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I Got an Email from an Almost-Student

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I love teaching. It’s probably the most meaningful part of my profession. When I retire, the biggest impact I will have had will not be through my articles or public outreach but in the hundreds and hundreds of students I have taught or supervised. Even though I meet most of them for only a semester, I take pride in being part of a system that helps them through a formative period in their lives. Sometimes, years later, a random name will pop into my head and I will turn to Google to see how they are doing now.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from an „almost-student“ of mine. I love hearing from old students. Although this man was never among them, his email made me so happy nonetheless. We had met, briefly, in the admissions process for the MA International Relations and Development Policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The MA is a fairly niche program that takes in 25 to 30 students each year. When I was in Duisburg, we used to do personal interviews with prospective students. That was a lot of work but it allowed us to get to know the applicants and gave them a better idea what the Institute and the people were like. As a result, we had no trouble filling spots. When people got an admission, most of them would come to Duisburg.

One year, we had this particular BA graduate applying to our program who said that he wanted to get into broadcast journalism. His goal was to become a foreign correspondent for a major news agency. I remember that we had a very interesting talk. At the end, I really wanted to recruit him for our MA. Admittedly, we had limited resources – beyond providing a solid foundation in political science and IR as well as a global studies component – that would help with his specific career goal but he was smart and engaging and would have been a great addition to the next cohort of students.

He turned us down for another MA programme. In a brief exchange of emails I expressed my understanding of his decision, wished him the best, and said that I expected to see him on the news within the next decade.

Which brings me to October. Suddenly I got an email – a reply to my last message from 2013 – which basically said „Mission Accomplished“ plus a link to a Tagesschau clip. He’s done it and become a foreign correspondent for the ARD network. Let me tell you, reader: I was thrilled! For one, because he achieved his goal, as I always hoped and expected he would. For another, because he remembered our 30-minute conversation well enough to send me an email nine years later.

Beyond the feelgood factor, is there a moral to this story? (Former) Students, please let us know how you’re doing – we love hearing from you. For me, it reaffirms my faith that teaching is the most important part of my job.

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