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The following article was published by the RIAS Berlin Commission in the "Exchange Program 2003: Reports of American Participants."

The RIAS Berlin Journalist Exchange Experience

by Kaci Christian (c)2004

In the fall of 2003, I had the great fortune to be selected as one of fifteen American broadcast journalists to participate in the RIAS Berlin Commission's German/American Journalist Exchange Program. Our group gathered in Berlin in late September for an intensive two-week exploration of the socio-politico-cultural tapestry of contemporary Germany.

From my perspective, any chance to travel abroad offers the opportunity to expand our horizons and explore similarities and differences, but the RIAS Berlin Commission program offered a special incentive: the possibility to explore Germany in the capacity of a journalist, providing even greater access to community leaders, government officials and elected politicians.

In just a short, intensive two-week span, there were so many events that marked special highlights of the program, including:

  • A private dinner in the home of a German journalist who had previously participated in the RIAS exchange program

  • A group meeting with a member of the federal German Parliament (MP)

  • A session with the Executive Director of the Jewish Community of Berlin

  • A day of briefings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

  • A tour and tasting at the Lowenbrau brewery in Munich

  • A RIAS group celebration at the Hofbrau in Munich

  • An evening with German alumni of the RIAS program in a restaurant in Leipzig

  • A group interview with the Lord Mayor of Leipzig; a briefing on the cityıs application to be considered as a venue for the Olympics; and a community festival hosted by the Mayor
  • and

  • A festive tour of the Rotkappchen sparkling wine production facilities and our closing banquet in the wine cellar.

I was also granted a special extension of my program, invited to stay for an additional week to compare and contrast the concepts of celebrity and fame and entertainment coverage between Germany and the United States.

During this period, I met with entertainment reporters; spent a day on the set of a show comparable to Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight; enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the number one-rated weekly dramatic series in Germany (Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten, translating to "Good Times, Bad Times"), meeting with successful actors from the program; and spent an evening with the cast and crew of the popular annual performance piece, Jedermann. Many of these arrangements were organized or expedited by the people at RIAS/Berlin, who made calls and sent quite a few emails and faxes to make sure that I was able to meet with people who would help with my research.

While speaking German is not a prerequisite to participate in the program, I can tell you that having some basic conversational knowledge of the language was a very valuable asset. The core program -- the first two weeks -- found us mostly in scheduled meetings with people who either spoke and understood English, or who had interpreters, but in our free time, we had the opportunity to explore the life in the various cities we visited (Berlin, Munich and Leipzig). Speaking German really facilitated my being able to get around, ask for directions, purchase gifts or souvenirs, order meals, utilize Internet cafes, and just generally visit with people. For the extension, during which I traveled alone from Leipzig to Munich (München), then to Cologne (Köln), it was extraordinarily helpful, perhaps even integral, that I had studied conversational German and felt comfortable speaking the language.

I learned that Germany and the U.S. share a lot more in common than Iıd previously imagined. For example, the United States, particularly in the southwestern regions, deals with the matter of Mexican immigration and the challenges of culturally assimilating Mexicans into the fabric of society; these issues are parallel with those of Turkish immigrants in Germany. People in both countries are doing their best to try to survive, to hold down jobs and make a living for themselves and their families, and that taxes, high unemployment rates and immigration issues are common concerns.

My experience with the RIAS Berlin Commission has given me a wider perspective, particularly in my role as a journalist, enabling me to see that our countries have so many similarities. The program also allowed me to get to know other American journalists throughout the country whom Iıd otherwise not had the chance to meet. It was such a great opportunity, and I wholeheartedly encourage others to take advantage of the program and avail themselves of the chance to explore Germany with the support and patronage of the RIAS/Berlin Kommission and the Radio & Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF).

Kaci Christian
anchor/reporter, KBAK-TV (CBS-29), Bakersfield CA
January 20, 2004

The mission of the RIAS Berlin Commission:

"Pursuant to the Agreement signed on May 19, 1992 between the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of the United States of America, the RIAS Berlin Commission promotes the exchange of persons and information in the field of broadcast journalism between the two countries. The RIAS Berlin Commission provides financial support and awards annual prizes to radio, internet, and television productions which contribute to the mutual German-American understanding."

Read more about Kaci's RIAS Berlin experience.