Distinguished Year of School and Youth Exchange participants,
Neither political nor economic exchanges would be complete without cultural exchanges and the real-life encounters between school pupils and young people that we are celebrating today.
I am delighted to be with you today at the University of Hamburg for this opportunity to take stock, together with you, of the German-Chinese Year of School and Youth Exchange, as well as hear your impressions from the past twelve months, some of which we saw in a brief film just a moment ago.
Among all of these experiences, you surely heard one question from friends and relatives in particular:
Why China of all places? Or, the other way around, why Germany?
Seventeen-year-old Joel was asked this question time and again after he chose to attend school in China for a year. From Ravensburg to Hangzhou with its almost nine million inhabitants! Incredulous amazement, a total lack of comprehension and also admiration for making such a brave decision to go there ensued. Joel, for his part, didn’t allow himself to be deterred. A few months later, he got to experience China for himself – and received a warm welcome from a Chinese host family! Along with 50 fellow students, he studied from morning till night, five days a week, and was surprised to learn that the word “swot” is actually meant as a compliment in China ‑ if I think back to my student days, then I must say that I don’t recall hearing anything like that!
Life in China also meant – and that I have also experienced myself – forgetting all the traffic laws learned in Germany, getting hopelessly lost and then – with the support of helpful Chinese people, communicating with hands and feet, getting to your destination in the end.
While Joel spent a year in China, 17‑year‑old Haonan went to school in Germany, and has since returned to her home country. In the course of five months, she visited 14 cities and discovered that the German word for travel, “reisen”, has different connotations compared with the Chinese term. Whereas Germans sometimes take it to mean wandering around museums for several hours, the Chinese word rather implies “visiting sights and taking lots of photos”.
Distinguished participants of the German-Chinese Year of School and Youth Exchange,
While it might be the case that your impressions and experiences were very different from those of Haonan and Joel, I imagine that you felt something quite similar while staying in another country. You discovered the world through different eyes; you had a change of perspective. Relationships can emerge from your encounters, from the encounters between these young people, that turn into relationships – relationships that evolve into friendships. Friendships based on awareness, understanding and respect.
This is precisely the point at which our cultural relations and education policy comes into play. “Exchange, Friendship, Future”. These are the watchwords of the German-Chinese Year of School and Youth Exchange.
With this in mind, I wish to thank all of our partners who made this exchange and dialogue possible with over one hundred events and programmes. I would also like to express my gratitude to representatives from the Federation and the Länder, as well as to private foundations and members of civil society.
My particular thanks goes to our Chinese partners and, above all, to you, Ms Liu, whose idea this joint Year of School and Youth Exchange was in the first place. My biggest thanks, however, goes to you, the over 4000 participants. You had the courage, for a limited period of time at any rate, to depart from the realm of the familiar and to delve into uncharted territory! We need both curiosity and respect in German-Chinese relations.
Thank you very much.