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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Caitlynn Upton: Finding My Voice in Germany


Guest post from Caitlynn UptonI never thought that a boring trip to Parliament in Germany would shape my career path, but life has a way of throwing you curveballs.

I had always been interested in languages and travel so it was logical to study international relations in college in order to work at an Embassy, especially since my parents used to call me their “little diplomat.” Diplomacy seemed like something I might enjoy, but I never felt particularly excited about it.

As a Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange scholar, I was invited along with the other scholars to Berlin during my exchange year in Germany. We were given the opportunity to meet the Ambassador to Germany and have a reception at the US Embassy. One would expect that meeting former Ambassador Phillip Murphy would have been the highlight of my trip, but as cool as he was, it was unexpectedly a visit to parliament that captured my interest.

Caitlynn Upton

Caitlynn Upton

While most of my fellow exchange scholars tried desperately (in vain) not to fall asleep, I was enraptured. On that particular day, the members of parliament were discussing taxes on same-sex couples with civil partnerships. The energy in the room and the passion with which people debated had a lasting impression on me.

In the fall of my return to the US, I started attending the public affairs college (James Madison College) at Michigan State University. One of my required courses was a policy writing course focusing on race, class, gender, and sexuality and I became more and more interested in legislation that effectedtargeted groups in the US, particularly bills pertaining to LGBT people and women. When it came time to declare my major, I knew exactly what I wanted; Social Relations & Policy with a double minor in Gender & Sexuality, and German. I hope to help research and draft policies for the advancement of LGBT peoples and women as a legislative assistant. This is a huge divergence from my original career plan, but it’s a perfect fit.

Over the summer, I was an intern for the Michigan Coordinated Campaign working on campaigns for democratic candidates. Every day of work, I knocked on about 170 doors and walked six miles in order to register voters, inform them about the candidates, canvas their responses, and talk about the issues that were important to their lives.

Some voters were nice, some of them indifferent, and some of them slammed the door in my face, but by this time I was well versed in adapting to different people and environments as I did in Germany. Much like my German friends and family, all of the voters I talked to had different upbringings, different values, and perhaps even different cultures. I couldn’t expect them to hold the same political beliefs as I do.

Before my year abroad, I was a very meek and accommodating person. My family liked to joke that being a “little diplomat” turned me into a metaphorical doormat, but they couldn’t say the same about me when I returned from my study abroad. Having to adapt to a different culture, teach myself a new language, and take on new responsibilities helped me gain the self- confidence that I needed to give presentations in class, talk to all those potential voters, and speak my mind about issues I care about. My exchange year in Germany helped me to not only gain a voice for myself, but also a political voice – all thanks to that “boring” parliament session in Berlin.