Chris Clark is a recent graduate of Vassar College who moved to New York City after completing the Emigre Memorial German Internship Program (EMGIP) in Berlin. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chris currently works in Times Square in the field of urban place management. Chris is also a political activist who is passionate about combating catastrophic climate change, wealth inequality and nationalism.
Our DAAD network is a vast and global net of connections between DAAD award winners, ambassadors, alumni, grant holders, future applicants – all united by their love for study and research abroad and all things German.
We asked Chris a few questions about his work and experience:
- What sparked your interest in Political Science and German Studies, and especially in studying abroad?
I grew up in a very politically engaged household, so I’ve always been interested in the way that powerful ideas can shape history. I came to German Studies after being interested in European history more generally. German-speakers have played a significant role in shaping European history—long before the existence of Germany as a nation—so learning German seemed like an opportunity to unlock a more robust understanding of European history. The more I learned about German language, history and culture, the more my emphasis shifted from Europe more generally to the German-speaking countries. Once I’d made the decision to study German, I knew that I’d want to study abroad to improve my language skills and learn more about the culture.
- What are you currently working on?
I’m working for a nonprofit in New York City that’s responsible for managing Times Square – keeping the neighborhood safe and clean while cultivating authentic options for the (eternally skeptical) local crowd. Outside of the office, I volunteer on a local decision-making body for the midtown district in Manhattan and have been agitating as an activist with the Democratic Socialists of America.
- What was the most challenging experience in studying and living abroad in Germany?
Managing the bureaucracy was definitely the most challenging experience of living abroad. Kafka really knew what he was talking about in The Trial!
- What was the most ‘German’ experience you had while in Germany?
I saw Nena perform 99 Luftballons in front of the Brandenburg Gate on German Unity Day*; that was a quintessentially German experience that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top!
- What advice would you give to students who are thinking of choosing your field of study, particularly those considering an experience abroad?
Try to learn about a wide range of contexts and perspectives, and ask yourself: what haven’t I been taught yet? Especially in the field of political science, it can be tough to identify your own blind spots. Going abroad is an excellent starting point for addressing this, but it’s not enough on its own; it takes constant, active work before your internalized barriers fall and you can really hear other people’s experiences and perspectives.
To put a finer point on it: if you primarily study Europe or America, start learning about the rest of the world from the people who actually live there. It won’t just make you a better citizen of the world; it’ll also force you to come to terms with how much you don’t yet know about world history. This will, in turn, help you identify the perspectives you’ve been missing.
- Which pictures, plants or unusual objects are there on your desk?
A beautiful but unlucky succulent was bequeathed to me by a departing coworker; it is slowly dying next to my desk, despite my best attempts at caretaking. Besides that, I’ve got some Times Square swag arrayed around my desk. Of these, my favorite has got to be the gag dollar bill that Snoop Dogg shot out of a dollar-bill gun during the New Year’s Eve concert ringing in 2019.
- Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?
At least 15% of my time in Berlin was spent ordering döner and obsessively watching its preparation. If given the chance—and the rotating cone of meat—I think I could throw together a halfway decent kebab without a recipe.
- Who has inspired you the most in your studies to date and why?
At the moment, my answer has to be Nathan J. Robinson, who is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Current Affairs. Robinson is a prolific and incisive author, but the feature that most inspires me is his humor. It is hard to write humorously, and it is especially hard to write humorously about deeply serious topics. Robinson goes above and beyond by writing humorously about deeply serious topics in a way that isn’t mean-spirited or reliant on snark for punchlines.
German Unity Day or Tag der deutschen Einheit is celebrated every year on October 3rd.
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