Project Diary: German sports student Fabian Otte about his studies in India and the key success-factors

In Germany while studying sports at famous University Deutsche Sporthochschule in Cologne, student Fabian Otte started the Global Sports & Play Initiative – bringing together people from various countries via sports. In 2019 Otte traveled to India to further work on his studies by collecting data.

For the transatlantic diablog he recaps his trip. Read more about the key success factors of his work in part 2 here:

Since I have already travelled in India for one month in 2017, I already knew some cultural aspects and a little bit of Hindi, which is a great opportunity for casual conversations or partly non-verbal communication on the street or on the market. For example, I was able to use my hands to eat as a matter of course, to politely refuse the taxi in typical manners or to have a short small talk with children.

Fabian Otte visiting an NGO that offers sports programmes for children in slum situations who cannot afford a commercial offer. Photo: Fabian Otte

However, if you travel to a country or culture that you know nothing about and have not come into contact with the people, it may seem unrealistic to carry out a project there, as for many it is already a challenging idea to cope with everyday life in another culture. Since I have already planned, organized and carried out two small international projects on the topic of “Cultural differences and possible applications of sport and play” in Nigeria and India, I would like to say from my perspective with firm conviction: It is possible and very feasible – under five specific conditions:

1. Curiosity and interest in other cultures

From the perspective of the German society, we can be very grateful for the opportunities of experience and learning that have arisen for us. With our passport it is easier than ever to travel to other countries and make new experiences. In addition, our secure welfare state provides us with numerous funding and support opportunities to further develop our passions and interests. From BAföG and start-up grants to project support from various ministries. If you are aware that all these possibilities cannot be taken for granted, who appreciate this variety of offers and who are also open to change, diversity, broadening of horizons and intercultural exchange, this is already a positive attitude that will help you to maintain motivation, self-discipline and initiative in your project planning.

2. Attitude towards people of other origins

For us humans it is an important protective function in life to get a quick picture of our counterpart, to classify the potential danger and to weigh up our reaction possibilities. This ability once served us to distinguish friends from enemies. In the context of globalised civilisation, I firmly believe that we as humanity have a responsibility to take the next step and act outside the comfort zone. In concrete terms, this means that we as individuals with cultural values, attitudes and behaviours have to understand that these norms and values correspond to only one, namely our humble perspective, and that there are other perspectives, points of view and approaches to challenges and life management that have to be legitimized and accepted just as much as ours. Especially when traveling to other countries with different traditions and rules, it can happen very quickly that we regard our standards as benchmarks for the respective destination country and it can happen so quickly that eurocentric glasses are put on, trying to see everything that is apparently not yet perfect and can be improved.

Otte trying out “Kabaddi“, one of the nationally most popular sports in India. Photo: Fabian Otte

It is quickly forgotten that the circumstances in every country are embedded in a huge and highly complex context of philosophy, culture, norms, ethics, morals, politics, history, education and many other areas of society. Long story short: It can be helpful to approach other cultures with an attitude of cultural relativism, which means that cultures could not be compared or evaluated from the perspective of another culture, since cultural forms of behaviour must always be seen in the light of the associated social and value system and the understanding of culture. Therefore it makes sense to always ask twice and not to take anything for normal or natural. This can be exhausting, but as travellers and therefore ambassadors of a whole country, we carry this responsibility on our shoulders. The research approach fits well into this approach, as it contains many parallels to cultural relativism. The general principle of science focuses on a questioning attitude, which is prepared to think away from old values of experience and knowledge and to call new evidence-based contents valid.

3. Contacts and network in the target country

We often operate in an environment where many people have international contacts, because they have relatives and friends abroad or have already travelled and met other people. As in my case, even a handful of contacts can help to build a network of organisations and individuals who can help with the implementation and make the project possible. In my opinion it is essential to be in good communication with locals who can support you in your project in order to make contact and project opportunities abroad. They can give you strategic advice and act as an interface to the local structures in which you can work and research.

Photo: Fabian Otte

4. Clear communication of goals and expectations

A clear communication of ideas and aims of the project is enormously important for the cooperation with other people and institutions, particularly in the international context. Back to my example: I had exactly three personal contacts with India, including two I met at a conference for social entrepreneurship in Sweden and one I met at a conference for global engagement in Bonn. I have met another acquaintance who has gone through a voluntary social year in India at a seminar for global inequalities in Cologne. She could establish a good contact to her former organization for me.

All my contacts could either let me stay in their structures to let me carry out the experiments with people or they passed me on to other institutions which could be important and interesting to me. For the communication of the aims of my research I have written a long text about the subject of my journey and me as a person which I shared with my contacts. Only in such a way, it was possible for my contacts and their contacts to weigh up realistically whether such a project is possible or not. It has to be taken care at these documents that numbers and facts should be named as detailed as possible. In my case I have summarised temporal effort, number of subjects and content in short text.

Otte in Vijawada, in the state of Andra Pradesh, where an organization works with women and girls in difficult life situations. Photo: Fabian Otte

5. Personal relation to research and science

To write a bachelor thesis for the completion of a bachelor degree, you certainly do not need to go on a research trip to pass it. If one tries to keep the effort low, it will most likely be enough to join the topic of an institute and carry out a small study or literature research for it. For a larger research project you would need a personal motivation and reasons that may arise from other personal contexts. In my case there are two very personal issues. On the one hand, as already mentioned above, I would like to gain a global overview of cultural differences and similarities in playing behaviour. Through my open instruction methods I was able to find out more about traditional forms of play, sports and movement. For practical implementation, I would like to find out instructional ways to get people, especially adults, to play more intensively, thereby awakening enjoyment in socio-emotional, physiological, cognitive and psychological personality development, which should lead to make people able to act more proactively, to exchange and connect with each other regardless of their culture.

Photo: Fabian Otte

Mankind is in an interesting epoch, in which life is fast moving and globalized as never before. Just now it is important to continue to promote humanity alongside the “new species technology”; so that we do not forget ourselves as humans and continue to reach our full potential instead of giving it away to machines. Based on this vision, I founded the organization “Global Sports & Play Initiative” which aims to strengthen cultural diversity through sport and play from all over the world, while creating opportunities for all people, to play with each other equally regardless of their culture or generation and also to find peace in diverse intercultural environments. To this end, we collect games from different countries and cultures of the world to use them as a program concept for events and exchange projects.

Read more about Otte’s innitial idea of going to India here.

Fabian Otte on Instagram.