After nearly four extraordinary weeks in the US on the Marshall Memorial Fellowship with a very interesting and fun group of Europeans and many great and diverse experiences, I have only now begun to realize and reflect on the impact of the fellowship.
As part of our facilitated debriefs at the end of our Fellowships, GMF staff asked us for our peak experiences and ideas for how we planned to use our Fellowship to effect real and lasting change once we arrived back home. I can hardly point out one peak experience, as the overall trip was a fascinating journey through a country I thought I knew from former visits. But the MMF trip gave me an unparalleled glimpse of the inside of US society and the American way of life.
The biggest impression the trip had on me relates to the aspect of the United States that both most impressed and most concerned me: its social contract and welfare mechanisms. I greatly admired the social projects and people who are involved in charities we visited, yet felt concerned about the lack of government aid which necessitated their existence in the first place. I do, however, have a deeper understanding of why this is. Believing in the strength of the individual leads a country to a society of individualists who feel responsible for themselves, and who consider themselves better prepared for social and economic challenges.
Europeans can learn real lessons from this example. Facing a critical time and a fiscal crisis in Europe I now believe that a more empowered society, made up of individuals who rely on themselves, might give the EU strength which it is missing right now. Yet this would ideally be tempered with the European sense of social justice. As a European, I see a common responsibility for the weakest parts of society, as I believe a just society can only sustain itself if everyone takes on an equal part of the burden.
Through MMF I have learned about the how important it is to never stop listening and of never judging too quickly. This is the biggest leadership skill I gained. I was not entirely aware of it before, but in day-to-day work life I tended to fight for single issues. One too easily forgets the tremendous impact and greater insight that a continuous dialogue between diverse parties can lead to.
Angela Pasch, a Public Relations executive for the Volkswagen Group in Berlin, is a Fall 2012 European Marshall Memorial Fellow.