Deniz Houston ’16 recently received the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX) fellowship, allowing her to spend a year studying, interning and living in Germany – and making her the 12th CBYX fellowship recipient to come from the College of Charleston in 16 years.
Funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the CBYX fellowship is administered by Cultural Vistas, the same nonprofit that administers the College of Charleston Summer Internship Program in Germany, which provided Houston with the opportunity to intern in Berlin the summer between her sophomore and junior years.
“That’s what got me hooked on studying abroad,” says Houston, an international studies major who also spent her junior year studying at Bogazici University in Istanbul and finished up her college credits studying abroad with CofC history professor Bill Olejniczak. “The College of Charleston realizes that there are certain things you learn in the classroom, but that there is a lot you learn outside of the classroom, too – especially if you really want to understand international relations. The College recognizes that and is very good at communicating and encouraging that. I feel like the College of Charleston really fostered in me the impulse and ability to go out and be adventurous.”
Thanks to the CBYX fellowship, Houston’s next adventure will start in late July, when she leaves for Radolfzell, Germany, to begin her eight-week intensive German language studies at the Carl Duisberg Centrum language school. From there, she will relocate to Saxony, where she will take university courses and complete a community service project for the following four months. Then, in February, Houston will begin interning with an organization that speaks to her interest in transatlantic issues between the United States and Germany.
“This has interested me for a long time,” says the half-Turkish German-born Houston, a public diplomacy program assistant with the U.S. State Department. “During my time here, I was able to experience the Obama administration, the election and the transition. There’s a whole new undercurrent in Washington with this new administration, and other countries are watching closely the new direction of our foreign policy. So I’d like to use this experience to continue on a path that helps foster good international communications.”
Of course, an experience like the one Houston has ahead of her can take her down any number of paths.
“The experience changed the trajectory of my life,” says Stephen Della Lana, a senior instructor in the Department of German and Russian Studies, who was a CYBX fellow in 1989. That’s why, he says, “since I started at the College in 2000, I’ve encouraged future generations of College of Charleston students to apply for the fellowship.”
When she gets back from Germany at the end of her fellowship, Houston plans to go to graduate school and eventually become a foreign service officer.
“I’ve wanted to become an diplomat since I was 14, when I first went to an international school in Ankara, Turkey, and was in class with kids whose parent was the U.S. ambassador,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
She also wants to eventually work in multilateral relations – something she was inspired to do after being involved with the College’s Model U.N. team.
“I have seen how hard it can be for people from different political systems to come together, bringing all their different goals and interests and issues together to get things done,” says Houston, who won multiple awards while competing with the College at the 2015 and 2016 Southern Regional Model U.N. conferences. “I really want to set my focus on that.”
In the meantime, however, she’s focusing on packing up and preparing for what is sure to be another inspiring adventure – both for her and for the people she meets along the way.
“Honestly, I’m looking forward to answering all the hard questions about the difficult issues in the current political climate – gun control, race relations, foreign policy priorities,” she says. “It’s always hard to explain those issues to people outside of the United States, but the headlines and the Tweets are making it even harder. I want to show people that what they read in the headlines doesn’t represent how all Americans feel – that the United States is more than 140-character Tweets.”
The CBYX fellowship annually provides 75 American and 75 German young professionals between the ages of 18-24 the opportunity to spend one year in each other’s countries, studying, interning and living with hosts on a cultural immersion program. CBYX is open to candidates in all career fields who are interested in a year of academic, professional and cultural exchange.