Fulbright winner to study protests at Leipzig church
A Valparaiso University recipient of a prestigious Fulbright award will examine the crucial role played by a Leipzig church in sparking demonstrations across East Germany in 1989, which eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

James Strasburg, a senior history and theology major from Ann Arbor, Mich., decided to apply for a Fulbright award after a 2008 visit to St. Nicholas Church, located near St. Thomas Church where the Valpo Chorale will perform during its 2010 tour ofGermany.

“When I heard the history of the church and what had occurred there, I was really intrigued,” Strasburg said. “It fascinated me how this church had played such a big role in the political and social transformation of East Germany.”

Strasburg’s Fulbright award will enable him to study how Germans personally and communally remember the Monday Demonstrations that started at St. Nicholas, and how that memory influences identity. Watch a video of Strasburg discussing his Fulbright project and interest in being a cultural ambassador.

“What happened was the church started getting together every Monday night to pray—to pray for peace,” Strasburg said. “These prayer meetings, which started with just a handful of people, eventually grew into peaceful political demonstrations that involved 300,000 people in Leipzig alone.”

As the demonstrations grew, residents of other East German cities were inspired to launch their own peaceful protests.

The Fulbright research experience will extend Strasburg’s exploration of global social justice issues, including his service as chair of Valpo’s Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) during his senior year. During the 2009-2010 academic year, SALT raised more than $15,000 for earthquake relief efforts through its “Valpo has a Heart for Haiti”campaign and more than $12,500 to build an orphanage in Nicaragua as part of the organization’s annual World Relief Campaign. Strasburg also has presented research on ethical consumerism at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and on efforts to bring back communal and faithful living to the modern Christian church at Valpo’s Christ College Student Scholarship Symposium.

Strasburg said his faith underlies his interest in global engagement.

“Knowing the people around you, knowing your neighbors—especially when they are halfway around the world—is crucial to making this a more hospitable world,” Strasburg. “I want to show that hospitality to others and encourage more people to make that effort.”

Valpo is a national leader among master’s level institutions in students selected for Fulbright awards. Including this year, 18 Valpo students have won Fulbrights since 2004 to teach or conduct research in Egypt, China, South Korea, Germany and six other countries.

Dr. Chuck Schaefer, associate professor of history and Fulbright adviser, said the continuing success of Valpo students in winning fellowships is an indicator of the University’s academic quality and commitment to preparing students equipped to take leadership roles in an increasingly global environment.

“The opportunity to be a cultural ambassador to another country is really appealing to me,” Strasburg said. “I think it’s a very valuable experience to learn about different perspectives and start dialogue with people in other countries. That’s a great opportunity to stretch your mind and your thinking in new ways.”

Strasburg noted that the assistance of multiple Valpo professors benefited his Fulbright application by connecting him with German scholars and clergy who led some of the Monday Demonstrations. The initial visit to St. Nicholas was part of a tour led by a Valpo theology professor during Strasburg’s semester at Valpo’s Reutlingen Study Center.

Strasburg plans to interview people who attended and took an active role in the demonstrations, examine public exhibits that discuss the events and read novels about the protests. Strasburg will leave for Germany in early August and spend the next 10 months pursuing his research and taking classes at the University of Leipzig.

In 2008, Valpo won the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, recognizing it as a model for other institutions of higher education in preparing graduates with strong cross-cultural skills and global awareness. International students makeup more than 7 percent of Valpo’s student body, and the University maintains study centers in China, England, Germany and Mexico and offers more than a dozen other study abroad programs.

Approximately 1,200 American students were offered grants to study, teach English and conduct research in more than 110 countries throughout the world beginning this summer through the Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
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May 20: Concert - Leipzig, Lutherkirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 23: Service - Seyda (10 a.m.) and Gentha (1 p.m.)
May 24: Concert – Rottenburg am Neckar, Wallfahrtskirche Weggental (7 p.m.)
May 25: Choral Workshop – Rottenburg am Neckar (9:30 a.m.)
May 26: Concert - Bernburg, Schlosskirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 27: Concert - Köthen, St. Agnus kirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 28 - Service - Leipzig, Thomaskirche (5 p.m.)
May 29 - Cantata - Leipzig, Thomaskirche (3 p.m.)
May 30 - Service - Leipzig, Thomaskirche 10 (a.m.)