Alumni network in Colombia: the networkers
Anyone returning to their home country after a long period of study or residence abroad sometimes has to make new contacts when they get back – in order to find a job, for example. In these circumstances, it can be very helpful if there is a point of contact to provide assistance. In Colombia, the ASPREA association (Asociación de Profesionales con Estudios en Alemania) helps individuals returning from Germany re-establish themselves. “We have many links with companies, ministries and organisations,” says Orlando Castillo, president of ASPREA. “This means we are often able to find jobs for people returning to Colombia.”
Cooperation between Germany and Colombia
ASPREA is an association for Colombians who have studied in Germany with the support of a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Through its work, the association promotes cooperation between Germany and Colombia – and has done so for the past 40 years. “The number of Colombians in Germany has continued to increase over the years,” says Castillo. “Currently, more than 3,200 Colombians are writing a doctoral thesis, have a research scholarship or are studying for a master’s degree in Germany,” he adds. It is therefore of no surprise that ASPREA now has 350 members.
Learning German and networking
The members of the alumni association not only help returnees re-establish themselves in Colombia – they also provide information to students who would like to go to Germany in the future. This includes advice about particular places to study in Germany and about language requirements for degree programmes. ASPREA also organises meetings in Colombia with representatives of major German companies, such as Lufthansa. In addition, members meet up from time to time to speak German in a relaxed setting and keep their language skills up to scratch. Once a year, ASPREA also organises an event with high-profile experts.
Renewable energies urgently needed
In 2019, this event concentrated on renewable energies. What opportunities does the use of wind power, solar power and other green energy sources offer in Colombia? What challenges are there? The seminar at the end of September 2019 focussed on these aspects and involved participants from the fields of science, economics, business, culture and politics.
Colombia currently obtains around 70 percent of its energy from hydropower, with the rest coming from coal and gas. “The major cities are well supplied with energy,” explains Oscar Villalobos, a member of the ASPREA management board. “But supplies in rural regions often leave a lot to be desired.” The speakers at the event explained that demand for additional energy is high, both in the lowlands and on the coasts. Renewable energies could be used in these areas in the future.
The experts at the ASPREA event emphasised that, on the whole, Colombia was in a very good position to utilise renewable energy sources. Not only does the sun shine a lot, but the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coastlines are also excellent locations for wind turbines. There are also valuable opportunities for introducing geothermal systems due to the numerous volcanoes in the country. “The experts agreed that utilising renewable energies in Colombia would be worthwhile,” explains Oscar Villalobos.
As well as speakers from Colombia, ASPREA also invited experts from Uruguay, Ecuador and Mexico to the event. They reported on how they had managed the transition to renewable energies. However, social challenges also play a role. In the regions of Colombia in which many indigenous people live, it is not as easy to shift to renewable energies. “New technologies have often been initially met with resistance there,” points out Oscar Villalobos. “The issue of these social challenges also needs to be addressed.”
Finding investors and staying informed
“ASPREA events like this can be very useful for participants,” explains Alberto Grajales. For example, at the event at the end of September, a student presented his inventions relating to the theme of renewable energy. By doing so, he found investors who are now funding the development of his inventions.
Building and nurturing contacts, advancing careers, maintaining language skills – the members of ASPREA benefit from the association in all sorts of ways. ASPREA’s very own newspaper also ensures that all members are kept well informed about when interesting events are taking place or where job vacancies are. The members also go on excursions together – this year they visited a glacier. And Christmas is celebrated in a very traditional style every year: ASPREA organises a Christmas concert with German and Spanish Christmas carols for all members and their relatives. “This has now become an institution in Bogotá – everyone looks forward to it each year,” says Alberto Grajales.
In the coming year, there is also likely to be a group trip back to Germany. After all, direct contact and exchange is the very best way to strengthen German-Colombian relations.
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