In 1992/1993 I was a German exchange student. It was my summer break between Year 12 and Year 13 (or 6th and 7th form as it was way back when). I was a fairly timid, dependent, quiet teenager (whose German was not that flash). It was a big deal to be so far from home and working away at living in a foreign language. Luckily for me my German family was phenomenal, and my German sister’s best friend rapidly became a very good friend for me too.

One afternoon, without really knowing where I was going, but happily tagging along, I found myself at a rally / demonstration “gegen [against] ausländerfeindlichkeit”. I didn’t know this second word, and when I looked it up in English (‘xenophobia’) I was none-the-wiser. But I did recognise the neo-Nazi sentiment in the streets. And I did recognise the racism against, in particular, the Turkish people living in that part of Germany.

And I felt amazed. These teenagers were so well-informed about the news events of the day. They had political opinions. They wanted to take a stand against racism, and hatred / fear of ‘the Other’. They shouted. They had placards. They knew slogans. In an interview with my German high school paper, not long before I left to return to New Zealand, I couldn’t recall the name of our Prime Minister. (It was Jim Bolger, FYI…)

This is one of the things I wish to cling to, in the aftermath of the March 15 attacks: on the same day, our school students marched in response to climate change. Young people are aware. They are informed. They have a voice. They take action and stand up for things in which they believe. And I hope they continue to do so.



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