Name: August Gebhard–Koenigstein
Major: Political Science, minoring in Survey Research & Data Analytics
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia and Cologne, Germany
Activities: Former Co–president of Transfer Student Organization (TSO), former Treasurer of Quadramics Theater Company, research assistant in the Political Science Department
34th Street Magazine: Where are you from?
August Gebhard–Koenigstein: I’m from Cologne, Germany, which is a city in North Rhine–Westphalia. I only actually lived there for a year before moving to New Hampshire, and then I moved back to Europe to Belgium, and then I came to Atlanta when I was eight. I consider myself to be pretty much a Georgian—I [just] don't have a Southern accent, technically. I think the interesting part is just struggling with issues of identity. It’s just kind of weird when your whole family is German and your parents are super German and still have German accents, but you feel like you don't remember the country that well.
Street: Has German culture been a big part of your life?
AGK: In some ways. I got my American citizenship last year, but the way that I know I still feel a good amount of German in my heart is when I watch soccer games and Germany scores, and I'm like “Yeah!” and when it’s the U.S., I'm like “Oh yeah, that's cool, I'm glad.” I love German food, I love everything about Germany, but I feel like I don't know it well enough. I go back to Germany and all my cousins—everyone still there—refer to us as the “American cousins.” They don't even see us as German, which is a little sad, but I guess it's sort of true.
Street: Why did you decide to transfer to Penn?
AGK: A lot of transfer students apply to Penn before [they're] out of high school, but I never did. I knew that I was going to go to Georgia Tech, which is where I spent my freshman year, because it's a really good school and it's close to home. I thought I wanted to study computational media back then, and what better place to do that than a technical school. But I just realized in some ways it was a really homogeneous place. It’s a great place, but people tend to only think about technology…That's what made me think, "maybe I should transfer."
Street: What was your experience as a transfer student?
AGK: Penn is an amazing place because there's a big transfer student infrastructure…Other places just throw you into the fire or throw you in the mix with freshman. It's nice to be somewhere where you know the school cares and where there's a whole other group of people that is primarily concerned with integrating you into the school, which is what TSO [Transfer Student Organization] does.
Street: And why did that make you want to become a part of TSO?
AGK: I knew from the moment that I went to the open house because they were just great people. They were all smiling. They were all energetic. It's kind of like [they] used to be orientation leaders who are super hype all the time about their school. But they’re also very real about things. They say there might be the stigma that you’ll face as a transfer student, and it might be hard to get credits, and you're going to have to take Writing Sem even though maybe you did a writing class at your old school. I appreciated the honesty a lot. It feels weird to be a transfer because you're in this weird limbo. I've been to college before, and I don't really feel like a freshman, but I also don't know anyone here, I don't know the city, and I don't know the campus.
Street: When did you decide to switch your major to political science?
AGK: I had always had this interest in political science because there's so much substance to it. I think also as an immigrant, you tend to notice things more. You notice how political institutions shaped different things and how political history shaped the society and the culture.
Street: When did you get involved with theater?
AGK: I knew since the fifth grade, when I saw a production of Into the Woods, that I wanted to do theatre. Then, that year, I decided to audition for this weird primary school theater thing. I was the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, but I had crippling stage fright. He actually has a song called “I'm Late,” but I was too scared to sing onstage, so the lady was like, "you can just speak the song." But since that, I've done a lot of theater. I would say the climax of my theater career was this year, even though I didn't do any big shows. I wrote a show—don't judge me for the name. It's called 500 Days of August, and it was for the Alternative Theatre Festival. It started off as a joke…It was sort of like a semi–autobiographical story but really stupid at the same time. It’s about a little German boy who comes to America, and it's kind of my life but not really my life in the show. It was performed, and it was a musical.
Street: What is one thing that stands out to you when you reflect on your Penn experience?
AGK: I'm just really grateful to be here. When I came my sophomore year, there was someone who said that by the time you're a senior at Penn, you’re jaded. Every senior hates it. I don't know if that's a common thing, but for me as a transfer, I’m like, “Wow, I wish I could be here another year, there are so many cool classes and so many cool people!” I think the transfer perspective makes you grateful to be here because you know what it's like to not be here.
Street: Favorite book?
AGK: That's a tough one. I really like Treasure Island. It’s that kind of like childhood joy but also there's a lot of good lessons in there.
Street: What is your favorite role that you played?
AGK: Maybe Troy in High School Musical. Everyone's like "oh, you played Troy!" and it's funny because I'm a theater kid, and they had us onstage shooting basketballs, and I was supposed to be good, but I missed every shot.
Street: If you were a building on campus, which building would you be and why?
AGK: This is kind of basic, but probably College Hall. Georgia Tech doesn't have these beautiful buildings the way that Penn does. College Hall, when I first Googled it, was the most beautiful. For me, it's what Penn represents.
Street: Where is your favorite place to study?
AGK: I kind of don't want to give it away because it's so quiet, but I will. Fourth floor of Van Pelt has this little cove in it. They have a bunch of comfortable chairs but also desks that you can write on with markers, and there's a lot of outlets. It’s the perfect place to study.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
AGK: Those who open their emails when they see them, and those who put it off because it makes them stressed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.