Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe – 18th Company of the Year Competition

In August 2006, we - being 7 pupils in the 11th grade at the Mädchengymnasium Essen-Borbeck - decided to create a Guide to the City of Essen for the generation 60 plus to coincide with the European Capital of Culture 2010, in order to participate as competitors in the JUNIOR project.

With our successful product we firstly won the competition in North Rhine-Westphalia and then the nationwide competition in Munich, so that we got the chance to participate in the European competition in Berlin initiated by some influential companies such as DaimlerChrysler and FedEx.

Our journey to the competition in Berlin lasted from July the 26th to the 29th. My company, two teachers and me travelled by plane to Berlin on July the 26th. The preparation for this particular competition in Berlin was more interesting and exciting than the other ones in Düsseldorf and Munich because I knew exactly what was to be expectedstudent companies from all over the world. Even though I looked forward to present our company and our product once again, this time it had to be in English which was indeed a really positive experience for me. But nevertheless I was afraid that we would have some problems with the English language when introducing ourselves to the judging panel which wasn’t only composed of German experts.

July, the 26th

After having arrived at the airport of Berlin, we were picked up by some organizers of the competition and in a shuttle bus we were brought to our hotel (Ibis Hotel) in the east of Berlin. During the journey to our hotel I became acquainted with student companies from other countries with whom we shared the bus. I could exchange my first English sentences and what I was wondering about was that I had to talk English here in Germany, in Berlin.

However after a while I recognized that it was not that difficult to converse with someone in a foreign language. At the beginning I talked to some students from Poland and we mutually presented ourselves and our product. Without being formal or under any pressure I told them how nervous and excited I was and surprisingly, they told me the same, so that I was relieved after having remarked that we were all in the same situation.

But primarily I thought that my company had the advantage to be in their home country, although we were also confronted with foreign students and had to use English as a daily language during our residence in Berlin. My new acquaintances had actually a lot of questions to ask about Germany and German lifestyle, especially about food. It was quite funny to affirm that German food offers a vast variety, so that nobody has to go to bed hungry. As I was curious about Polish culture and food, I asked a lot about their country and they informed me about their school system as well as their music. It was a positive and dynamic atmosphere and therefore we laughed so much and so loud when teaching each other the different languages, that some pupils from Spain and Austria joined our small group in the bus. After a while I was used to speak English and forgot about my fears and worries that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with new friends. It was sure that I was the one who had to talk a lot because the other students bombarded me with their questions about Germany, not only about food, but also about Berlin as the German capital and about politics. I hardly pronounced a single sentence without floundering because of my lack of knowledge about Berlin as the most important city of Germany.

Nonetheless I soon realized that my newly-won friends were not mocking, but listening carefully and this showed me that despite the different languages it was possible to meet people with whom you can build up an intercultural friendship. Furthermore I discovered that having friends from other countries than your own one has many advantages, since there was the possibility to get to know another country, its culture and its customs. It was also very helpful for me personally to communicate in English which I think improved in the course of the discussions with the students from foreign countries.

Having arrived at the hotel at a quarter to two I was very happy and my nervousness was replaced by my delight of having the possibility to take part in such a great project while gaining new acquaintances. My company and me got our room keys and had some minutes to take the baggage to our rooms and to freshen up a bit after the travel. Right from the start it was clear that I was the only one being relaxed and content with the whole situation despite my excitement owing to the competition to come in the next days, as the members of my company - apart from our teachers actually, being able to talk to the teachers of the other student companies - were tense, nervous and very calm. In the shuttle bus on the way to our hotel they couldn’t really join in and talk with us because of their shyness and worries about the English language. Then I was really proud of me because it was me who could better cope with the nervousness by addressing foreign pupils on my own. However I could understand their worries and that is why I involved my company in the conversation with the Spanish and Polish students during our drive to the exhibition area, the “Kosmos”, one of the most popular cinemas in Germany. This helped all of us to forget the competition and the whole project by talking about ourselves and our backgrounds.

In the cinema we quickly set up the stand of our company and then had the opportunity and time to look at the stands of the other student companies. Moreover, we became acquainted with some other pupils from Ireland, Albania and Israel. Talking to Israelis was something completely different than talking to Polish and Spanish people because I hardly knew anything about their culture and their country itself, contrary to European countries such as Spain, Hungary and Poland. This taught me to improve my knowledge about other countries and to get better informed about what is happening in the world after my arrival at home. Besides, I could take some nice pictures of our competitors while looking around and observing closely what the other countries’ stands are like.

In the evening at around 7 pm all the student companies got together und went to a beachside where we could play beach volleyball and have a barbecue. The teams had already been arranged by the organisers of the competition and their aim was to form mixed teams, so that nobody could be in a group with his or her friends. This was a quite efficient method to give us the possibility to get to know each other and to communicate as fluently as it was feasible in English. Even though I’m not really a friend of volleyball, I was keen on playing it together with other students. At the beginning, it was very hard for us to become relaxed and to just play because nobody dared to talk and so my team couldn’t develop some tricks to improve our techniques against the opposing team. After same very calm games we decided to eat something and at the table we were obliged to talk anyway because otherwise a tense atmosphere had arisen. First we talked about our companies and afterwards about our families, friends and our home countries. I had the impression that all of us enjoyed this conversation, as we all were involved and could follow the others. Again at the volleyball court we felt more comfortable than before and were really motivated to win, however my team was unfortunately not the winner of the matches. The whole evening I was surrounded by foreign students and didn’t have the opportunity to look for my German friends and this, I think, was very helpful for me to relax and to enjoy myself.

At 10 pm we drove to our hotels and exchanged our ideas about the past day and about our competitors. We knew that the most important day was yet to come, but nonetheless we got used to this thought and could sleep tight.

July, the 27th

After the breakfast at half past seven our shuttle bus drove us to “Kosmos” where the judging panel introduced itself and then visited the different companies’ stands by interviewing us, the members. Although we were experienced in conversing with judging panels from the two competitions in Germany, my colleagues and me were bundles of nerves, since we didn’t have any idea what the jury would like to know and would expect from us. During the interviews with the judges nobody could relax like the previous day and that is why we only stayed at our stand and tried to calm down. As I personally knew well what we had done to achieve what we managed to achieve in Germany, I pressurised myself and wanted to act the best way, so that all the work wouldn’t be for nothing. When I was posed several questions about our company’s philosophy, its finances and the end product, our Guide to the City of Essen for the generation 60 plus, I succeeded in answering fluently and in a matter-of-fact tone. Since I promised not to worry much about my English and my pronunciation, I was able to concentrate more on the answers than on my language skills. While I was talking to the judges, I recognised that it was great fun for me to converse in this language and that it would be a pity not to take the initiative to talk freely.

At lunch break I also sat together with pupils from other countries and so we exchanged our impressions about the interviews of the judging panel. It was quite clear that everyone of us was in the same situation without paying attention to the countries where we were from. I really think that being in the same “boat” did strengthen our friendships because every pupil at the competition hoped to win. However this didn’t mean that we were some kind of rivals, even if we were aware of the fact that we were competing with the others.

We only showed each other that it was possible to have a lot of fun together without thinking about our positions at the competition. The most important aspect of the whole event for me was to become acquainted with different people by ignoring our companies and all that stuff. What would it give us to win the competition without meeting interesting people from different nations? Obviously, despite the fact that the internet helps us reading numerous pages about other countries and cultures, it is not the same as listening to somebody talking about a particular country and its traditions.

At the afternoon our stands were open to the press and to the public, so that we always had to give interviews for the radio, TV and various newspapers. This job was enormously relaxing for us after the tense interviews with the judges.

Again in our hotel we prepared for the evening programme, the German Night. It took place in “Kosmos” and to this special event we were asked to dress up. The opening of the night was conducted by the organisers and the judging panel. The purpose of the evening was to approach German lifestyle, especially German food which was mostly unknown to the students from the other countries. Thus they often asked us what the German dishes are made of and it was very difficult but also very funny to tell them what for example “Sauerkraut” is. With the help of a lot of gestures I tried to explain them the best way I could, however I realized that it wasn’t very successful. After having eaten altogether, a comedy show was presented by some German stand-up comedians to relax the audience.

Next, a DJ came to entertain us and we had a really great party. Not only did all the pupils dance, but also the teachers from the different countries. Surprisingly, it was very amusing to dance without worrying about anything. About midnight we were all transferred to our hotels being terribly tired but very happy. The more time passed the more comfortable and better did I feel because I simply got used to the people I was incessantly surrounded by.

July, the 28th

This day we were again brought to our exhibition area, the “Kosmos” where we had to pass our panel-interviews with the judges. These interviews were in the cinema’s saloons and this time we sat in front of them and were interrogated about the problems having occurred between the company’s members. As we had not expected such questions, we could hardly find appropriate answers and that is why I stuttered and could rarely say reasonably elaborate things. It was the same with my company colleagues. We didn’t think that they would pose us questions about the relations between ourselves. They wanted to know how it was to work with same-aged people on a common product and what advantages and disadvantages were evolved from our work in a students’ company.

All in all, this interview was not successful and offered to us for sure a reason to become bad-tempered and sad.

After this setback we had our lunch and tried to forget the terrible incident of the morning, but this didn’t work because again and again we realised what we could have done better. This was not very helpful to remain in a good mood and to maintain our motivation.

In the afternoon every company had to exhibit its presentation within four minutes, so that you could get an overview of all the other companies and its members. Furthermore, these presentations should show how creative the company worked. Contrary to our interviews with the judging panel, our presentation was quite good and everything worked faultlessly. Since I was one of the three pupils standing on the stage and performing our comedy-like presentation in English, I tried my best in order to impress the judges of our competences which couldn’t be actually proved before. In my opinion, this worked a lot better than during the interviews. At least this successful performance encouraged us not to give up despite our negative experiences. For the next situations, I was taught to remain calm and not to become upset due to every little setback or bad incident. So I can surely say that the attendance at this competition helped me change for the better and recognise how to react best the next time. After having seen all the presentations, we met with our group consisting of our friends of the different nationalities for a coffee break in order to talk about the past interviews and performances and simply to chat. Obviously, some of us were very confident and others were discouraged and that is why the atmosphere was not that positive. Everybody was only thinking about the evening, including the award ceremony and so we were too preoccupied to enjoy something else.

Towards the evening we took apart our stands and were driven to our hotels. Once again it was time to dress up for the evening programme which took place in the Forum of DaimlerChrysler Financial Services AG. Everything was well prepared for the big event to come. At half past seven the Gala-Evening was officially opened and this meant that our excitement as well as our strain achieved its maximum. Unfortunately, we could hardly concentrate on the delicious meals and only wanted to know which three companies were considered the best. The award ceremony ended regrettably bad for me and my company because we didn’t obtain a positioning under the three best companies.

Even though it was clear that not every company could get a placing, we had hoped and wished a lot to be one of the winning teams. For that reason we experienced a further setback which totally discouraged us. Nonetheless I tried to rejoice for my Polish, Irish and Austrian colleagues because the Irish company was the winner of the competition; the second place was taken by the Polish students and the third one by the Austrian pupils.

After calming down and forgetting my sadness I was willing to dance with all the others at the party with the DJ until around eleven pm. I couldn’t chill out and this was definitely because we had suffered some kind of defeat at the company competition. Not all of the girls of my company were that crestfallen and that is why I felt a bit lonely and couldn’t retrace why some girls were in high spirits. Today I can say that apparently all of us were downcast at that time, but everyone had a different way to cope with our negative result.

Whereas I showed how sad I was, the others concealed their emotions behind their pretended happiness.

Around two o’clock in the night our shuttle buses drove us to our hotels and in complete silence we went to bed and didn’t know what to talk about and what to say in such a situation.

July, the 29th

In the early morning we had our breakfast and then checked out around midday. Before checking out we were given the option to go on a sightseeing tour with our teachers and the organisers of the JUNIOR project. Not all of us accepted this offer because we were not really in the right mood to enjoy being in Berlin and due to the fact that we had already been in the capital a few months ago for a press conference about our victories in Düsseldorf and Munich. By refusing the offer to go on a sightseeing tour we had more time to say goodbye to our newly-won friends from Poland, Spain etc. This was difficult for us, as we knew that never ever we would meet in such a group at such an occasion.

We mutually promised to remain in contact via the internet and we were deeply grateful for the nice moments we had sampled together.

Overall reflection

All in all, I can sum up that my participation in the JUNIOR project helped me to learn more about myself but also about people in general. The contact to same-aged students from other countries was a really new experience for me. Moreover, the permanent communication in English helped me to improve my language skills and to strengthen my self-confidence and my courage to speak fluently. I got the impression that I was getting more and more relaxed when talking incessantly in another language. This showed me that one day it could certainly be possible to live in another country and to get used to a foreign language and its application.

Nonetheless I have to admit that there were also some problems between our friends and us when talking English. Sometimes we couldn’t really comprehend what our interlocutors tried to tell us and so I was a bit ashamed of my lack of some particular words and expressions. This made it difficult to retain my courage to continue talking.

What I liked a lot during my stay in Berlin was that I could get acquainted with various cultures and especially with really warm-hearted pupils with whom I enjoyed spending my time. Before I hardly knew something about other countries, for example Poland, but after the competition I had gained an idea of how the people live there and why a lot of Polish people have immigrated to other countries. I don’t think that I can get such information from the internet, even if it is said that it can inform us about everything. I prefer being informed by a native who can assess everything better than some “neutral” texts from the internet.

Considering the increasing importance of global connections and cooperation, it is very important to approach different cultures with their traditions and to be open for new acquaintances. This includes being capable to converse with people of diverse nationalities and origins.

Taking everything into consideration, I can say that every time again I would be willing to participate in the JUNIOR project because I got to know many interesting people from all over the world and in addition, due to that I now happily dispose of very important skills which evolved from my attendance at the project, being a member of a students’ company. Nobody can deprive me of my personal experiences which I gained and this is something I can be very proud of. I could broaden my horizon and I think that in my curriculum vitae it looks great that me being a 16-year old student dealt with economical affairs, press conferences and company structures.