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Exchange diplomats participate in multilateral work

23.10.2015 - Article

Livia Walpen from Switzerland at the OSCE Task Force in Berlin

Swiss exchange diplomat Livia Walpen (center) spent time at the OSCE Task Force in Berlin
Swiss exchange diplomat Livia Walpen (center) spent time at the OSCE Task Force in Berlin© AA

Germany and Switzerland share a language, but this doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing for Swiss exchange diplomats. "The jargon is completely different here in Germany," says Livia Walpen, who has been working for the Federal Foreign Office’s OSCE Task Force since March 2015, where she will stay until the end of 2016 during Germany’s chairmanship of the OSCE. "We use the same words, but they mean different things! And I had never come across some terms before!"

On the other hand, she was very familiar with the OSCE, as her last job was in the team for Switzerland’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014. In contrast, she is finding it "fascinating to work for a country that is a member of NATO and the EU" and really enjoys working with the team in Berlin, where she deals with topics such as human rights and the rule of law. In the autumn, the OSCE Task Force will have even more international support, when new exchange diplomats arrive from Poland, Austria, the Netherlands and France.

Aino Jansen from the Netherlands during Germany’s Presidency of the G7

Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin
Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin© AA

Aino Jansen, an exchange diplomat from The Hague, was particularly happy to be allocated an open-plan office. "This allows you to find out what your colleagues are working on. Here at the Federal Foreign Office, you have lots of real experts who deal with a particular topic in great detail," she says. Aino spent around a year at the Directorate-General for Economic Affairs, where she worked on Germany’s Presidency of the G7, as well as G20 issues. "It was fascinating. Obviously, other countries are very interested in Germany’s position. It’s a much bigger country than the Netherlands!"

But she also found the German system somewhat "more hierarchical and formal". As an example, she notes that "everyone is on first-name terms in the Netherlands". That will also be the case in her new job at the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin, where she will take over as deputy head of the Economic Department from the summer of 2015. The "great contacts" she made at the Federal Foreign Office will come in very useful in her new role. "And I also know a lot more now about the working culture in a German ministry."

Oscar Villarreal – an OECD staff member at the Federal Foreign Office

Oscar Villarreal (fourth from right) with diplomatic colleagues from Berlin
Oscar Villarreal (fourth from right) with diplomatic colleagues from Berlin© AA

"My native language is Spanish, and for over 20 years I’ve worked in English and French. And now I have to get to grips with German!" This is a major challenge for Oscar Villarreal, who originally hails from Mexico and has been seconded to the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin as an OECD staff member. Based in the Directorate-General for Economic Affairs, his work includes international professional training projects and the Germany Year in Mexico. "I’m very proud to be regarded as a member of the team. I’m happy that my voice is heard here even though I’m not German. But that’s what internationalisation is all about, isn’t it?"

Oscar Villarreal says that his current work in a national context gives him a better understanding of the needs and views of OECD members states. Here at the Federal Foreign Office, he is particularly keen on his “magic swipe card” that opens the doors in the building for him. He could also imagine staying beyond December 2015. "I have fantastic colleagues, and Berlin is a great place to live."

Exchange diplomats in action. Part 1: Europe

Exchange diplomats in action. Part 2: United States and Canada

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