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We, the Students: Global conference binds nations with sports

On March 30 and 31, the rain-washed but nonetheless idyllic cityscape of Leipzig, Germany — just like the Swiss Davos this February — became a forum for U.S.-European debates.

This time, however, the emphasis was on international academic partnership and exchange. These were the key goals of the Third Annual MA-Level Conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Social, Political and Cultural Realms of Sports.”

The cozy, old building of the German Literary Institute hosted participants from six European countries and U.S. master’s students of different academic disciplines. They all came to Leipzig to present their research and share their ideas on the topic of “sports.”

Among the numerous guests of the conference were representatives of Leipzig’s academic elite, marketing management professionals from a local ice hockey club, officials from the German-American Chamber of Commerce California and the U.S. Consulate in Leipzig.

As U.S. Consul General Mark J. Powell, addressing the guests and the presenters, commented on the significance of “Global Games, Global Goals” for U.S.-German relations, “It is unique that it is sports that we are focusing on today. Sports has a potential to inspire. It is something that is popular across the world and that draws people into discussions. We look for ways to be good neighbors and interact with German audiences. This conference is a less dry way to approach this task.”

Still catching her breath after a presentation on the history and media images of cheerleaders in the U.S., Joanna Kurcharska, 27, from the University of Krakow, Poland, imparted, “This conference is a new experience for me and I’m glad to be here. I wanted to see what the academic style looked like in other countries. It’s very different from Poland. You don’t ask questions or participate in discussions there. To me, it feels like an American style.”

“Academia is global,” laughed Elina Penner, 25. A presenter from Humboldt University in Berlin, she gave a report about soccer in the urban area of Washington, DC. “I was so happy and surprised when I heard about the conference and its topic. I wrote my B.A. thesis on soccer, but not many people do research on it in academic discourse,” Penner said.

“As an Englishman who studies in Denmark and works in the U.S. every summer, I find that this conference is an important bridge between the continents,” reflected Neil Huitson, 27, from the University of Southern Denmark. A few minutes later, he mesmerized the audience and triggered a storm of questions with his talk about wrestling, entertainment sports, and the use of steroids by professional wrestlers.

In the final panel, “(Not) The End: Psychological Dimensions of Sport Careers,” Peter Schneider, originally from Detroit, talked about sports psychology and the problems that college athletes encounter after their careers’ termination.

“I was a soccer player myself. I know that these people have problems and I want to help them,” said Schneider, who also demonstrated an impressive knowledge of German as he occasionally switched to it when lacking an English equivalent.

The two-day conference brought together students from Europe and the U.S. Organized by the second-year master’s students of American studies at Leipzig University, “Global Games, Global Goals,” was an explosion of youth, academic talent, and international prowess.

Concentrating on the aspect of sports in North American politics, media, history, culture, and psychology, the conference has served as a unifying link between the nations — especially anticipating the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Nadja Panchenko is a master’s student studying journalism and American studies who attended Ohio University last quarter and is a columnist for The Post. She is continuing her studies at Leipzig University. Email her at


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