Annette Gisevius is the new professor for Civic Engagement, Ethics and Service Learning at the Karls and in charge of the SENSE project.
What brought you to the Karlshochschule and why are you interested in the field of Service Learning?
One of my most interesting working experiences was working with wolves in a project in Colorado – as a volunteer. Spending some weeks literally nose to nose with wolves sparked my interest in these animals as well as the concept of volunteering for an interesting cause.
My academic background is in Cultural Studies and I have done a lot of research in the field of volunteerism. When I first looked into the topic I interviewed numerous people in museums in the USA, Canada and Germany, to find out why people engage as volunteers and what impact they have on the organizations they are part of. It was fascinating to learn how institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York organize the work of a thousand volunteers who independently run the visitor services and work as guides.
Later in my professional life I worked for many organizations that were either based on volunteer work or strongly relied on their contributions – in fields like the arts, social work and youth exchange. So civic engagement has been an important framework condition for my work.
What is your professorship mainly about?
Civic Engagement, Ethics and Service Learning are wide terms. In my perspective the underlying topics of all three are responsibility and lifelong learning. And learning is something that I immensely enjoy myself. This is when my heart beats faster. Especially when it comes to experiential learning – learning through experiences and reflecting about them – as described by David A. Kolb. Doing something (e.g. in an organization that supports refugees) is helpful and/or interesting. But only by reflection about the experiences, making sense of them and putting them in context to other experiences, real learning takes place.
This is how I would like to teach, train, and learn myself. I received most of my intercultural education at an Intercultural Summer Institute in Portland/Oregon. I spend many summers there, as a learner, as part of a team of fellows that runs the academy, as a manager of the fabulous bookstore with intercultural books on campus and as a listener to the conversations between the participants that have their roots from all around the word. This is embodied learning and embodied ethicality – because of the values that are taught and lived in this institute.
Why did you choose this profession? Can you remember an initial spark or a political event that impacted you?
I started my own volunteer engagement and work as an intercultural trainer in a work camp organization. On September 11, 2001 when the world trade center was attacked, I was just preparing a training in Poland with some other trainers. Listening to the news and seeing the pictures from New York in the Polish TV created this feeling of anger and powerlessness – how can this group destroy all our efforts to create more understanding among people in just one day? But at the same time, we felt our work was even more important than before.
Many of my latter colleagues in New York saw the towers falling from their office windows. We often talk about how this event impacted our passion for intercultural understanding.
You only work part time at the Karls. What do you do beside your professorship?
My professional life takes place in Hamburg, Miami, New Delhi and many other places. For the past 15 years I have mainly worked as an intercultural trainer / docent / facilitator with staff and volunteers in nonprofit organizations, in multinational companies that produce airplanes, food or cosmetics, with police men, students or with educators.
So, when I am not in Karlsruhe I serve as “Head of Training” in a Hamburg-based organization called InterCultur which is a subsidiary of the student exchange organization AFS.
In this capacity I have already worked with the Karls since 2010 – mainly for the Summer Academies of Intercultural Experience that take place every summer at the Karls.
You started working at the Karls two months ago. What is your first impression so far?
Already in my previous cooperation in the Summer Academies I became very interested in the way the Karls sees and interprets its role in the society and its unconventional attitude towards management.
During the first weeks I met many inspiring people: students, faculty and colleagues in administration who fill this other perspective with life.
Especially in the SENSE project I see many of my own values and interests translated into active doing. Already in the first year the SENSE team and the students have found very interesting project partners for their service learning projects – which are a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what different parts of society like and what the driving forces behind the scenes of a refugee shelter or a private theater initiative might be.
For the next semester many new possibilities to change perspective are coming up – and I am looking forward to contribute my experiences very much – maybe we can even find a German wolf project for SENSE project.