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Where India and Berlin Meet

In November 2019, Nora Naujoks became director of Freie Universität Berlin’s Liaison Office in New Delhi

Feb 18, 2020

Nora Naujoks plans to make the most of projects started by her predecessor, Stefan Diederich.

Nora Naujoks plans to make the most of projects started by her predecessor, Stefan Diederich.
Image Credit: Annika Middeldorf

Nora Naujoks is excited about India. The colorful country caught her eye when she first went there after her studies. Naujoks worked at the Goethe Institute in Chennai, India, after finishing an international course of study. As a student, she studied English at the University of Bonn and completed the Erasmus Mundus master’s degree program “Crossways in European Humanities” at St. Andrews, Tübingen, and Perpignan. “India just has an entirely different feel to it,” she recalls. While the food in India can sometimes be a challenge to Europeans who are not used to spicy dishes, Naujoks kept her cool. The variety of food is really great, she says, especially all of the fruit. “Not to mention Indian sweets. They are pretty harmless,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.

Nora Naujoks is the new liaison office director in New Delhi, following Stefan Diederich who held the position from 2017 to 2019. “I hope to pick up where my predecessor left off,” she says. She wants to reinforce the existing structures and establish new partnerships as well, especially in the humanities.

Learning to read cultural cues

“I had already lived abroad while doing my master’s degree, but France and Scotland don’t feel so distant as a European. It’s easy to understand about 80 percent of interactions. India, however, can throw you for a loop.” Social structures function differently than in Germany, and the crowded streets take a while to get used to, Naujoks explains. “The contrast is extreme.”

Indian society is shaped largely by one’s belonging to a certain caste or ethnic group, which leads to stark inequality. As a visitor from Germany, India presents you with situations and conditions that are probably unfamiliar, like homeless children, Naujoks says. “It’s something you just have to take in at first. It’s another society, and it’s not as egalitarian as what we are used to in most European countries.”

Currently, around 20 percent of students who complete secondary education continue to university, says Naujoks. The Indian government wants to implement measures to raise that number to 30 or even 50 percent.

A university ambassador abroad

After her first stay in India, Nora Naujoks returned to Germany and worked in international offices in Bielefeld and Stralsund at universities of applied science. Today, she is excited about promoting transnational cooperation in research for Freie Universität Berlin. A liaison office is something like an embassy for a German university abroad: “There aren’t that many jobs like this where you get to act as a go-between, facilitating communication between cultures and bringing people together. It’s thrilling work.”

Freie Universität’s liaison office in New Delhi shares office space with representatives from other academic and research institutions at the German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH).

Freie Universität’s liaison office in New Delhi shares office space with representatives from other academic and research institutions at the German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH).
Image Credit: Nora Naujoks

What makes her job even more interesting is the fact that India’s market is growing rapidly, the country has a large variety of state and private research institutions, and there is a big student population. Naujoks was surprised at how much interest people have in Germany. At the Goethe Institute, she saw many young Indians making an effort to learn German. They see Germany as a place with a strong economy – and where education is relatively inexpensive, compared to the United States or Canada, she says.

Indian universities tend to emphasize the natural sciences, which is why Freie Universität already has many partnerships with Indian institutions in this area.

Guidelines for practical and sustainable climate policies are in the works

Another topic that has become a focal point for collaborative work is climate change and the challenges it creates. Researchers from Freie Universität’s Environmental Policy Research Center are working together with colleagues from India and the Netherlands to develop guidelines for practical and sustainable climate policies (Multilevel Climate Governance Research Network). According to Naujoks, there will be more partnerships like this one in the future, given that India has some very specific climate problems to tackle, like particulate matter. Air pollution in New Delhi is supposed to be worse than in Beijing.

Freie Universität Berlin’s partnership with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is also very important, as JNU is one of the few universities in India with an emphasis on the humanities and social sciences. “I think that there is a lot of potential for cooperation in the humanities. It isn’t a field that other universities have looked at much in India, and it is one of Freie Universität’s traditional strengths.”

Personal initiative is important

Still, no matter how good the supporting structures are, the success of a partnership depends on individuals who have a strong interest in exchanging ideas and knowledge. “The initiative must come from members of both universities,” Naujoks explains. “And it is my job to advise and support those researchers, employees, and students who want to collaborate to the best of my ability.”

The original German article appeared on January 14, 2020, in campus.leben Freie Universität Berlin's online magazine.