Student Reflections

Day in My Life: Virtual Honors Dialogue in Germany

Emerson Johnston
July 15, 2021
Hamburg, Germany

The Honors Human Rights Communication Twin Dialogue of Civilizations program is a one-of-a-kind study abroad experience offered every two years by Northeastern University and its College of Arts, Media, and Design. For the first time this year, it’s being offered completely online and involves, among other things, 30+ hours a week synchronous discussion, 4 long-form papers, numerous mock courts and debates, and more. Come with me as I describe a day in my life!

Being in the Eastern Standard time zone, my classes start each weekday at 9 am so I’m usually up between 6:00 or 6:30 am so I can get in a workout (though I won’t lie, I usually slack off a few days each week). Today, I got up around 5:45 because I had a project meeting before class. I’m lucky to live in Davenport A this summer so my “commute” to the gym is just a brisk jog across the street to Squashbusters. Depending on the day, I usually spend around 45 minutes to an hour in the gym working on different parts of my ROTC summer training manual and today, thankfully, I just worked on cardio. When I get back to my apartment, I usually hop in the shower and get to work cooking breakfast, so I can be finished and at my desk by 8:00. I use this time before class to either brush up on the reading for the day or to meet with my classmates about our projects and papers. I’ve also found that this is a great time to go over any speaking material I have for the day so I don’t sound unprepared. Today, because I gave my first presentation of the program at 11:00, I used the first part of the hour to go over my script and the slide deck I made and afterward, hopped on a call with my project partner to go over it once more together. 

Once class starts around 9, we usually begin with an overview of the day and go straight into a discussion of the reading. For our discussion today, we went over two papers by Ross Scanlan that spoke about the Nazi Party Speaker System. For brief context, the paper outlines the system from which thousands of members of the Nazi party served and showcases how they efficiently and effectively acted as the living media between both the party and the people, and the government, the party, and the people. The papers themselves were very interesting but the subsequent discussion was even more so. Professors Hoppman, Herrmann, and Laurens rely heavily on a Socratic form of discussion and teaching, and with a class of only seven students, it’s very effective at garnering student participation and ensuring that we’ve read the materials. Something I found fascinating about this discussion was the fact that many German youths in the late 1910s and early 1920s were forced to be good orators; not because of any innate passion for speaking but because they wouldn’t have been taken seriously otherwise. To me, this conflicted with the commonly accepted idea that Hitler was an astounding speaker because if it was simply par for the course of his time, why could we lord his ability of others? This discussion went on for a few hours so I’ll save you the details but needless to say, it was captivating.

Immediately following the discussion and our much-needed midday break, my partner and I gave our presentation on Hitler’s 1933 Proclamation to the German Nation. The purpose of this assignment is for us to present on the background, history, and context of a particular Nazi artifact and then analyzed it through the lens of rhetorical theory. For our presentation, because we were analyzing one of Hitler’s most famous speeches, we were tasked with detailing the rhetorical strategies employed in the four minutes speech as well as describing why the speech occurred when and how it did. My partner and I found the research for this project fascinating, beyond what we expected for the topic, and literally ran out of time speaking about it because we just had so much to say. I’m happy to report, however, that even in light of this error in time management, we still got an A. After the presentation, we transitioned into a conversation about how our Nazi artifact related to a paper we read earlier this week by Kenneth Burke, a discussion that is meant to guide our final paper for the class. This discussion took us to the end of the day.

Classes end around 3:00 pm each day and right afterward, I go straight to work. I’m working remotely right now at the Department of State in the Bureau of Europe and Eurasia affairs (very topical I know!) so my post-class workday typically involved minutes taking for meetings I’ve been tasked with covering either in Washington or in New York; doing research on the projects and presentations I’ve been assigned to; tracking news and briefings for the territories I’ve been assigned to cover; and going to a meeting or two. Today, I attended a meeting with the political heads of all the departments in the Bureau and am finishing up a project related to the Baltic region. I find a lot of the work I do for the State Department to be very similar to the topics we cover in the Dialogue and getting to do both simultaneously is a very unique look at the world of foreign policy and international development. My bosses at State have even made a habit of asking me about my day in class which I find really cool.

Typically, though it has only been a week, I end work around 9 or 10 which is a perfect time for me to have dinner (I’ve made a terrible habit of eating late but it works out). Tonight, I’m ordering in because I forgot to go to the market and can’t think of any meals to make with just a few tortillas and some eggs. After dinner, I usually hop in the shower and try to get to bed before 11 (though my screen time app would probably tell you a different story).

And that’s a typical day in my life as a Dialogue student. It’s a bit unconventional and at times, very intense, but I’m studying what I love and working at one of the coolest places an undergraduate in political science can work so I don’t have too much to complain about.