The year was 2000. Ben Shivers ’08 was 13 years old, on a family vacation to Germany. Little did he know it, but the two-week visit would change the course of his life.
The picturesque countryside, the German language, the Deutsche Bahn—they drew him in. “Trains, words, and views,” he says, “while these are specific manifestations of how I ‘fell in love’ with Germany, they can't really explain why. It just happened.”
Nine years later, after having completed a double major in German and International Relations at Wheaton, Ben was able to return to the country that had captivated him—this time as a Fulbright grant recipient.
It was during Ben’s senior year at Wheaton that Career Services Director Ita Fisher encouraged him to look into the Fulbright Program. After a detailed application and interview process, he was accepted to the program for an English Teaching Assistantship Grant.
During the application process, Ben received help from several professors, primarily Dr. Sandra Joireman and Dr. Alan Seaman. “Of course my two German professors, Dr. Clint Shaffer and Dr. Anne Schreiber, as well as Wheaton's then-coordinator for Fulbright grants, Dr. Leah Seppanen Andersen, were very helpful in the process as well,” he added.
“The essays are crucial because they are the most potent opportunity to present the unique experiences, interests, ideas, and personality traits that make the applicant an outstanding candidate for the grant,” says Ben. “My essays went through many drafts, and I received much help from Dr. Joireman, whose ruthless editing pushed me two or three levels higher.”
Ben was one of approximately 1,600 students that receive a Fulbright grant that year. He traveled to rural northeast Germany to assist the English staff at a school from September 2008 to June 2009. Many of his friends and his host family were people he had connected with during his time with the Wheaton in Germany program.
Ben then received a second Fulbright grant, to intern at the Department of Education of the German State of Saxony in Dresden until January of 2010.
“My second Fulbright grant as an intern in the Department of Education of Saxony opened the door for me to work do real political work: drafting short speeches, writing letters to foreign correspondents, developing an international Memorandum of Understanding, hosting officials from abroad, visiting campaign events, etc. Since I want to continue working in politics and international relations, these are experiences that I hope to build on in the future.”
During Ben’s second Fulbright internship he began a master’s program in German Linguistic and Cultural Studies at the Technical Institute of Dresden. When the internship was complete, he worked part time in the Office for International Affairs while he finished his degree.
Looking back on his Wheaton experience he says, “I think Wheaton students can make excellent Fulbright grantees. Wheaton provides a culture of excellence and curiosity that is well suited for people who will go overseas to learn about other societies while representing their own.”
What were his standout Wheaton experiences? “The Islam and Politics course with Dr. Joireman, in which she challenged us to do original research,” he says is one of his favorite classes. “I chose the topic of Islamic radicalism in Germany and identified several systemic factors which could have made Germany a logical location for some radical Muslims in the 1990s and early 2000s.”
But it wasn’t all serious; Ben also mentions his Passage experience at Honeyrock as one of his favorite memories, “We spent two weeks in the woods, bushwhacking our way through Michigan's Upper Peninsula and listening to God's words.”
During his two years as a Fulbright grantee, Ben consistently met other Wheaton students at the annual Fulbright conference in Berlin. He hopes to create “a Wheaton Fulbright network, so that Wheaton graduates who have been Fulbright recipients can better connect with and help each other.”
What’s next for Ben? “My current plans include living in Germany for the next 1-2 years and working on international partnership projects… In the long-term I plan to return to the United States,” he says.
“God has blessed me enormously in Germany. He has taught me that He wants to use me just the way He made me. My interests, my personality, my talents, submitted to Him, have been tools through which He speaks to others and directs my paths.”