CLA Student Awarded International Parliamentary Scholarship; Will Serve 15-Week Internship with German Parliament Member

Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) senior Justin Schafer has been awarded the prestigious International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS), which includes serving a 15-week internship with a member of the German Bundestag or German National Parliament.

Offered in 25 countries, the IPS program is aimed at highly qualified young people interested in politics who wish to play a role in shaping the democratic future of their countries. Those selected for the program must have a university degree, citizenship from a participating country and be younger than 30 years.

Schafer, who graduates from CSULB in December with a bachelor’s degree in international studies (and minors in German, geography, political science and Russian), will leave for his five-month IPS experience in March.

“Just the thought of working in their parliament with so many other young people from around the world is an exciting prospect. It all still seems a little surreal,” said Schafer, who expects to join 120 other scholars from Eastern and Southern Europe, France, Israel and the United States. “I consider myself really privileged to be counted amongst them.”

The German Bundestag offers program participants the opportunity to get to know the German parliamentary system and political decision-making processes as well as the chance to gain practical experience through parliamentary work.

As an International Parliamentary Scholar, Schafer will receive 450 euros a month, free accommodations, health and accident insurance and a travel reimbursement. Combined with a supplementary academic program organized by three participating Berlin universities, the program engages students with a wide variety of tasks carried out in a parliament member’s office such as drafting speeches or doing preparatory work for plenary sittings.

Interviews for the IPS program were conducted at the German Consulate in Los Angeles by a committee that included a member of the German parliament. Panelists tested Schafer to see how well-informed he was and for his language abilities. Scholarship winners were chosen by an independent selection panel in the Bundestag.

“Justin Schafer is the first student of mine to receive an International Parliamentary Scholarship in the 12 years I have taught,” said Nele Hempel-Lamer, an assistant professor of German at CSULB. “Not every student gets an opportunity like this, but when I met Justin, he had this particular scholarship written all over him. He has a keen interest in politics, but was also quick in acquiring advanced language skills in German.”

After graduating from CSULB in December, Schafer will actually start preparing for his IPS experience in January 2011, when he begins a two-month internship with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. Working in the Public Affairs Department, his primary tasks will be media analysis, press statement composition and organizing public relations events.

“I have always wanted to gain experience with the State Department,” Schafer said, “and I think this internship is the perfect complement to IPS.”

If he seems confident about serving in the German parliament, one reason may be that he has similar professional experience already. Schafer served as a congressional intern in the summer of 2009 when he joined the district office of 2nd District Congressman Wally Herger in Schafer’s hometown of Redding.

“That was a really great experience. I loved working in the district office because it was smaller and I was given lots of responsibility,” said Schafer, who came to CSULB as a President’s Scholar after graduating as a valedictorian at West Valley High School in Cottonwood, Calif. in 2006. “That came with a lot of leeway so I could take on assignments as I thought best. If a constituent needed to resolve an issue with an agency, I was there. It will be really fulfilling to put that experience to use in my work for the German parliament.”

Schafer also is no stranger to travel. In high school, he visited England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but he feels his serious travel began in 2007 with a short-term study trip to Heidelberg, Germany, for a month of intensive German classes. He also spent the summer of 2008 in a short-term study abroad trip that took him to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volgograd – a trip he enjoyed so much that he decided to study abroad in the country the following autumn.

Schafer puts his German and some Russian to work at Culver City’s Wende Museum (“Wende” means “turning point” in German and refers to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) where he is a collections intern. Founded in 2002, the museum explores the Cold War with special emphasis on the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union. As a collections intern, he is responsible for processing new acquisitions.

“Whether they are obtained through auction houses, eBay or private donors, I am one of the first people at the museum to see them,” he said. “I perform translations if necessary as I categorize. I have seen everything from communist kitchenware to children’s toys to secret KGB and Stasi surveillance devices.”

The Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department is proud of Schafer’s achievement and his willingness to take advantage of educational and professional opportunities as they arise, said Hempel-Lamer.

Hempel-Lamer noted that Schafer’s selection shows how her department and the university work diligently to match students with scholarship opportunities. She also said his selection is an argument in favor of more language study among undergraduate students.

“Students are under pressure to find degrees that will lead them to jobs. They ask what they will be able to do with a degree in German. But a minor or major in German can be the key to setting your resume and your degree apart from the rest and to spark an employer’s interest,” she said. “Students who have studied abroad and speak at least one other language than English are simply better trained for our increasingly global economy.”

Schafer is looking forward to his IPS experience and believes it will assist him in his future life and career. “The more life experiences you accumulate and the more chances you take, the more you learn about yourself, your passions, and your interests,” he said. “With that new found knowledge, you can forge your own path. I didn’t let myself be dissuaded by failure. I believe if you have a goal and a dream, in time you can attain it.”

— Rick Manly