DAAD Prize for Tony Tollefsen

International students enrich the Karlshochschule on a cultural as well as on an academic level. In recognition of this, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides funding for a prize for outstanding international students on a yearly basis. This year Tony Tollefsen (Bachelor Management) was awarded with the prize. Tony is originally from Norway and receives the DAAD prize 2021 for very good academic results and outstanding commitment in the area of LGTBQIA+ inclusivity. Prof. Ella Roininen, who submitted the nomination, emphasizes Tony’s “huge personal and academic commitment to increase the understanding of the Karls' students and staff on gender and sexual identities and gender-neutral language, and inclusion of LGTBQIA+ people at Karls.”

 

Interview with Tony Tollefsen

Which experiences at Karls have had the most impact on you?

The Karlshochschule offers several ways to get engaged and challenge yourself. Firstly, the Voices@Karls and the Hakuna Matata initiative have been my two platforms over the past two years, for practicing organizational skills and realizing what is important to me. Secondly, the amount of group work during my studies have been the most challenging as well as the most instructive. Apart from having to adapt and learn quickly, group work has taught me to acknowledge my limitations, identify my strengths and ask for help in time. Lastly, my opportunity to educate both students and staff on gender identity and the importance of language has been the coolest thing I have managed to do, and I doubt that I would be able or allowed to do that elsewhere.

What kind of challenges do international students face in your opinion? 

As an international student, I am lucky to come from an European country within the Schengen Area, and with a generous public student loan system, so I don’t have any legal, bureaucratic, or economic challenges for my stay in Germany. This makes my international experience limited to language barriers and minor cultural differences. I think that although the university itself is internationally oriented, living in Germany as a non-native German speaker is a challenge for our everyday sense of independence.

As an international student, what kind of support have you received from Karls? What could be improved in your opinion?

The Karlshochschule has its strength in how easy it is to reach out and ask for support in most areas of our studies. I have never been afraid to reach out to any professors or administrative staff, and being an international is almost a benefit at our university. One exception is that we are unable to attend, and therefore excluded from workshops arranged outside of Karls, because of the language barrier. At the moment, I am hoping to get some more guidance regarding internship opportunities for internationals who don’t speak the language.

What motivates you to engage in volunteer work and what are you especially focusing on at the moment?

I have always been interested and involved in some sort of social cause. I have been a self-proclaimed feminist and environmentalist since my mid-teens, and have always attempted to educate myself further on issues within these two orientations. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, issues related to queerness have naturally become my main focus as it is one of few places where I believe my voice has true representative value. My engagement at the Karls started after a couple of uncomfortable experiences on campus which inspired me to call out the lack of awareness around gender identity at our university. After some conversations with Ella, I was invited to create a presentation on gender identity and inclusive language, which I created in collaboration with my friend and co-student Sean Nyabela. I am looking forward to continue this project, and to motivate our university to create more socially inclusive practices.

What are your plans for after your studies at Karls?

I started my studies at Karls with the ambition of being able to work in administrative positions within the creative sector. My main interest has been within the performing and visual arts. I used to feel guilty for not wanting to work with something that e.g., would have a more direct impact on the environment or human rights, but I also believe that the arts are important to build community and belonging. I want to help people or communities create accessible projects which encourage social inclusion, self-expression and critical reflection. I don’t know exactly where or how this type of work may be, but am hopeful that I can start small, possibly in a local arts centre. I would also love to continue my work for the LGBTQIA+ community and could imagine working for an international organization to help further trans rights in Europe.

What do you like the most about Germany/Karlsruhe?

The population in Germany is 15 times as big as in Norway, which automatically makes the country much more culturally interesting. I really enjoy the cultural diversity which comes with the size, and being an accessible, central European country. I also find the scale of local and national produce (and business) impressive. I love shopping local, which is much easier here, and I have a lot of fun discovering new German brands. Germany is also fascinating as it feels both slow and old fashioned and exceptionally innovative at the same time (e.g., look at the technology industry vs. bureaucratic infrastructure).