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Passion for cultural diplomacy inspires German IWP student

“I see myself as a product of cultural diplomacy to some extent because of all the exchanges I have done and the volunteer opportunities I have had abroad.”
– IWP student Benjamin Fricke

Ben FrickeIWP views cultural diplomacy as a serious instrument of statecraft, and student Ben Fricke understands this concept from firsthand experience.  He participated in his first international exchange program to England when he was 10.  One year later, Ben also traveled from his home in Lutherstadt, Wittenberg, Germany to its sister city of Springfield, Ohio, where he acted in a play on Martin Luther as part of Springfield’s celebration of its 200th anniversary in 2001. This visit began his interest in cultural diplomacy, a love for the United States, and particularly his passion for international exchange as the best way to learn about other countries. 

His next exchange was at age 15, where he spent a year in southeastern Missouri.  After high school, he went to Chile, where he did community service teaching at a Catholic Mapuche elementary school. (The Mapuche are an indigenous people of Chile and Argentina.) “That got me interested in Latin America,” Ben remembers, “and I carried that on throughout my studies.”

He started college at the University of Leipzig in Germany, where after two years he received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service to attended college at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where his passion for exchange continued. In college, Ben spent two weeks with indigenous Warao communities in Venezuela’s Orinoco Delta, and prepared an academic project based on his experience.

Ben worked voluntarily for the German branch of the Experiment in International Living and was invited to Spain for a two week program where students and professors from Mediterranean and EU countries came together for a discussion on European and Mediterranean cooperation, as well as the Israeli/Palestinian issue.  This discussion was continued in Morocco, where another group of academics, including Ben, deepened the discussion.

Ben is not one to simply sit back and enjoy these exchanges – he becomes proactively involved wherever he is.  For instance, he organized a sister school program between Springfield High School and his former high school in Germany.  Students from each school visit the other school for about four weeks a year, during which they attend classes at the other high school and give presentations about their home country.  Ben comments, “I feel the targeting of young people for international exchange programs is crucial for academic development… I wanted to help open the eyes and minds of young people and am very grateful for programs such as the German American Partnership Program.” 

As a result of his 10 years of efforts, Ben received the Global Awareness Award from Wittenberg University in Ohio. 

In Washington, D.C., during his senior year of college, Ben became ensconced in American political life.  In fact, he took the initiative to write a U.S. Senate resolution that commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords and made future policy suggestions.  “I think Bosnia is such a prominent example of how failed foreign policy can mess up a whole region. The Dayton Peace Accords were a right step in the right direction, but constitutional reform and genuine community building are essential for Bosnia’s future success,” Ben comments.  The U.S. Senate accepted his resolution in December 2010.

After this internship, Ben remembers, “I wanted to come back to D.C.”  After looking for a program where he could study international relations and statecraft with a curriculum that also included a focus on public diplomacy, Ben enrolled at IWP in the fall of 2011.

He remained involved in the Washington community, and did a public diplomacy internship with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.  Ben comments, “We focused on economic and cultural cooperation efforts.  We built relationships on the Hill, and also worked on economic cooperation between German, American, and Latin American organizations. I was very honored to have had the chance to do this internship because I strongly believe in the future of a strong transatlantic cooperation and special German-American relationship in particular.”

Ben has also been heavily involved in the academic and student life at the Institute.  He serves the school as a Student Ambassador, representing IWP to school visitors.  With a small team, he helped to launch IWP’s first academic student journal, Active Measures, which published its inaugural issue this past spring. 

This semester, Ben is doing a special research project, examining German public diplomacy documents from 1975-77, including correspondence of the America House of Heidelberg with institutions, officials, and foundations in the southwestern area of Germany.  The goal of the project is to understand through primary source research what was happening in that area in terms of cultural diplomacy.  Ben suspects that these documents will reveal the public diplomacy emphasis of the US in that area, which includes efforts to organize lectures, exchanges, movie viewings, and receptions.  They will show who the US was targeting with these efforts during a time when the Cold War was heating up.

Meanwhile, Ben is working in the IWP library and taking classes on political warfare, international relations, and economics this semester.

Despite his busy schedule, Ben has not lost his passion for international exchange.  This past June, he was one of nine IWP students to participate in an academic program at Oxford University.  “Oxford was a very unique opportunity, especially for an American graduate student.  In the US, there is a much larger focus on citing evidence for everything in your papers.  At Oxford, we really had the opportunity to form and explore our own opinions, and it was a different academic experience.”

During the four-week program of tutorials, Ben studied British foreign policy towards the EU and the British Commonwealth.  He wrote a 10-12 page paper each week.  “It was a lot of work,” Ben comments. “This program was an awesome opportunity, and IWP should keep it going.”

In the future, Ben hopes to earn his Ph.D. in cultural diplomacy, and hopes to gain some business experience, as well.  Ultimately, he wants to go into government, where he can continue to promote cooperation and understanding between different nations.