punktlichkeit" and being direct, but what I found to be the most interesting was their focus on work life balance (which is lacking in the U.S.) and the obsession with "frische Luft”, which you don’t find commonly in the U.S. Most of the other cultural differences were minor, not existent or more commonly, where based on pop culture influence.
Tell us about the day-to-day work you did on program. Also, what types of things did you do outside of program during this time?
The day-to-day work is different for everybody, but my responsibilities included preparing my boss for different appointments and events, managing office correspondence, meeting with visitors from our electoral district, answering letters and attending events. I was treated like a real employee from day one, instead of just an intern.
There was a lot of together time with all of the other program participants. We would hang out together, explore Berlin, attend events, and exchange work stories most of the time. Outside of the program there were a lot of options as well. I joined a local city league soccer team and took some opportunities to travel as well. Many took the opportunity to attend university classes.
How did your doing the IPS program help forward your career?
I was very fortunate to be able to stay in my same office after the end of IPS. My boss hired me on to work as a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin (research associate) immediately after the program ended. Although this is not the typical goal of the program, it was a great fit for me and I have truly enjoyed being able to continue to apply what I learned during IPS to my current work as my portfolio expands. I am sure that this experience, not just in the office, but also through the other aspects of the program, I am fully prepared to continue working in Germany and to excel wherever I may work.
Do you find the alumni network helpful? How have you used it?
The alumni network has been a great resource so far. Whether it is making new contacts or even getting help with my work, I have been so grateful to have a group of experienced alumni around me. Even during the program there were a lot of alumni that reached out to us and even took the time to meet with all the current participants. I even decided to join the alumni board and am gaining even more connections and valuable experience through that.
What advice would you give someone who is about to start the program?
If you are about to start the program keep a very open mind. IPS was a great experience but it also involved a lot of learning and challenges and definitely requires flexibility. With 40 different countries represented by young professionals from ages 20-30 working for over one hundred different offices in a foreign country, IPS is one of the most diverse programs I have ever heard of. This diversity is a true gift, but requires great patience in many different situations and as a said, requires an open mind. Finally, you only get out of IPS what you put in to it. Sometimes you won’t get put in the office that you want or the work won’t meet your expectations, but there are still so many more opportunities that all participants should really take advantage of in order to get the full experience.
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