Ruth Schimanowski still has vivid memories of the moment in August 1999 when she stepped out of the terminal building at Beijing Airport and was hit by a blast of the capital’s hot and humid summer air. Today she heads the DAAD’s regional office in Beijing, but at the time she had just completed her degree in physics at Freie Universität Berlin and wanted to do an internship at a German company with operations in China. She had lived in Taiwan for a while after leaving school and already spoke some Mandarin. Fearing however that her vocabulary would prove insufficiently application-oriented, she successfully applied to the DAAD’s Language and Practical Experience in China programme – thereby paving the way for her future career.
Launched in 1996, the programme first gives scholarship holders the opportunity to do a preparatory course in Germany before they spend ten months taking Chinese language courses at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Subsequently, they embark on an internship in China. The fact that the programme focuses particularly on vocational practice is one of its outstanding features, says Schimanowski. Besides learning the language, the primary goal is to train future China experts. Graduates in computer science, the natural sciences, engineering, law, politics, economics, business and architecture can apply for a scholarship.
279 graduates have taken part in the scholarship programme so far. Many of them still draw on their China expertise in their careers. Half of them keep in touch with one another through the association SP China Alumni. Over the years, this has given rise to an extensive network of China experts. Of course, some of the alumni remain in China even once their DAAD funding comes to an end. “That said, very few stay for as long as I have – namely almost 25 years,” laughs Ruth Schimanowski. “When I move back to Germany with my family this year, it will be a really big change for all of us.”