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Photo for Margarethe Hattingh

Margarethe Hattingh

South Africa
BA in Economics, Politics, and Social Thought (2019)
Currently: Applied to Master's programs at the University of Vienna

Where are you from originally and which program were you enrolled in at Bard College Berlin?

I was born in Hamburg, Germany to parents of South African origin on a diplomatic posting. I spent six months there before being flown to South Africa, my passport country and the home of my heart, where I lived for a dwindling portion of my life as time has taken me elsewhere. 

At BCB I enrolled in the EPST program, deciding on a double-concentration in Economics and Politics during moderation in the second year.

Looking back, what did you most enjoy about your time at Bard College Berlin?

I enjoyed the challenge of it, and that it was something totally new. The challenge wasn’t solely intellectual, though that was a large part of it. The challenge also had to do with figuring out a new city, new people, making new friends, learning how to live alone and not be lonely... learning how to let friends go, and how important it is to ask for help when you need it. Beginning to understand, through these experiences, how to live. Better. Of course these sorts of challenges aren’t exclusive to Bard College Berlin, but I do believe BCB provides just the right balance of support (with regards to academics as well as the tedium of daily life) and freedom to let its students flourish.

This is true with regards to bureaucracy, mental health, and all types of student initiatives. The BCB student blog is a fantastic example of a school-sponsored platform that allows students to publish virtually anything they please—be it a political op-ed or poetry. Working for the blog during my four years at BCB I got to experience firsthand the care put into developing its content in line with the individual student contributor’s writing interests. My experience with helping organise a conference on campus during my senior year was also overwhelmingly positive as members of the administration reached out to ask how they could support our organizational team. The level of care at BCB is simply incredible.

How would you describe, in a nutshell, the experience of studying at Bard College Berlin?

Challenging and worthwhile.

Write briefly about one of your courses that left a lasting impression on you.

The course that is most vividly etched in my memory is the second semester Forms of Love core. Contemplating the texts and concepts that are the focus of this particular core course struck a chord inside my soul. I had never before read the Bible or Rumi’s poetry with an intellectual eye; I doubt I would’ve ever given myself the opportunity to consider the contents of these texts earnestly if it weren’t for the seminar environment. When I did so, I found many of them resonated in my innermost being with great intensity: What is more important, more fundamental to our nature than love, in all its forms? (A rhetorical question I will leave unanswered as I believe there isn’t anything to reply.) 

How do you think the education you received at Bard College Berlin will help you in the future? 

It might sound cliche, but I believe the most important thing I learned at BCB is how to be an ‘independent thinker’. This isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally; for the vast majority of my life, I have not been an independent thinker, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who occasionally wishes someone else would make all major life decisions for them. This is not solely my own fault but is in large part due to the fact that no one really asked me to think for myself before BCB. Actually, I’d go so far as to say independent thinking was, and remains, actively discouraged on many fronts. But at BCB there is no escaping the opportunity to think independently. It’s required in virtually every class, and it’s what makes the entire program so enriching.
 
What I mean by independent thinking isn’t clear-cut, but it stands opposed to text-book memorisation and is friends with exploration. Independent thinking involves close consultation with your own private thoughts and feelings and requires that you develop an understanding of where they come from, and then use this understanding to figure out what it is that’s immediately in front of you (a particular situation, person, or text, perhaps) and how you’d like to proceed in that context. I like to think of it as a muscle that you keep fit with repeated use; once you’ve flexed it, you won’t want to give up the power and freedom it brings. I hope I don’t let mine atrophy now that I’ve finished my BA.

Where are you now and what are you doing?

I’ve applied to a handful of Master's programs at the University of Vienna, where I’m currently located, and hope to hear back from them soon. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll look for ‘gainful employment’. So, scheming, typing, and waiting.

Any advice you would give to students considering Bard College Berlin?

My advice for if you are seriously considering BCB (possibly moving continents, leaving family behind, doing something totally new and different that will be challenging in all the ways you had no way of knowing it would be), you should think of why you’re interested and what you would be giving up if you came here. The ‘right’ reasons to come here are many -- the professors are fantastic, seminars are engaging, the core courses are why I came in the first place, you’ll probably make friends that last a lifetime, and hey, it’s Berlin. The intimate campus environment and level of academic engagement with primary texts necessary here is not for everyone, but I believe anyone can make a home for themselves at BCB if they’re willing to give this special place a try.