November 21, 2014
By Mike Killeen
Austin Eighan will be putting his academic background to good use.
Eighan, a 2014 graduate of Saint John's University, has received an International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS). The program, which runs from March 1 to July 31, 2015, allows participants to spend five months in Berlin getting to know the German parliamentary system and decision-making process while working with a member of the German Bundestag — the German Parliament.
In addition to working in an office of a member of the Budestag, the approximately 120 IPS recipients from over 30 countries have an opportunity to attend an academic program organized by Berlin universities.
The scholarship highlights an academic career that has made all things German sachdienlich (relevant) to Eighan, who was a German and political science double-major at SJU from Sartell, Minnesota.
"The process for me personally started when I went to Munich in my junior year of college, and studied, worked and conducted research," Eighan said.
While in Munich, he met Hermann Brem, who is chairman of the German Green Party in Munich. "He was extremely influential in helping me in the entire process," Eighan said. "He's the one I really did my research with when I was over in Germany."
That research went into his honors thesis on the resiliency of the German economy, and seeing if that could be used in other countries. That thesis was presented to Lisa Ohm, professor of languages and cultures of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.
"Austin, like many of our students, is bright, well-organized, takes responsibility for his studies and is hard-working," Ohm said. "What sets Austin apart is his genuine curiosity about the world and the people in it — both the world he studies, reads and writes about, and the one he lives in and shares with others every day. His curiosity extends to the big questions, and he is willing to tackle the necessary research to try to answer them."
Once Eighan arrives in March to Germany, he'll be assigned to a member of the Bundestag.
"My goal for going over is not only to be able to see first-hand how the German government works, but also to further my research and get a better understanding of how the German economy and the German political system work together," Eighan said.
Eighan was able to pick the political parties he would like to work for. He selected two extremely different parties — the Green Party and the Christian Democrats.
"The Green Party is a much more liberal-leaning party," Eighan said. "It started as a protest party, focusing on the environment. It has branched off into different platforms — health care, immigration. The Christian Democrats are much more conservative. I crossed off both of those boxes, because I'm very interested to hear all the viewpoints. This is absolutely a learning experience, so why shut anything out?"
The goal of the program is to have the IPS recipients return home "with the determination to play an active and responsible role in shaping their countries' democratic future."
That's fine by Eighan, who says his dream job would be to represent an American firm in Germany, or a German company in the United States.
"Hopefully, I'll gain a better understanding of how the economy collaborates with the political system, and an understanding of the nuances of various social parties," Eighan said.
"In Berlin, Austin will have an opportunity to work with — and network with — dozens of young persons from all across the globe just like him: motivated, dedicated, selfless and highly skilled in the German language and culture," Ohm said. "He is a stellar representative of America's best college-educated, future-orientated and internationally-minded young pre-professionals with a strong interest in U.S.-German and international relations.
"I predict that Austin will make a difference in U.S.-German/European diplomatic relations, social issues, and political life through his career or through the academy in the future," Ohm said.
"I still don't know what to expect yet, but I know it will be an adventure," Eighan said.
Make that a German adventure.