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Olympic Discipline: Strengthening Academic Cooperation

Nora Jacobs is the new head of the Freie Universität liaison office in São Paulo.

Sep 23, 2016

Nora Jacobs has been living in São Paulo for almost four years.

Nora Jacobs has been living in São Paulo for almost four years.
Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher

Nora Jacobs attended the German beach volleyball team’s tournament during the Olympics in Rio in person.

Nora Jacobs attended the German beach volleyball team’s tournament during the Olympics in Rio in person.
Image Credit: Nora Jacobs

Her linguistic area of focus was actually Spanish – that is, until her career brought Nora Jacobs to the Brazilian megacity of São Paulo almost four years ago. She has been in charge of the South American liaison office of Freie Universität there since May of this year – and took the opportunity to watch some of the events unfolding at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, only about 360 kilometers away, including the German beach volleyball team’s tournament.

What took German tourists about 12 hours in the air to accomplish was a matter of less than an hour for Jacobs: visiting the 2016 Olympics in Rio. “I was really excited to get the chance to go to the games in person thanks to my job in Brazil,” Jacobs says. She explains that the mood in the country ahead of the summer games, which were held during the Brazilian winter, was not particularly euphoric – much like during the World Cup, two years ago. But during the competitions themselves, the main emotion was the audience’s enthusiasm for welcoming athletes from all over the world and sharing in experiencing this major sporting event.

Jacobs has lived in São Paulo since November 2012. She worked for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for two years and then spent a year working as a coordinator for the German House of Research and Innovation (DWIH) in São Paulo before taking over as head of the liaison office of Freie Universität in May. She did not have to move far for the new job: All three institutions have their offices at the DWIH, which is the central point of contact for research and innovation expertise from Germany. “I only had to move 20 meters down the hall,” Jacobs says.

A Spanish Speaker Moves to Brazil

Jacobs earned her degree in Latin American Studies with emphases in political science and Spanish at the University of Cologne. The first time she went to Latin America was back in the 10th grade, when she participated in an exchange program in Mexico. That was followed later on by a semester abroad in Argentina and by time spent doing research and working in Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Venezuela. “My Spanish language skills really helped me learn Portuguese quickly,” Jacobs says. Her language skills and familiarity with the area are very helpful in her new position, as is her experience in the areas of academic management and international research collaboration.

The liaison office in the Brazilian financial and economic hub was established in March 2010 with the goal of strengthening and expanding academic cooperation between Freie Universität and the universities and research centers in South America. The office supports scholars and scientists from Freie Universität in cooperative research activities in Brazil as well as actively promoting opportunities to study and do research in Dahlem among Brazilian students, doctoral candidates, and postdocs.

A Smoothly Functioning Community

Jacobs says the working environment in São Paulo is very pleasant. “We have a very smoothly functioning community at the office and with our partner universities. São Paulo has a lot to offer, especially culturally. Aside from the current political crisis in Brazil and the ongoing impeachment process involving President Dilma Rousseff, there is an impressive youthful cultural dynamic,” she explains, adding that what she especially likes about her work is its many different aspects, the opportunity for dialogue on various levels, insight into different fields of research – and, of course, the connection to Freie Universität. The university’s Institute for Latin American Studies is the largest of its kind in Germany and one of the leading institutions in this field anywhere in Europe.

The liaison offices in São Paulo, New York, New Delhi, and Brussels have new managers. We will be introducing them over the next few issues of this newsletter.

This text was originally published in German on August 17, 2016, in the campus.leben online magazine by Freie Universität Berlin.