A Strange Exchange: Brown University Students on the Loose in East Germany (44)

In this episode of Radio GDR our host John Paul Kleiner (gdrobjectified.wordpress.com) interviews Debby Pattiz about the unusual semester she spent in the GDR back in 1988 as a Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) student at Wilhelm-Pieck Universität in Rostock.

Our episode begins with an exploration of the history of the GDR’s extensive “Ausländerstudium” (Foreign Students) program, which brought over 100,000 college students from close to 140 countries to universities in East Germany.

The second part of the episode focuses on Debby’s research into the unprecedented Brown-Rostock Program, which enabled dozens of Brown students to spend a semester in the GDR during the 1980’s. We examine the exchange’s Cold War geopolitical context and its impact on US-GDR bilateral relations in the 1970’s and 1980’s (including: the USA’s expanding war in Southeast Asia, recognition of the GDR by the United Nations, signing of the Helsinki Accords, the 1983 Able-Archer exercises, and CIA/MfS interest in the program).

Debby also shares a taste of her personal experiences as an American student in East Germany, as well as an introduction to the mystery that preoccupied her for 30 years. Her investigation of that mystery has led to a book about it (in English!).

Debby’s research in the Brown University Archive, the Universität Rostock Archive, and the Stasi Archive is complemented by dozens of interviews with students, professors, historians, and other “historical witnesses” from Providence and Rostock.

Another key work in Debby’s research is Christopher Wiley’s 2013 Georgetown University dissertation “Textbook Diplomacy: East German Student Exchange and the GDR’s Bid for Global Legitimacy, 1951-1990.” This text can be found online here: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/707436

“Photo © Debby Pattiz, used with permission”
“Photo © Debby Pattiz, used with permission”
“Photo © Debby Pattiz, used with permission”
“Photo © Debby Pattiz, used with permission”


3 comments on “A Strange Exchange: Brown University Students on the Loose in East Germany (44)

  1. Richard Ure says:

    I enjoyed this episode very much. It sounds as if Debby’s forthcoming book is going to deal with exactly the issues that intrigue listeners to the podcast. Her labours should not be in vain and will fill yawning gaps in our understanding of the unprecedented events in the rise (if that is the word) and disappearance of a nation.

  2. Debby Pattiz says:

    Thank you for your interest, Richard! The issues that intrigue Radio GDR listeners definitely influenced themes that I explored in my research. It is rewarding to learn that they also resonated with you!

  3. Dirk R says:

    Student exchange, how could that possible be interesting? Well, it gave a perfect insight in how people in the GDR looked to western people, but also the distorted “political correct” view of their government and its inoffizieller Mitarbeiter, who reported on the exchange students. But as Debby’s story shows, there’s always hope when it comes to using common sense. Many people in the GDR did not quite shared the views of the government and were happy to learn to know the other side. Thanks Debby and the GDR teams for the fascinating talk. Keep them coming!

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