“Studying abroad is always beneficial”
Katja Simons is the new head of Freie Universität’s liaison office in New York
Dec 15, 2016
Seven liaison offices around the world ensure that Freie Universität maintains a strong and well-developed network. The office in New York is responsible for the United States and Canada. Katja Simons has been in charge of the office since April of this year. A graduate of Freie Universität with a doctorate in social sciences, Simons has a wealth of experience to draw on in her work.
In a way, her international career started early, when her family, part of the Swedish-speaking community in Finland, moved to Heidelberg, Germany. Simons herself spent time in Paris after graduating from secondary school and later in Beirut, New York, and Rome with her husband, who is also an Freie Universität alumnus and is working for the United Nations. Back in New York, she has been in charge of the liaison office of the German University Alliance, a partnership between Freie Universität Berlin and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich, since April of this year.
She was already familiar with the United States from her school days, when she lived with a family in Connecticut for a year. She says it was an important experience. When she was studying sociology at Freie Universität, she decided not to spend a semester abroad for fear of losing too much time. She takes a different view today. “Studying abroad is always beneficial,” she says.
After earning her Diplom degree in Berlin, she went on to write her dissertation on the subject of large-scale urban redevelopment projects at the Ruhr University Bochum. She originally planned to stay in academia, but she decided to pursue a career in international education after finding a job posting in the New York Times for a position with German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Not Many North American Students Study Abroad
While working for the DAAD in New York, she developed an extensive network of German researchers in North America. She later worked at the Institute of International Education for the “Generation Study Abroad” initiative, which aims to encourage young Americans to study or acquire practical experience in another country. It is still the case today that fewer than ten percent of U.S. students go abroad during their undergraduate studies. Simons says there is still a lot of work to be done to convince students to take this step. International and intercultural skills are becoming increasingly important to the global labor market.
This experience is something she draws on now, in her position as head of the liaison office. Her day-to-day work includes answering inquiries from students, scholars, and scientists who are interested in Freie Universität or LMU Munich. She attends conferences and career fairs to provide information about the two universities. She presents exchange programs and study programs at informational events at partner universities, the Goethe Institute, and German or international schools abroad. Her job also includes forging new partnerships with universities.
“A strong network of German institutions”
The liaison office, like the German consulate and the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, is located in the German House, just across the street from the UN headquarters, in Manhattan. The DAAD, the liaison offices of other German higher education institutions, the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the German Center for Research and Innovation are also based there. Simons calls it “a strong network of German institutions working on behalf of academic exchange with North America.”
She feels right at home in New York these days. Her two sons were both born in the United States and attend the German International School in New York. “It doesn’t take long to feel at home in the city because people from all over the world come together here,” Simons says. In the summer, though, she always flies to Europe to reconnect with family.
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. In the latest issue of the International Newsletter: Nora Jacobs, the new head of the Freie Universität liaison office in São Paulo.
This text was originally published in German on September 22, 2016, in the campus.leben online magazine by Freie Universität Berlin.