Nearly 100 years ago, at the end of the First World War, the World Affairs Councils were founded in the spirit of fostering international engagement. We can be grateful for the unique role they have played in promoting an informed debate on international affairs. Then as now, the world demands a global education. Our greatest challenges today, be it international migration, eradication of poverty, or climate change, transcend borders, are by definition shared by the world community.
A global education, however, is more than gaining knowledge of the world. It is about developing a compassionate global perspective: openness to other ideas and cultures, sensitivity to differing ways of life. It is a prerequisite for peaceful relations between nations and also for individual liberty. It is based on the philosophy that we should educate the whole person, rather than merely prepare for a specific job. At the same time, expertise in international affairs can open doors to economic opportunity. Gaining knowledge of international issues makes one better prepared to compete in a global labor market; overseas work experience is invaluable for leadership in international business.
Germany has long been committed to international education. Since the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) was founded 90 years ago, more than two million young people from around the world have been given the chance to study or conduct research in Germany and abroad with help from the DAAD. At the European level, the Erasmus Program promotes student mobility and a European identity.
Our bilateral relationship with the United States is strengthened by a dense network of international educational opportunities. The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, to name but one success story, has offered more than 23,000 Americans and Germans the chance to spend a year as a junior ambassador in each other’s countries. For university students, the German-American Fulbright commission, the largest and most varied of the Fulbright programs worldwide, has sponsored over 45,000 Germans and Americans since its establishment in 1952.
To ensure our democracies continue to benefit from wise leadership in the international realm, we need to devote energy and resources to educating our young people in global affairs today.
Dr. Peter Wittig is Ambassador of Germany to the United States of America. He most recently served as Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations. Ambassador Wittig joined the German Foreign Service in 1982. He has served in Madrid, New York (Permanent Mission to the United Nations), as private secretary to the Foreign Minister at the Foreign Office headquarters, and as Ambassador to Lebanon. As Ambassador to Cyprus, he also was the Special Envoy of the German Government for the Cyprus Question. He has written articles on the history of ideas and on foreign policy.