“We are all alike!”
Ever since I joined the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) at the Dhaka office, I heard wonderful stories from people who had attended the International Academy for Leadership (IAF). I would see eyes lit up and faces glow when these people shared their experiences. I listened in awe and wondered, “When would I get the chance to go to Gummersbach?”
I am bad at hiding my feelings. “Do your best and be patient, you will earn it”, was the encouragement I got. Finally, when my time came, I had high expectations. In short I can say: it delivered much more than I had expected. Everything about the IAF will blow your mind!
The entire setting of the Theodor-Heuss-Akademie (THA) has a liberal feel to it. During the seminar, the facilitators talked about “The Thinking Environment” and its ten components. One of the components is Place, which signifies the importance of physical environment to value ones’ importance and help think more clearly and boldly. From the moment I set foot at the academy till the moment I stepped out, I could constantly hear the place saying back to me “You matter”. Everyone made me feel comfortable, I could to be myself and express myself without hesitation.
When asked to write down my expectations on what I would like to learn from this seminar, I only named a few. But now, the list of learnings seems endless.
At first, the trainers introduced the concepts of: The Thinking Environment, Kolb Learning Cycle, and the Context of our Time: Trends & Impact. Insights on the Facilitator as Learner & the Way of Being of a Learner, Way of Being I: Language Linguistic Acts, Way of Being II: Moods & Emotions (The Six Basic Moods of Life, Feelings, Diversity, The Freedom Model, Rank & Edges, Equality, Trust), and Way of Being III: The Body Presence, Influence, Appreciation, and Restoring Ease were next. Finally, we learnt about Design Thinking Methodology, The Being of Being Prepared (Co-Facilitation, Flexibility, Time Management, Being Prepared, Requests), and Scripting (Scripting formats, and Advantages).
The two facilitators helped me learn to be more aware of myself and how my behavior, body language, and the words I speak affect my surroundings. From these teachings, I could self-reflect on the things I was doing wrong, things I need to improve and things I am doing right.
This was my first trip to Europe, and I experienced two new things in life. First, the snow, it was mesmerizing and very, very cold!
Second, a cathedral. The Cologne Cathedral is gorgeous inside and out and when I had my eyes on it for the very first time, I was awestruck by its beauty and size. Cologne still has the marks of the bombing of World War II, but the transformation is inspirational. I also caught a glimpse of the Cologne Carnival, people were partying in fancy costumes. I wish I had more time to spend and explore Cologne, maybe next time.
Hamburg is a modern and well planned city. It has 2346 bridges, we were told, and beautiful buildings and lakes in the middle of the town. While on a city tour by bus, we were also shown a mosque, it was rather small but very pretty. The nightlife is livelier here, thanks also to the Reeperbahn. One could spend the whole day walking and looking around without getting tired.
Being a foodie, Germany was heaven. I love to try out new cuisines. Though my friends from India and Pakistan complained about lack of spices and ended up going to an Indian restaurant for dinner, I enjoyed the changes of taste. I have surely put on a few kilograms at the end of the seminar, which I didn't dare to check on the scale yet.
In Germany, the people are like machines, they seem to move with the tick of the clock with no room for delays. The German language might sound harsh, but the people are nice. I had great conversations with random Germans on the plane and the train. Growing up in a cultural setting of being "fashionably" late, I had to learn fast and I am proud to say I mastered it.
The seminar had plenty of group work sessions, after each session we were able to exercise our theoretical learning in a practical setting and received instant feedbacks. I always enjoy group work. The diverse range of perspectives from each individual helps me broaden my thinking process.
Even the random discussions we had over coffee in the breaks, at lunch and dinner, at the bar, or the gym were always constructive. We shared our personal stories concerning life, hobbies, work, problems, country, culture, and the learnings. It helped us gel together and get to know each other better. Despite of all the differences, we all have one thing in common - our passion to promote Freedom in the world.
All the time we spent together, the movie night, the gathering at the fireplace, the bus journeys, the prank videos, the excursions on the streets of Cologne and Hamburg, the snowball fight, the football match - everything reminded me that no matter how separated we are by country borders and cultural values, we are all alike.
The bond we shared felt like we knew each other before. The way everyone stood together was just like a family. I personally learnt something from each and everyone I met and will look forward to see them again. Before this seminar, I only met FNF colleagues and liberals from South Asia. This seminar allowed me to get to know FNF colleagues and liberals from all over the world. This networking opportunity will help me in the future.
Before I went to Germany, Vineeti, my colleague from the Regional Office in New Delhi, said: "This is a life changing experience, it makes you a better person." I fully concur, it surely does! I can't wait to go back there again to learn something new.
Omar Mostafiz is the Project Executive of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in Bangladesh. He recently attended FNF-IAF's leadership program in Gummersbach, Germany on Moderation: Facilitation and Program Design. In this report, he is sharing his personal thoughts.