DAAD’s 2010 student award winner
by Elizabeth Willoughby
If anyone knows how to make the most of LMU's foreign education experience, it's Rachel Shindelar, as demonstrated by the DAAD 2010 student award she was just honored with before she wraps up her Political Science degree at the end of the year.
To be the recipient of DAAD’s annual award, a foreign student at a German university must have acquired superior results in academia and demonstrated strong social or intercultural commitment. This year, the honor went to an American student, Rachel Shindelar. Highly praised by her LMU professors and peers, she exudes an energy and motivation that seems inexhaustible as she follows a path she describes was directed by luck and chance.
The lucky part was being born in a developed country, where a minimum level of education can be taken for granted, and into a family supportive of her skills and aspirations. Chance was what brought her to Munich. Without the financial means to do an exchange year in high school, Rachel applied for a Congress-Bundestag scholarship with no hope of receiving it, nor any knowledge of German – and yet the scholarship came.
“I had an amazing year with an exceptional host family and I fell in love with Germany.”
When it came time for university, returning to Munich posed certain advantages. Rachel wanted her education from a perspective other than the US’s, and university in Germany was more affordable. “I have been able to finance my entire college career without taking out a single loan, a dream for any American.”
Instinctively drawn into politics, and formally involved in it at school and city-wide since adolescence, at LMU Rachel broadened her political arena into international organizations, theories and the UN. There, she discovered that she was in her element.
A strong political and social conscience
The Model United Nations (MUN) program provides foreign relations experience developing negotiation techniques, speech giving and leadership skills. Rachel gained her first experiences discussing strategies for the Afghan-Pakistani border region, and global food shortage as a threat to security.
Then the delegation’s skills were tested at the National MUN in New York, an annual, weeklong ‘UN simulation’ conference of 4,000 participants. Rachel’s group represented Indonesia and brought home two awards. Piqued by the experience, she joined the next generation as tutor. That LMU delegation represented the UAE in New York and won the two highest awards. Considering it the most rewarding experience of her life, Rachel says MUN, “has taught me expertise on the UN system and political systems of various countries, and the difficulty and beauty of intercultural negotiations. I have learned to push my limits, have faith and to recognize when it’s time to sit back and accept some things are out of my control.”
“I want to fight poverty and improve foreign aid, but I can’t really say this until I see and experience what I am talking about.”
Because of its vibrant cultures and shared history with the US, Latin America held an interest for Rachel. Not content with fluency in only English and German – believing that communicating with others in their language provides good insight into another culture’s mentality – and with a dream to write her thesis abroad, the south became even more appealing. Chance again influenced Rachel’s path by opening a door that led her to Ecuador.
In one of Quito’s poorest neighbourhoods, Rachel volunteered at the Para Dar Esperanza project, one of the most challenging and depressing experiences she’s ever had, as she worked on her thesis, “Gifts Unwholesome: The Debate on Aid-Effectiveness and the Paris Declaration”. While aiming to point out the inherent weaknesses of international and nonreciprocal foreign aid, she joined a small group of ladies four days a week to help 40 to 60 children with homework and give them a warm meal, for some the only one of the day. Despite being disturbed by the decrepit surroundings and poverty, she was inspired by the teachers, women and children through their dedication and positive energy.
With her degree nearly completed, Rachel is still pondering her future direction: “When there is so much to do and learn, it’s frustrating to have to commit yourself to one area.”
Photos provided by Rachel Shindelar.