Meike Imberg joined us for the RAHM Contest in Berlin. She knocked everyones’ socks off with her energy, enthusiasm, attitude and look on life, in the end claiming the title of the winner of RAHM Contest 2019, Berlin Edition! Take a sneak peek of her experience and her story in this interview.
Shortly about Meike
I’m originally from Aachen in Germany and completed a volunteering year in London after my A-levels. I went back home for few months but ended up coming back to London. After working as a recruiter for just over a year, I started my Sociology and Psychology degree at the University of Greenwich. I was one of those keen bean engaged students and had various jobs with the University as well as various elected positions, such as being the President of the LGBTQ+ Society. I ended up running for the Greenwich Students’ Union Presidency in my final year and got elected as the first female, lesbian, German President. I got re-elected in March 2018 and my two-term Presidency finished at the end of June this year.
I had the time of my life at Greenwich; made the most of every minute and enjoyed every single day. I’ve always been an opportunist and joined the LBTQWomen.org network during my third year, through which the RAHM team found me. I had an incredible time in Berlin and will always be immensely grateful for the opportunity. I just started my role as Client Account Manager for Stonewall UK and am incredibly excited for what the future holds. I live by a quote from Che Guevara: ‘Let’s be realistic; demand the impossible’ as I truly believe that life is way too short not to make the most of it.
Meike, you just won the RAHM Contest in Berlin, congratulations on convincing the other contestants and the jury alike. What has changed for you since/ How did it feel?
Three months ago, I did not even know what the RAHM community is, let alone the Leadership Contest. If I had to decide on a few words to describe my experiences at the RAHM Contest in Berlin, I’d say that everything was overwhelmingly positive! I wanted to take part in this adventure to meet new people, to network and to try something I have never done before. Life will always happen outside of our comfort zone and I was intrigued by the thought of this Leadership Contest as I had no idea what to expect - and I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations as they would have been exceeded in every single way!
I am still processing everything and it’s safe to say that I am still high on life! One thing is for sure though; this wonderful start of my journey with RAHM has reminded me (once again) to always listen to my heart and intuition and to keep grabbing every opportunity that will come my way.
During your flourishing and beneficial career and volunteering activities you have been concentrating on working in the education sector. What made you concentrate on this particular sector? What are the biggest challenges that this sector is facing at this moment?
I’ve always been passionate about social justice and changing the world, but especially my degree and time at University have really manifested this deep internal desire. I’ve realised very quickly that both, the University and Students‘ Union needed holistic cultural change in order to be as amazing and relevant as they could and should be – for the students, but also staff. Full-time Officers of Students‘ Unions don’t tend to consciously decide to stay in the education sector when they get elected. The natural journey is; they either identified through their own engagement there are things that need changing, or they, themselves, had barriers to achieve whatever they wanted to achieve.
The education sector (in the UK) is facing huge challenges at the moment and Brexit is just the tip of the iceberg; the Office for Students (OfS), a non-departmental public body of the Department for Education which is acting as the regulator and competition authority, is posing another challenge and so are the potential changes and regulations coming from the Augar Review. Not even to speak about the employment market competiton, challenges the third sector (charities) is facing regarding volunteering or the general societal challenges of young people being encouraged to be ‘individualistc‘ and to have an opinion about everything, but not really being guided or empowered to actually find out who they are and who they want to be.
Changing the world is about educating those around us;
only then can we achieve long-term changes.
Your campaign #WhoWeAre encouraged LGBTQ+ students and staff to share their experiences of coming out stories. What was the initial thought for this campaign?
Unfortunately, we are living in a world where most people are not free to be who they truly are. I’ve always had positive experiences with all parts of my identity: I never really had to justify being German, female or lesbian (or other parts of my identity). I was really privileged and fortunate with the support I got from my family and friends. However, I developed a deep sense of sadness at a very young age when I started to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. People around me have always empowered and encouraged me to be exactly who I am and I realised it is deeply important to me to spread those messages whatever I do.
So I guess it’s all of those factors that contributed towards me somewhat creating the idea in my head to start the campaign #WhoWeAre. Media campaigns are a very powerful tool to change hearts and minds; I personally am always really touched – and at times overwhelmed – by them, but always perceive that as very positive. We need to continue pushing people outside their comfort zone a little bit when it comes to topics or issues they are not familiar with. Changing the world is about educating those around us; only then can we achieve long-term changes.
You have attended both universities in Germany and England. Can you draw any conclusion from these two experiences regarding LGBTQ+ representation, support and acceptance?
I’ve only attended University in Germany for half a year and have to admit that I had not heard anything about any specific LGBTQ+ representation, support or even a society/network. Now that I think about it, I realise that my experiences at University in Germany contributed unconscously towards me wanting to make the most of my time at the University of Greenwich. I never even knew there was an equivalent to a Students‘ Union in Germany (AstA).
When I started at Greenwich, there were instantly so many opportunities to get involved with; so many events and activities to meet new people, try new things, etc.
I now know from my German friends that any type of student representative body is facing similar challenges around engagement and relevance. Students attend University for all different reasons which is why a lot of Students‘ Unions (SUs) in the UK are proactively working against the stereotype of SUs being a bunch of students singing karaoke in a bar. There is so much amazing work going on across the sector and so much co-creation and collaboration with Universities; I truly believe the education sector, including the representation from minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, will transform over the next couple of years. But with all cultural changes, that will take some time…
After working as President of Greenwich Students´ Union for two years you have decided to change the course of you career and start as Client Account Manager at Stonewall. What motivated you to redirect your career? What are your current goals?
Being President of a Students’ Union (which is a registered charity) means being a director, a campaigner, a figurehead, an activist, a trustee and so much more. It’s impossible to explain to someone outside of the sector what the actual job is. Most people have never even heard the term ’trustee’ and the whole charity system is different in Germany and not as well established as in the UK. I used to describe my job to others along the lines of: “I am like the course representative for ALL students at the University. Me, the SU and the officer team change things to improve the students’ experiences’ which could be campaigning for and implementing a coffee machine in the library, changing policies, improving the bus service provision or other spaces on campus etc.”
I applied for various roles and did not necessarily know the exact area or job I wanted to work in next. All I knew is that I wanted to continue fighting for a better world and ideally get a job that’s not too clerical, but people focused. I just listened to my intuition when I was looking for jobs; met some great and inspiring people throughout my experience and took every opportunity to learn something new. Somehow the universe aligned everything, and I managed to get this incredible job. I only started two weeks ago, but I already love it – the people and the role! I’m really excited to get involved with more projects and am sure the future holds some other great opportunities for me!
While attending and also winning the RAHM Contest 2019 in Berlin what moments and learnings did stand out the most for you?
It may sound a bit cringy, but the one thing that stood out most to me were definitely the people! All of us went through the same selection process which means every participant is an opportunist. That absolutely translated in the positive vibes, the inspiring and diverse stories and the wonderful warm-heartedness that everyone brought. To have gone through this unique, wonderful and exciting experience with so many incredible people – some of which will be friends for life I know! – is something I will always be grateful for.
All the love, appreciation and empowerment I received during the experience and since then, makes me feel even more motivated and determined to continue fighting for a better world and I know that a lot of other participants feel the same. I always say that if everyone did what they love, in a place they love and surrounded themselves with people they love and who love them for who they really are, the world would be a better place!
I am incredibly grateful for every aspect of this fantastic opportunity and want to thank every single person who has enabled me to be myself, who has believed in me and/or supported me in any other way. I know this contest will change my life in ways I am yet to find out and my journey with RAHM has only just begun. Either way I will continue to spread the positive energy, appreciation and empowerment I got from this experience – just like I am a drop in the ocean; all other participants are too and I know this experience made a big difference to everyone so…THANK YOU RAHM!
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