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“Supporting education is worthwhile”

Jun 28, 2012

Stipendienvergabe 2012 Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher

A conversation between Deutschlandstipendium recipient Rhea Nachtigall and her sponsor, Roland Hoffmann-Theinert.

A conversation between Deutschlandstipendium recipient Rhea Nachtigall and her sponsor, Roland Hoffmann-Theinert.

The Germany Scholarship is thriving at Freie Universität, as elsewhere. Law student Rhea Nachtigall is among the first students at the university to receive scholarships under the program. The scholarships were presented ten days ago. Nachtigall, 21, has now met her sponsor, Roland Hoffmann-Theinert, an attorney with a doctorate in law. The scholarship recipient and sponsor met in person to get to know each other and talk about social responsibility, giving back, and the value of education.

Ms. Nachtigall, you are one of the first students from Freie Universität to receive a Deutschlandstipendium scholarship. What does that mean to you?

RHEA NACHTIGALL: First, I feel truly honored to have been selected. Besides that, it definitely eases the financial burden, of course. I can focus on my studies while still having time to give back to society, without having to earn money through side jobs, like many of my fellow students do.

Where and how are you involved socially?

NACHTIGALL: For one thing, I am active in university politics. I have just been elected to the student parliament of Freie Universität as a member of the “Kritische Jurist_innen” (“Critical Jurists”) university group. The “Nightingale” mentoring project is another thing that is very important to me. In the project, students serve as mentors for elementary schoolers from the Kreuzberg district, meeting regularly with children from socially disadvantaged families over a ten-month period. I am mentoring a nine-year-old girl named Alara (name changed – Ed.), who is in the fourth grade. Thanks to the Deutschlandstipendium, I am able to take the time to do this, even with my challenging and time-consuming studies of law. That’s just fantastic.

Mr. Hoffmann-Theinert, when you hear about how your scholarship recipient is giving back to society, are you happy Ms. Nachtigall was chosen for the program?

ROLAND HOFFMANN-THEINERT: I think Ms. Nachtigall’s involvement is remarkable. After all, it really brings home to us that even with all the statistics showing our prosperity, we still live in a society in which we always also have to shoulder social responsibility for others. You are doing that by spending some of your time with Alara. I think it’s great when good performance at the university is combined with this kind of sense of responsibility.

NACHTIGALL: I have been given so many opportunities in my life that I feel obligated to give something back. In any society, people who enjoy privilege, whatever form it may take, should support those around them who are not as fortunate. That is very important to me – and, of course, I think it’s great that you as my sponsor also support this idea.

Why did you decide to finance a Deutschlandstipendium scholarship, Mr. Hoffmann-Theinert?

HOFFMANN-THEINERT: I myself was supported as a student by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, and I am still very thankful for that to this day. I am also involved with donations as a friend of the foundation right now, but the funding I provide there is not intended specifically for one person, as it is here. The Deutschlandstipendium program makes it possible to see directly what kind of an impact you have as a donor. I hope that a couple of years from now, I will hear from you, Ms. Nachtigall, that you look back on your studies with great pleasure and will be looking ahead to the future with a keen mind and an open heart. Naturally, accepting a scholarship does not entail any legal obligation to provide information to the sponsor. But if I have just one request, it would be to hear what you do with the support you receive. I find that very vivid and wonderful, to have something tangible in mind. It’s a very concrete side of social involvement.

NACHTIGALL: I can definitely understand the appeal of supporting someone personally. I feel similarly about my mentee, Alara. I also hope to see how she progresses through the Nightingale project, of course. I have already had one taste of success: When I noticed that Alara could not yet tell time, I helped her learn how. In the end, the two of us went off together and bought Alara a watch with her parents’ permission. When you can share in this kind of progress, it makes you happy personally.

Mr. Hoffmann-Theinert, Ms. Nachtigall is already a mentor herself. Can you envision taking on a similar role for her?

HOFFMANN-THEINERT (to Nachtigall): I can definitely picture that. Ultimately, though, it is up to you to determine whether I could be a mentor to you as well.

NACHTIGALL: I will definitely take you up on the offer! At the start, I thought it was too bad that the way the law around the Deutschlandstipendiumis structured, the program was supposed to involve purely financial support, not intellectual support as well. So I’m very happy to have personal contact with my sponsor after all.

HOFFMANN-THEINERT: I think the initiative behind the Deutschlandstipendiumcan help people understand that education is not a product or service that is cheap or even free, but that the resources have to be obtained for it first. I’m talking about the idea that education is tremendously valuable, that it is something that is really worth getting involved – not just on the government side, but also as a private individual. That is the only way to build mutual respect, not just toward students who embark on a course of learning, trying to understand the world, but also toward the university as an educational institution, a place that creates the space and opportunity to learn in the first place.

NACHTIGALL: When young people have a good education, the economy flourishes, and that ultimately benefits society at large. Unfortunately, the Deutschlandstipendiumseems not to have been fully utilized in some states because not enough sponsors were found. That’s a shame – after all, the government did its part to provide the funding. And there are definitely plenty of students who need the support.

HOFFMANN-THEINERT: A Deutschlandstipendium scholarshipis a way to experience support directly. I think it is really great that the two of us got to know each other, and that I can rest assured that the money I donated is being put to good use. Sponsors can’t select their scholarship recipients personally, but now that I have met Ms. Nachtigall, I have to say that the selection committee did an outstanding job.

Interviewer: Melanie Hansen