Ecuador Part 2

I am always amazed by how fast time flies. Three weeks has passed since I left Cuenca for intensive field work in the southern regions of Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe. This Monday, our team returned to Cuenca and spent a week in the city to reflect on our previous work. Next Monday, we will hit the road again and spend two weeks in Pulingui, a small community next to Riobamba. Before I leave internet connections, I want to share my stories and lessons learned from the past three weeks. This blog consists of three parts: a quote, a story & my takeaways, and pictures.

First of all, quote of the month: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson

This is one of the most beautiful quotes I have ever encountered. It will be guiding my principle in all kinds of social entrepreneurship works in the future. We had a thorough discussion about this quote in the past reflection week in Cuenca. For me, it connects with the difference between charity and solidarity. Charity is meaningless without solidarity and mutual respect. There isn’t such a thing as single-way empowerment. All kinds of empowerment are, as I believe, mutual. In social entrepreneurship, everyone’s liberation is bound together.

Next, a story.

I tried very hard to suppress the urge to check my watch. It was already noon, and we still had 20 finance surveys to conduct before leaving at 1 pm. However, we have been talking to the lady in front of us for nearly 20 minutes – only to get one survey done. Eager to practice my (very very elementary) Spanish, I tried to communicate interactively with our interviewee as much as possible; but meanwhile, I was worrying over the team’s time management.

In week 3 and 4, Social Entrepreneur Corps officially started field work in different regions across the country. My team, Oportunidad, traveled to the Southern part of Ecuador and stayed in Ñamarin, Loja and Timbara, Zamora, to implement the micro-consignment model. Our work in el campo can be divided into three major categories: assisting local entrepreneurs in village-access campaigns, consulting for grassroots organizations and savings groups, and finally, developing a financial literacy business model.

Another five minutes had passed, but our conversation showed no sign of stopping. As the Amazonian sun above us became stronger and stronger, my anxiety grew. We were doing surveys regarding financial literacy and institutions in the town of Paquisha. The survey data would later be analyzed and used to build a viable model for implementing long-term, socially-impactful finance projects in Ecuador. To be self-motivated, we made quantifiable goals for ourselves and were aiming to conduct 30 surveys within our 2-hour stay in Paquisha. So, when we were talking to this interviewee, there was only one word in all the seven team members’ minds: QUANTITY.

But we were wrong. The 30-minute conversation with the lady in front of us helped us realize that, in social entrepreneurship, quantity is a very insufficient measurement of success. As we were compiling survey data from our interviewees, we discovered to our surprise that the longer the conversation was, the more valuable information we got from the surveys. The last lady we talked to in Paquisha later turned out to be the president of a local women’s association/savings group. In our long conversation, she offered us not only answers to our survey questions but also detailed information on how rural savings group in the Zamora-Chinchipe region work as well as the credibility of cooperatives and credit unions in the Southern Ecuador. Eager to finish the conversation as fast as possible, none of us realized the value of the seemingly “extra” information to our future work in model-building. In addition, we got to know about the interviewee as an individual instead of mere survey data. The door-to-door survey experience has taught me patience, meticulousness, and most importantly, the fact that QUALITY MATTERS.

This is an example of how I learned and grew in the field work. In the field, where we put social entrepreneurship theories into real practice, I brought a long list of takeaways home every day after work. All the takeaways echo one critical principle: balance. Balance of quantity and quality. Balance of giving and taking. Balance of the time spent in different types of work. Social entrepreneurship is all about effective and reasonable balance.

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks. Despite the busy working schedule, I got to spend a decent amount of time with my host families, who were so sweet that I nearly cried at the farewell party before we head back to Cuenca. I also went hiking, visited some breathtaking waterfalls, and spoke as much Spanish as possible!

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I was with two of the most beautiful human beings in the world — my host siblings David and Kenny. Never have I experienced so much mutual respect for culture in this small but sweet family. They melt my heart. It is interesting to observe that when people cannot fully communicate with language, they actually get closer. 

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TEAM OPORTUNIDAD! Creating opportunities out of obstacles!!

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Paquisha, a beautiful town in Zamora-Chinchipe where we did MCM surveys, held campaigns, and had great memories.

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My host dad from Timbara. He is awesome!!

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Taffy making activity with Amor y Fortaleza, a grassroots association in Timbara. We did a consulting presentation for the members afterwards. 

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Need analysis with our local entrepreneurs!

Finally, HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!! 

By Yuchen Zou

A Cheesy Recommendation in Saraguro

They were frantically yelling at each other across a large room. Twenty or so families depended on the success of this cooperative and not all was in order. We were about to present our recommendations (¡in Spanish!) to this cheese cooperative in Saraguro, Ecuador.

A sustainable Ecuadorian life contrasts greatly from that of an American. People do not strive to work in corporate Ecuador; that path does not exist. The people live off of the land. These local farmers had been selling their produce for centuries. However, it was time to change. Most recently, local shops refused to purchase cheese on a consistent basis. Not to mention, the large markup shopkeepers would take. The farmers decided to form a cooperative.

Amongst twenty families, organizing a cooperative would not be easy. Many families had to travel miles through the mountainous region to attend meetings. Many did not show up at all. Most were at the will of their farms. Agrarian work is intense. Meanwhile, the group was at an impasse, having a location to process and sell the cheese but lacking governmental health approval. The cooperative needed centralization. Twenty families could neither regulate each other nor control quality.

We decided that it was most important to create an organizational structure that could adequately handle day-to-day operational demands and maintain order within the cooperative. Initially, we hypothesized that the organization could function just like a family business in the U.S.: a manager, a part-time accountant, and a few other operating employees would do. We were naïve to business in Ecuador. Accountants did not need a college education; some did not even graduate high school. The accountant would also need to operate the business. We decided to address the top of the structure. Who amongst the cooperative members would make executive decisions? We created an elected board so that the families did not need to travel so often. That board would then be responsible to hire three team members, one with a background in cheese making, another with retail experience, and the third with accounting knowledge. Surprisingly, the group not only understood my broken Spanish but also liked our idea.

Quality control was the more difficult question. Quite frankly, none of us knew even how to make cheese, so we started by visiting the facility. Here’s how it works: farmers milk their cows and process it into quesillo. They then sell the quesillo to the cooperative that processes it. Voila: cheese. Unfortunately, we discovered two main barriers to controlling quality. First, each cow grazed on different pastures and ate different feed. The cooperative needed to standardize food. Although this would be a long-term goal, group could not do this immediately. In the mean time, however, the cooperative needed to purchase the milk and ensure that the quesillo process was standardized. A variable quesillo would make an unreliable cheese (and no one likes hair in their cheese!). The group agreed. I wish the cheese cooperative the best as they grow and hope one day I can buy some fresh cheese from the group in the U.S.!

My homestay niece. Go Irish!

My homestay niece. Go Irish!

Colin, Monica, and I during the campaign.

Colin, Monica, and I during the campaign.

Look at the mountains!

Look at the mountains!

The fog was amazing...ly scary when driving.

The fog was amazing…ly scary when driving.

Watching the Ecuadorians make my Panama hat was definitely a highlight of the trip!

Watching the Ecuadorians make my Panama hat was definitely a highlight of the trip!

-Grant Ebenger

Ecuador Part 1

Buenas noches from Cuenca, Ecuador! I am Yuchen Zou, a rising sophomore majoring in ACMS and political science. Sponsored by SIBC, I am currently interning for Social Entrepreneur Corps in Ecuador. This is an eight-week internship focusing on the implementation of the microConsignment model, grassroots consulting, and social impact product development. I started two weeks ago, and up till now we have been taking intense training sessions and Spanish classes in Cuenca, the third biggest city in Ecuador. Earlier this week, we also went to rural communities nearby, where we held financial literacy and water safety workshops for elementary school kids, conducted finance-related surveys, and prepared for our first-ever market campaigns.

Here are some key takeaways from the first two weeks:

1. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

This may sound clichéd, but it has become my favorite quote two weeks into the internship. Flying into Ecuador after three layovers and not knowing any Spanish at all, I knew that the internship experience was not going to be easy. However, within the past two weeks, Cuenca already feels like home to me. My comfort zone has expanded to include more places, languages, cultures, and people. I was surprised by the hospitality I could receive with a smile and some very basic Spanish like “Hola,” “Gracias,” and “Como esta.” I have grown to love challenges, challenges that lead me out of the college bubbles and into other parts of the world. Challenges are making me feel alive and at home.

Last Sunday was our downtime and I decided to hike in the Cajas with my friends. The Cajas National Park is located on the Andes and is very close to Cuenca. It was raining when we started our hike, and because of the humidity, the trials were unusually muddy and slippery. In addition, because we were at a relatively high elevation, breathing became increasingly difficult as we climbed up. Halfway up the first peak, I started to regret coming to the hike. “This is not for me,” I thought, “it is way too challenging and I might be risking my life.” However, after much struggle, all seven of us still successfully made it to the first peak. The moment I looked down from the 12000-feet peak, I knew all the difficult toils were worth it. The view was stunning – and it is the challenging hike up here that made the scenery much more rewarding.

In the coming weeks, all the interns will be traveling to rural areas, where economic situations and living conditions will be very different from Cuenca. This is definitely a challenge, but it is nevertheless an opportunity for me to expand my comfort zone even more and add new insights into my life. Problem is always an opportunity for improvement.

2. “Charity is a bit humiliating; it goes vertically from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is more horizontal and implies mutual respect.” — Eduardo Galeano

The two weeks’ training sessions have led me to think a lot about social entrepreneurship, solidarity, and charity. Galeano’s quote has been very controversial, but I totally agree with him. Honestly, I have been very skeptical of social services in general. Yes, I can build a house for an impoverished family, but how much impact have I made by doing that? Can a house really lead them out of the cycle of poverty? I never think that charity alone can make huge impacts in the world. It is too vertical (and even humiliating) – some people simply offer, and other people simply receive. Whether or not the recipients of charity are treated in a condescending way, most of them are still unable to really walk out of poverty. Just as the old Chinese saying goes, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” To me, charity is an act of giving fish; it may sustain a family for one day, a week, or even a month, but in the long run, people stay impoverished.

The microConsignment model, on the other hand, offers an alternative. The Social Entrepreneur Corps work closely with local entrepreneurs, mostly females in rural areas seeking economic independence, and sponsors them with products and free market training. Through economic empowerment, the business model promotes solidarity over charity. One of the greatest features of the MCM model is that even if the entrepreneurs were not able to make an ideal sale, the financial repercussion would still be on the Social Entrepreneur Corps instead of on the entrepreneurs themselves. With long-term training and sponsorship, entrepreneurs receive the “techniques for fishing.”

In the following weeks, we will be more devoted to implementing the MCM model along with offering consulting services and financial literacy workshops for grassroots organizations in Ecuador. I look forward to gaining and sharing more insights into social entrepreneurship as an effective means to promote solidarity.

Here come the pictures:

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La Nueva Catedral, the New Church, is the symbol of Cuenca, Ecuador. Amauta Spanish School, our “base camp,” is located two blocks away.

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After a very hard hike, the seven of us made it to the second peak of Cajas. The foggy view is breathtaking.

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The finance-literacy team is holding finance “charlas” for elementary school children in Laguan, a county near Cuenca.

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Local newspapers interviewed us when we were preparing for our first campaign in Sig-Sig. 

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Ecuadorian foods presentation is a huge event for the 21 interns. It was held in the Spanish school as a part of the Ecuadorian culture sessions.

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Spotted in Bella Cuba, a famous restaurant in downtown Cuenca. Me gusta la comida!

Stay tuned for more adventures, takeaways, and pictures!!!

By Yuchen Zou

Summer in Beijing

 Hey everyone, my name is Tianyue Li, and I go by Brooke. I’m a sophomore at Notre Dame. I’m really sorry for posting this blog so late, because the wordpress website was blocked in China. This summer, I worked as an intern in Notre Dame Asia Office. Although I’ve visited Beijing with my parents when I was young, my six-week stay in Beijing has proven to be quite a different experience. Rather than being a tourist, I had the real chance to actually live in the city and get immersed in the city’s culture and history. Moreover, working with Miranda and Dr. Noble in ND Asia Office has been a rewarding experience for me.

During our time in Beijing, Amy and I stayed at Tsinghua University PBC School of Finance. Right on the right side of PBC School of Finance is Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious colleges in China. Apart from Tsinghua University, Wudaokou, the place we lived, has many other colleges, including Peking University and Beijing Language University. The neighborhood we stayed is a bustling place full of college students. As one who goes to school in the States, I explored the life of Chinese college students during my stay in Beijing. I, together with my high school friends who go to Tsinghua, took a tour around the campus, tried out the food in one of the twenty dining halls on campus (we had Beijing Duck!), and went to a concert organized by a student club later that night. Chinese universities have a vastly different system from that of schools in the States. Before freshman orientation, the students are required to choose their majors, and they’re not allowed to change them later, which is strikingly different from how it works in the States. Chinese college students don’t get the chance to explore their interests before declaring their majors. Furthermore, Chinese universities tend to have core curriculum. More than often, it’s mandatary for students of the same major to take the same classes all through their four years. Students don’t have the opportunity to set up their own class schedule, since their schedule is often assigned by their advisors. My tour around Tsinghua University and talk with my high school friends let me realize the significant discrepancy between the education systems of China and of US.

During my first week of work, my main task was to compile a handbook for several Notre Dame summer programs in Beijing, including Business and Culture in Summer Today, IBM-CRL Internship Program, and ND Tsinghua Engineering Program. In the handbook, we put together travel information, food options in the neighborhood and basic colloquial Chinese to help people in summer program between accustomed to their stay in Beijing. At the end of the first week, we helped plan out the Annual Notre dame Alumni Picnic. The picnic had a great turnout. We met a lot of alumni as well as incoming freshman. Here’s a picture of us:

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During the second week of my work, Amy and I assisted in hosting the Business and Culture in Summer Today, a summer program for Notre Dame undergraduate students. We picked students up from the airport, served as RA and first point of contact during evenings. Moreover, we worked as chaperons on field trips. Together with students from the summer program, I visited several culture sites in Beijing, including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Lama Temple. My visits to these tourist attractions helped me get to know the culture and history of Beijing, and China as a whole better. Besides the field trips to culture sites, I also went to some NGOs run by Notre Dame alumni in Beijing. We visited Carnegie Peace Center in Wudaokou, a research institute that collaborates with professors and students from Tsinghua University to conduct analysis of both Chinese and international politics. We also paid our visit to Reuters, the second largest new agencies in China (the largest is a local one named XInhuashe). In Reuters Beijing, the speaker gave us a great talk about the way foreign journalists investigate news in China. The part about negotiating with Chinese government was particularly interesting, since, as some people have already heard, China held an almost exclusive control over news media, not wanting them to disclose any information that the government doesn’t wish the public to know. Here are some pictures of Lama Temple and one picture of Amy and I in front of Tiananmen Square:

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In the following weeks, we spent more time in the office. We had the opportunity to help the Admission office update and translate marketing collateral, including several PPTs, the Fighting Irish videos, and brochures, for Notre Dame’s fall undergraduate admission trip in Asia. But the task that I spent my most time on was trying to compile a bilingual handbook for incoming Chinese students and their parents. All sorts of information, such as visa application, SSN application, international driving permit, university health service information and brief introduction of life at Notre Dame, are included and translated in the 20-page handbook. We hoped this handbook would smoothen the transition between Chinese high schools and US colleges, and help facilitate the Notre Dame experiences of both students and parents.

Finally I want to thank SIBC for offering such an amazing opportunity to work in Asia Office and meet so many wonderful people! This internship has truly been a rewarding experience for me that I would never forget. Thank you ND and thank you SIBC!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Final Thoughts on Berlin

What a summer! Berlin was an absolutely unbelievable place to intern for 8 weeks. It’s hard to describe how sad I am to see my time here end.

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The Victory Column, commemorating three Prussian victories in the years leading up to Germany’s unification

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One story I forgot to tell – the time I saw a man walking a COUGAR in the middle of the city at 2:00 pm on a Sunday

Professionally, this experience could not have been better. I certainly worked on lots of important projects and hone my Excel and PowerPoint skills, but I could have done that anywhere. The true value of my experience came from the international component of the work. I conducted market research entirely in German, deciphered assignments in German from certain coworkers who had difficulty explaining them to me in English, and went on a cross-EU business trip! Those opportunities don’t come from a run-of-the-mill post-sophomore year internship.

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The River Spree in the wee hours of the morning

I certainly broadened my horizons outside of the workplace as well. Living in Berlin is all about exposing yourself to different cultures and viewpoints. This may be best exemplified by the Kreuzberg neighborhood, which was always fun to walk around because it’s a mix of Turkish immigrants, left-minded people of every variety, students, startup entrepreneurs, etc. Walk around there during the day, and you are bound to run into some sort of protest, art exhibition, or thought-provoking graffiti.

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Only in Berlin does an abandoned airport get turned into a massive public park

Of course, doing all the touristy stuff proved quite fun as well. How else did I get all those awesome pictures from Dresden and Prague? And of course, this beauty of Austin and I in front of the Brandenburg Gate:

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This brings me to my final point. This internship would not have been possible without the help of the Student International Business Council and its generous benefactor, Frank Potenziani. To SIBC, Mr. Potenziani, and all else who made this trip possible, thank you.

Farewell Germany!

It is shocking that this adventure has already come to an end. I have learned so much, but have only been able to share so little on this blog! Outside of the language barrier, I have basically become acclimated to living and working in Berlin–which gives me immense hope in my dreams of becoming an international businessman.

I have toured the whole of the city and have done some pretty incredible things. My favorites:

  • Toured the Reichstag and learned about German politics.
  • Payed my respects at a concentration camp about an hour north of Berlin.
  • Visited the oldest pub in Berlin with family. 
  • Got some history lessons on a Third Reich tour of Berlin.
  • Walked through the Tiergarten–Berlin’s Central Park.
  • Sampled the view atop of Berlin’s TV Tower.
  • Visited nearby Prague and Dresden with friends.
  • Observed antiquity at various museums in the main square. 
  • Toured the famous Berliner Dom church. 

And, finally, I leave you with lessons I have learned for studying and working abroad that I emailed to my Notre Dame mentor a couple weeks ago. Enjoy! 

  • See the city and country that you’re studying or working in before traveling internationally. This one is particularly interesting. I have had friends from America with me here and the first thing that they did when they got to Berlin was figure out how they were going to leave Berlin every weekend. This upcoming weekend is my sixth weekend in Berlin and I still haven’t done everything that I have wanted to. Instead of “getting a taste” of Europe, I formed a unique connection with this city and its amazing history.
  • Only commit to those activities that you cannot do anywhere else in the world. I have seen peers here (and I am sometimes guilty as well) that will choose the beach over seeing Hitler’s bunker and will choose shopping for Burberry instead of touring the Reichstag. We are all different and have different tastes, but I would suggest to anyone to take advantage of the experiences only available in your city.
  • Do what you want while you’re here; you never know the next time you will (if at all) have this opportunity. Many of my peers, including myself, have “bandwagoned” on the popular activity of the weekend. It’s okay to be by yourself and see what you want to; in fact, I think I function best while by myself. If those people doing the “popular” activity are your friends, they will understand.
  • Read, read, read as much history and general knowledge about the location in which you’re working and studying. My experience has been that much deeper and more amazing because I understand the significance of the area. Plus, people are often impressed with my knowledge and it is a great way to start a conversation and delve further into the cultural implications of history. Reading–even if it is stupid Wikipedia articles (very guilty)–has developed this experience into a connection with Berlin and an incredible learning journey. 

Thanks for joining me on this amazing adventure! Have a great semester!

Best, 

Austin Hunt

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Friends at Berlin’s Reichstag.

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A concentration camp visit north of Berlin.

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A Gallery of the Berlin Wall.

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The famous Berlin Zoo Gate.

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The Olympic Rings and Stadium that housed the notorious 1936 Games. 

Business in Berlin

Being in the incredible country of Germany sometimes distracts from my everyday life as a Business Analyst at my firm. Unfortunately, I am guilty of getting stuck in a day-to-day work routine at the office and forgetting the amazing experience I am immersed in.

But what exactly do I do? Essentially, what I have been doing is researching company, industry, and market specific information in regards to Silicon Valley and the startup world. My supervisors and I think of worthy endeavors and delve deeper into the venture. For example, my supervisors have approached me and have said “Research this company called ‘X.’ We like what they’re doing. See if there is a market in Europe.” OR “This company called ‘X’ is dominating the flower market in Berlin. See if there is any room for another player/identify competition/find revenues.” Based off of my findings, I need to decide how to organize my newfound information: PDF or Word document, PowerPoint presentation, Excel spreadsheet, etc. Following my creation of the report, I have a meeting to explain and interpret the information to a supervisor. I am often asked my opinions on matters and in what I would personally invest.

One excellent opportunity that I have had is to make a grand, all-inclusive spreadsheet of possible ventures that are gaining traction and then make my own suggestions to my supervisors of what to research. I browse sites like crunchbase.com and angel.co in order to find what companies are being funded. I learned about the Round/Series system of funding and have actually discovered what the hype of Silicon Valley is all about.

I have had the opportunity to sit down with my bosses to discuss mergers and acquisitions, talk with coworkers about their own venture ideas, and email startup founders for information and advice. I have both presented a mobile application idea to my supervisor and also suggested further research in one of the most popular startups today. Not only have I been now told to extensively research this startup and make several reports, but also my supervisor and I had a call with the CFO of the company a couple weeks ago.

However, being in Berlin while doing this work makes all the difference: Berlin has proven to be a hotbed of startup activity. Several firms that I have researched and emailed are only a few blocks away from my office and I have really gotten a feel for the fast-paced environment that is a startup.

Until next time, auf Wiedersehen!

–Austin Hunt

 

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The Berliner Dom–Germany’s “answer to Saint Peter’s Basilica.”

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My new friends and I in Prague on a weekend trip. 

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The Berlin skyline from a unique point of view.

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An aerial view of the Brandenburg Gate.

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My office in Mitte, Berlin.