Oscar Schlenker is a graduate of the IMS Master’s program and works for the Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia, an NGO, in Venezuela. He says he still benefits from things he learned in the IMS program.
Oscar Schlenker: I’ve always been fascinated by Germany and my last name is partly to blame for that. I grew up in rural Venezuela, and the name "Schlenker" was strange and even unpronounceable for teachers and students. So I made it my mission to learn the language. As soon as I graduated from high school, I enrolled in an AFS exchange program with Germany. I later graduated from college with a major in radio and TV and a minor in journalism and worked in Rome as a correspondent for a Vatican news agency. Still, I’d always dreamed of going back to Germany and when I heard about the IMS program, I knew I had to apply. I quit my job in Rome and was glad to become part of the first IMS intake in 2009. Completing the program has been one of my proudest achievements.
The most enriching experience was working with fellow students. We were such an international group that we had to leap over cultural differences, language barriers and other obstacles to finish projects on time. This really taught me how to work in teams, to listen to everybody and give every group member an opportunity to shine. You can’t learn this in a classroom because it only comes with experience. It’s a skill I still use every day, not just for work but for life in general.
I continued in journalism, working as a DW correspondent in my native country, Venezuela. However, I also began working as a communications advisor with NGOs here and was eventually asked to head the board of the Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia, a prestigious NGO. I work with young activists on projects ranging from human rights to the environment, another aspect of journalism which I learned in the IMS program, focusing on communication for development.
Work ethics, journalism ethics and service have been the most important ones. We journalists have a responsibility to not just inform the public but to also explain, analyze and be critical. It's a responsibility that goes beyond ego boosts when we hear our voices on the radio, see our bylines or watch ourselves on the screen. Media today requires critical thinkers who respect the truth and have a sensitivity to just causes. The IMS showed me the link between my work as a journalist and my interest in defending human rights. I also use much of what I learned in the program about project management and peace journalism. Currently, I’m looking more at solutions-oriented constructive journalism.
When it comes to interviewing, the most compelling interviews I’ve done have been with ordinary people and not with prominent politicians or experts. Although it’s important to prepare yourself by researching the subject and knowing about your interview partner, humility and a type of ignorance have been my most powerful tools for asking the best questions. Never forget to end your interviews with: "Is there anything you would like to add or is there something I forgot to ask?" because in my experience, that question has provided the best answers.