Instead of looking for restaurants, sights or supposedly authentic markets in the Lonely Planet or on google maps, only to meet the same other tourists there, we usually have the great privilege of being shown around by our hosts, receiving insider tips on restaurants or particularly nice excursions and getting very personal assessments of the overall social situation. Every trip to another country, every event with people from there is an unbeatable learning experience, although in retrospect we are often not sure who actually learned more in the end. An invitation from the expert advisor for German as a foreign language in Bulgaria has now brought us to our 50th country after 18 years in 2023! We take this as an opportunity to write a few anecdotes of our planpolitik trips:
- The first trip abroad: Shanghai/China! Shanghai in summer is a challenge, as are open discussions with Chinese students. But exciting all the same, to get a glimpse of this huge country, which we have been visiting regularly since 2004. And the summer school in Shanghai was followed by no less interesting summer schools in Hanoi, Phnom Phen, Tehran and Amman.
- The country with the most visits overall: Bella Italia! However, first and foremost the International Training Centre of the ILO in Turin, where we have been almost 20 times since 2012. A beautiful, somewhat outdated campus where trade unionists and employers' representatives from all over the world are trained. Our highlight of the many visits: the almost traditional walk from the campus along the beautiful Po River to the city centre, usually ending at one of the fancy rowing clubs on the riverbank, where our events were concluded with a big dinner. There are worse places for the first place...
- The country with the most different venues: beautiful Switzerland! At the beginning of May 2023 we had a wonderful trip to Lugano, including a flat with a terrace directly over the lake. Zurich, Basel and Bern were already known to us from other events. Lugano surprised us with one of those wonderful, time-honoured, typically Swiss estates in the foothills of the Alps with excellent food. Definitely missing from this list, however, is the birthplace of the author of these lines: Geneva. But hopefully we have another 18 years to close this appalling gap.
- The closest foreign venue from Berlin: Wroclaw/Poland! This trip will be remembered above all because it was the only event where 0!!! participants came - a pity for the preparation for the workshop, nice for the free time gained to see the city with our host!
- The furthest away venue: Bandung/Indonesia! Four hours on a train from Jakarta through never ending tea plantations and rice paddies. After all, the place where African and Asian heads of government met for the first time in 1955 to reflect on their vision of the future of international relations under the sign of the Cold War. Our event itself was not quite as famous as the conference of that time, but simply because it was by far the longest journey (20 hours), it cannot be omitted from this list.
- The most unsleeping event: Hanoi/Vietnam: after a night flight from Frankfurt to Hanoi, we practically stumbled out of the plane onto the stage and conducted a simulation game on the South China Sea. We don't remember the details of the event very well. But we do remember that we took the night train from Hanoi to the Sapa Mountains in the north of Vietnam that very same evening to get to know one of the most beautiful venues there. What remains as a picture: the water buffalo in the puddle right in front of our room (featured on one of our Christmas cards).
- The most loyal partner: Peter Hägel in Paris/France! In 2007, our friend Peter Hägel invited us to the American University in Paris. Since then, we have been going to Paris every year for 5 days to teach a module in the Master's programme on negotiation, conflict management and crisis communication. The only place where we are addressed as "professor".
- One of the most politically exciting moments: Damascus/Syria 2009: On our trips, we learned a lot about the socio-political and social situation in the respective countries and often the descriptions of our partners or participants on site made us think. One evening in Damascus a few years after the outbreak of the war is particularly memorable, when a participant took us into the political underground in Damascus. Using three code words, we finally arrived in a room where about 50 people were gathered, to listen in secret to a reading by a writer who had been banned from writing. Later, there was a lot of boisterous dancing. In a confidential moment, two young men told us about the dangers of expressing themselves politically, about the threat of arrest and about their anger at not being able to change the circumstances. But also about their courage to organise themselves and not simply surrender to fate despite all the dangers.
- The greatest hospitality experienced: In Rasht/Iran! We can gratefully say that we have always been received hospitably. But one encounter certainly surpasses many: After a workshop in Tehran in 2014, we drove over the mountains to Rasht. There we met Aryan. He didn't know us, we didn't know him, we didn't speak a common language. But he was the husband of a cousin of the father of a girl who went to school with my son in Berlin. And that was enough of a connection for Aryan to take three days off work to show us his city and region, to invite us to lunch and dinner and to share his passion for football with us. In the end, the hospitality he showed us cannot be put into words.
- The white spots on the world map: From our point of view, there are at least two really surprising gaps in Europe: the Netherlands and Denmark! Two countries that are actually very far ahead when it comes to interactive education. But maybe that's exactly the problem, that they can develop and implement formats themselves. In a global context, the biggest white spot is Central and South America. Could be due to our lack of language skills... But if anyone reads these lines and could connect us with people who are interested in interactive formats: we would be VERY happy.
What remains are a lot of memories and pictures that have shaped us as people but also as an organisation. Thank you to everyone out there in the world who invited us and showed and told us so much about their lives! No matter how many countries are added: we are happy about every new place we get to know.
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