Q&A with Alum Jon Gugisberg

Photo of Jon Gugisberg with his family
Die glückliche Familie (the happy/lucky family). Alum Jon Gugisberg with his family.

Jon Gugisberg (BA ‘96, German and international relations) lives in Germany and works in international business. He shares fond memories of his time at the University of Minnesota and reflects on what it was like to take classes with the late Professor Emeritus Gerhard Weiss.

What brought you to the University of Minnesota?

Going to the University of Minnesota was an easy choice for me. I grew up in Fargo but spent a lot of time with relatives in the Twin Cities, so I was already familiar with the area. I was attracted to the variety of offerings of a large university system, particularly the U's renowned foreign language programs. It didn't hurt that a number of my friends also decided to go there.

What are some fond memories from your time at the U?

I have far too many great memories of my time as a Gopher to fit into this article! As you doubtlessly know, there is no shortage of extracurricular activities on campus, and I kept myself busy by dabbling in ROTC, the Model United Nations, overseas study, hitting the gym, a food service job at Sanford Hall, and bouncing at Grandma’s and Bullwinkle’s a few nights a week. I had plenty of great experiences, made some great friends.

Where do you live now, and what do you do for work?

I live in Wentorf, right on the eastern edge of Hamburg [in Germany]. While my career has taken me through different industries, from software to power tools to industrial gasses (currently), I have always been in a sales role, working at the moment as an outside representative responsible for a territory roughly the size of southern MN. Working in a job like this has its share of challenges and requires a lot of people contact and communication skills, but [the work] is never dull and has been very rewarding in terms of travel and unique experiences. I'd say that all the skills taught in the liberal arts are applicable, if not essential, to a sales role.

Without a doubt the German program, including overseas study and excellent instructors, prepared me well for life in this culture. Think giving a speech in class entirely in a foreign language is intimidating? Try cold-calling, contract negotiations, conflict resolution, and deal-closing in German. I'd say Professor Weiss would give me at least a B. 

Could you reflect on what it was like to study under Gerhard Weiss, who passed away last year?

“At once the consummate German gentleman-scholar and unassuming American patriot, [Gerhard Weiss] shone brightest as a dynamic and eloquent teacher of the best that the German cultural tradition had to offer." Read Remembering Gerhard Weiss.

Indulge me if you will in a few brief reminiscences about Professor Weiss. He was witty, engaging, wise. Somehow I did not have a class with him until junior or even senior year. He looked at me and puzzled, "How has a German major like you made it this far without being in one of my classes?" I had no sufficient answer and soon wished I’d had more classes with him. At some point I marveled at his lack of accent. He replied, "I dropped it in the water from the boat on the way over." I'll never forget it!

Later on, after my semester in Graz (funded, by the way, by a scholarship I’d won from the German department, yet another reason I’m eternally grateful for my education there), my interest was piqued in spending a longer period of time overseas. When I approached Professor Weiss for some ideas on how to proceed he recommended I just start applying for internships at various German companies. These were the pre-internet days so doing research took a little more legwork, but I was able to find a book with names and addresses of major companies at the international studies resource center. Imagine my delight when, a few months later, I got a big envelope in the mail from Siemens in downtown Munich offering me a paid six-month internship! Naturally I jumped at the chance and it was a wonderful experience indeed that laid the groundwork for, well, the rest [of my] history, and here I am.

What advice do you have for today’s students of German? 

My advice is simply this: if you look, you will find open doors in your areas of interest; go through them and you will be amazed where they lead. Also, while the college years seem tough right now, they are in many ways the most carefree of your adult life and are over too far quickly, so make sure to take time to enjoy them.

This interview was conducted by an undergraduate student in Backpack. Meet the team.

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