In October 2014, I participated in the prestigious Baden-Württemberg (BW) seminar in Germany, which has proven to be one of the most beneficial professional development experiences in my career.
For those unfamiliar with the Baden-Württemberg seminar, it is a weeklong training program sponsored by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research, and Arts in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. In cooperation with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and NAFSA, the ministry invites 15 international educators and registrars from throughout the United States to learn about the education system in Baden-Württemberg.
While at the BW seminar, our group visited a number of German universities where we discussed a wide variety of approaches to higher education with German advisers, directors, and coordinators. We were also able to meet both German and American students, visit facilities, and learn about the institutions. Each day we were escorted to our site visit by members of the international office at Heidelberg University to gain an understanding of how their international office is organized. For example, one of my responsibilities at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, is working with the Brazilian Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP), so it was really neat to talk to the staff at Heidelberg that also work with BSMP.
One visit that was especially interesting to me was to the Duale Hochschule, or “cooperative education,” a program where students study with sponsorship from a company. Every 3 months the students switch between working at the company and studying at the Duale Hochschule. After 3 years, the student earns a bachelor’s degree in his or her major and has 3 years of applicable work experience. I was impressed that the program allows students to apply knowledge throughout their educational experience while also earning a salary.
Another reason why my participation in the seminar was so enriching was the knowledge and companionship of the amazing colleagues in my cohort. Our cohort included professionals across the country, such as registrars; university system administrators; study abroad and international student services professionals; directors; and a vice provost. Within the context of the BW educational system, I was able to have a deeper understanding of what we learned because of the variety of expertise presented in my cohort. In addition, they were a heck of a lot of fun to spend a week with!
Though the focus of the seminar was learning about the German educational system by visiting local universities and schools, there were also many opportunities to learn about our host city and region. We lived in the beautiful and historic city of Heidelberg for the week, and enjoyed exploring the old town and tasting traditional German cuisine. Our hosts made sure we had the opportunity to visit some local landmarks, such as the Heidelberg castle and the Maulbronn Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site.
I am incredibly fortunate that another NAFSA member pointed me toward the Baden-Württemberg seminar. Without his encouragement, I would not have applied and had this amazing, career-changing experience. I hope that other NAFSA members will consider taking advantage of this incredible opportunity to develop professionally and personally. I am especially grateful for the generosity of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research, and Arts, which covered our expenses during the seminar.
Jodi Simek is senior international adviser at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Center for International Education.