Festivities on 3 October 2018 in Vientiane: Celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Laos and Germany

All Posts, Diplomatic relations, Intercultural Activities, Laos, Partnership, Personal highlight

Back in Laos! (Shirin Ud-Din)

When Prof. Martin and Johannes Zeck asked me in August 2018 if I could imagine visiting Laos for a second time to take care of the handover to team VII, the answer was already clear – YES. I did not have to think about it because the answer will always be a yes! During my stay in Laos in the spring of 2018, I had an unforgettable time with the great possibility to teach in a completely unknown territory, alongside and with teachers from a very different cultural background.

Now, six months later, I understand what everybody says about going abroad: This internship made it clear to me how important it is for a young person to have lived abroad for a certain amount of time and to get immersed in a foreign culture and sourroundings. In Laos, I learnt that spontaneity and flexibility often help to master new situations, and I also learnt to look at work and learning phases (at school, in life) from a different, new perspective. This stay definitely widened my horizon and helped me grow in my teacher skills and as a person, too. Because of these reasons, I was thrilled to be able to go back to Laos, this time as a mentor for the new team, all sponsored by the Angels for Children foundation, and academically supervised by my University of Education.

Only one month later, on the 17th of September, I met the new volunteers at Frankfurt Airport to take our flight to Vientiane. I already knew them from Prof. Martin’s seminar “Global English(es)“, parts of which were offered as a preparatory course for applicants over the semester and tutored by me and two more returnees,1 and thanks to this, the new volunteers and I felt comfortable right from the start. When the plane landed in Vientiane – I will be honest – I had tears in my eyes because it felt like coming home.

My main task during this stay was to help the new team settle and get organised.2 Over the first few days, I assisted the volunteers with the preparation of their timetables and work schedules – their exact roles, tandems, and “Special Tasks” had been discussed with the team leaders beforehand, but deciding things on paper in Germany is one thing and being able to carry it out in Laos another. Later, when they were starting to settle into their new tasks and I therefore had time again, I helped with planning and designing lessons and the use of the abundant teaching material on site. I gave them an introduction to the comprehensive project library in the villa and also the online project repository of teaching materials as well as advice on culture-specific peculiarities of this new teaching situation they found themselves in. When Prof. Martin came to visit for two days, I organized her hospitation schedule and we also held our first official team meeting.

Other supportive little things I did along the way included a first visit to the market and a first meal cooked together with Ms Saysamone, one of our tandem teachers, and work-outs for balance as well as aerobics with Latin dance moves. Everyday objects like the bicycles needed to get repaired yet again and also the new wifi router needed to get installed. In my free time I arranged meetings with the Lao teachers and the volunteers so that they could get to know each other better.

One highlight which took place during my stay – and which I will not forget any time soon – was the big celebration of 60 years of diplomatic relations between Laos and Germany on the 3rd October at the new Crowne Plaza Hotel in Vientiane, on the day of German Reunification. The German-Lao Friendship Society and its Lao counterpart, the Lao-German Friendship Association, also celebrated their 10 years of official cooperation on that day. Along with Prof. Martin, the volunteers from Team VII were invited, and on the side of the AfC foundation, Madame Engel, Ms Bouangeun, and Mr Khamsing. Unfortunately, Prof. Martin needed to leave on the day before because other university work had been piling up at home.


60 years of diplomatic relations between Laos and Germany – looking back (Johannes Zeck)

Germany happens to be the only Western country with such a long-standing history of diplomatic relations with Laos. Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Laos and the Federal Republic of Germany officially began in 1958, but only after the Communist revolution in 1975 the Federal Republic of Germany opened up an Embassy in the Lao capital Vientiane – and so did the German Democratic Republic. On 2 December 1975 the Communist Pathet Lao had seized power and declared the “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”, a Communist state oriented towards the neighbouring Communist state Viet Nam and the protective power of both, the Soviet Union. From 1975 until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the German reunification at the beginning of the 1990s, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was a priority country for the German Democratic Republic’s development aid and cooperation among the Socialist brother states. During this time nearly 2,000 Lao students joined vocational training programmes, academic study courses, and even PhD programmes in Eastern Germany – for which speaking German was the fundamental requirement. When returning to their home country, many of these young men and women took over important tasks to develop and foster governmental structures, especially in the fields of education and vocational training. On the other hand, many German skilled workers came to Lao PDR in order to support these measures on site. During this period, the role of the Federal Republic of Germany in Lao PDR was rather marginal.

After the reunification of both German states, the close relationships between the former German Democratic Republic and the Lao PDR, combined with the large amount of Laotians with a personal connection to Germany provided a good basis to continue the bilateral cooperation in a new environment. The extensive staff and student exchanges both ways decreased, and the scope of the cooperation’s nature (now under the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development) changed, due to different international circumstances. However, up until this day, the Lao PDR is a priority country in German development cooperations – both public and private. Germany’s public development cooperation with the Lao PDR is conducted by the GIZ (“Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit”), and private cooperation is conducted by organisations such as Angels for Children or the German-Lao Friendship Association. For both, education and vocational training are a crucial field of cooperation.

Editor’s note: Academic cooperations are newly gaining ground again as well: Lao universities recently started new cooperations with a few German universities in the areas of forestry, nutrition, and natural/technical sciences, and the latest addition is a cooperation between Savannakhet University and the University of Education Karlsruhe. We are therefore happy to announce the first Mobility Programme funded for Laos/Germany by Erasmus+, and we are greatly looking forward to hosting our Lao partner staff and students in Karlsruhe next year for working together in the subjects of English, technics, and biology!3


Back to 2018 (Shirin Ud-Din)

As the 3rd of October happened to be “Sports Day” for the Lao teachers in Sikeud and Phang Heng, we were happy to enjoy some free time before going to the party. We had been invited to join the sports event and would have loved to go, but unfortunately we would not have made it back to the German-Lao Celebration in time. Instead, we used the celebration as a good excuse to visit a local hairdresser, who created our individual hairstyles. We were all enthusiastic about her skills and even more surprised when she told us the price per hair-do: 25,000 KIP (approximately 2,50 €) – I suppose we will never get such a bargain at a hairdresser’s ever again! After this, it was time to change into our best clothes: We decided to wear our sinhs, the traditional Lao skirt. The Sikeud team had just had their first sinhs made, and it seemed appropriate for such an official event.

At 5 p.m. we were picked up by the driver, Mr Viengkham. We were thrilled about the huge elegant hotel when we arrived: The Crowne Plaza is a brand-new 4-star-hotel in the city of Vientiane, all glass and bright lights inside and on the hotel facade – an unusual sight in Laos. In front of the hotel, there was a big banner that said “Day of German Unity 2018” with two brand-new BMWs in front of it – not the worst spot to take a first photo!

After these first impressions we entered the hotel and took the escalator to the first floor, where the party took place. In front of the big ballroom, different German companies and organisations – e.g. the GIZ (“Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit”) – had placed their stalls to offer information about ongoing cooperations with Laos. This was of special interest for me, as I had read a lot about their international cooperations during my research on my Bachelor thesis.

When we entered the ballroom, His Excellency Mr Jens Luetkenherm and his staff from the German Embassy were already standing in a row to welcome every guest individually – what a nice gesture!

The celebration was inaugurated by the Ambassador with an opening speech reflecting the past decades of diplomatic relations between Laos and Germany.

Next, the Vientiane International Choir sang the two National Anthems of the respective countries, as seems to be the tradition on 3 October. Another act was performed by Pianotainment, a duo offering piano comedy – they played the well-known song “Happy Birthday” in a humouristic way by playing it in the styles of many different countries. The two comedians were also in charge of opening the buffet – I can tell you we were excited about the food.

The day before the event I had been talking to Madame Engel about the party. She told me that in the previous years German food had been served: Sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and Nuernberger (a traditional German meal) were always part of the buffet! So I had been thinking about this meal the whole day and – lo and behold! – at the buffet, there it was, right next to other German delicacies such as Leberkäs, pretzels, wiener, and apple strudel. Being one of the few non-vegetarians on the team I was very happy with the selection. Nevertheless, the vegetarians and vegans among the volunteers also found something to eat. All of us were very happy about this buffet because some Western food once in a while makes us appreciate German delicacies more than usual, because most of the time we cook and eat Lao food, of course, meaning vegetables, rice, and fruit.

During dinner, I met very interesting people from all around the world – who seemed happy with the food, too. This served as an ideal small-talk opener and many times led to further conversation about people’s work and positions in Laos. Most of the guests I met work in the embassies and ministries in the capital.

Later I saw the German Ambassador Mr Luetkenherm next to our table and it was a pleasure to meet him in person. We had a long and interesting conversation about our “teach-the-teacher” project in Laos as well as the health care system. At the same time, I was introduced to Mr Bounnhang Xaysanavong, the General Director of the Department for International Relations with mass organisations, and also to some of his staff. He had been accompanying the Chairperson of the German Lao Friendship Society – GLFS e.V. and his entourage on their official high-ranking government visits over the preceding two days, to which Prof. Martin had also been invited, so he had already heard about the project.

On the very next day this delegation visited the Angels for Children schools, so we were able to carry on our exchanges seamlessly. The German Lao Friendship Society was founded four decades ago following a private friendship between the Neuber and Phongpachith families and is a highly respected part of the development aid for Laos, with a strong reputation for its door-opening, partner-connecting, and fund-raising work. Currently, the organization is planning to build a new building at a school in Ban Phalavek, Hom district, to separate the primary school from the secondary school to offer smaller classes.

I am really happy to have been part of this special event. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting persons – diplomats, authors, and volunteers from other projects. I was also glad to meet with so much interest in our teach-the-teacher project and share some information with whoever wanted to hear more about it. Through the lens of this event especially, I realized more fully a) how much pioneering development work Angels for Children and b) how much pioneering academic work the University of Education Karlsruhe are doing with their cooperation in Laos.

By sending German teachers to schools in Laos to help the Lao teachers, Angels for Children is able to offer education for Laotian pupils that is more educational and interesting. Through the principle of “teach the teacher” we can pass on our didactic and professional knowledge to our Laotian tandem-partners so that their pupils can benefit from it. We also contribute to the teachers’ English skills through single or tandem English lessons. We help improving their English or even start teaching English to them from scratch. Angels for Children makes a major contribution to school development in Laos.

But not only the Lao teachers and pupils benefit from this project – also the German volunteers, who can develop from being “German teachers” to “Global citizens“. From my personal perspective, I can say that I grew in an academic way. Through the work demanded of me apart from the teaching assignments – blog work, weekly reports, team meetings, etc. – I widened my professional skills, which will help a lot for my future work, I believe. The possibility to apply my theoretical knowledge to practice whilst needing to adapt it to a wholly new cultural setting helped me to develop my own teaching style and to create my own teacher personality.


Text by S. Ud-Din, J. Zeck, with editor’s notes by I. Martin
Photos and videos by S. Ud-Din & J. Unterweger


Editor’s notes

1 Editor’s note: Due to the high demand this year, the “Global English(es)” class was separated into two strands: In one strand, cultural studies theory, Global English(es), and Studies in Asian Language Education provided the framework and offered research topics for final papers, Bachelor theses, or oral exams. Following mini-lectures on the set topics, we had very interesting discussions every week, further fuelled by the diverse international experience of the class participants (most of whom had studied or done an internship abroad), our international students, a Lao guest speaker, another guest speaker who had lived in Laos for 20 years, and the course leader’s input and framing.
The other strand was designed for the future volunteers only and mostly set at another time, with a few intersections. This was direct preparation for the internship, as in the first Global English(es) seminar held in 2016/17. For the first time, some parts were tutored and taught by returnees (Shirin Ud-Din, Fabian Stober, Svenja Walschburger, Veronika Golla). Another significant novelty was our own new “Laos Project Reader” (130 pp.). We would like to thank the PH LLZ L2 intitiative for providing the tutor funds for this “micro-project”!

2 Editor’s note: As the project has grown so fast, the project leaders needed assistance. When this was addressed in our Closing Conference with Team V, Ariane suggested we could ask/sponsor the returnees to take over certain jobs, like the ordering of the usual “Laos-chaos” for and with the new German arrivals. This task alone usually takes 10-14 days.

3 Editor’s note: The first 3 Lao staff will arrive in March 2019 and stay for 5 months. Their first cooperation partners at the University of Karlsruhe are in the Departments of English (Prof. Martin), technics (Ralph Hansmann), and biology (Dr Martin Remmele). Posts on this new cooperation will follow shortly.

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