A near lifetime affinity for, combined with a rich professional connection to, the Federal Republic of Germany has led to David Darby receiving one of the country’s highest honours.
The Modern Languages and Literatures professor recently received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest tribute the country pays to individuals for services to the nation. Darby was celebrated for his contribution to German-Canadian relations as a longtime advocate for student and faculty exchanges between Ontario and the State of Baden-Württemberg.
“This honour has a strong personal meaning for me,” Darby said. “Germany has been a place that, in so many respects, has fascinated me from the first time I visited at 15 – participating in an exchange, of course. That fascination has only grown over the many times I have been able to return.”
Sabine Sparwasser, German Ambassador to Canada, presented Darby with the honour in Ottawa.
Since 2003, Darby has served as Academic Director in Ontario of the Ontario/Baden-Württemberg Student Exchange (OBW). The program provides international opportunities (student exchanges, research placements and a summer language program) to students from 15 Ontario universities while bringing students to Ontario from nine partner universities in Baden-Württemberg. Approximately 100 students participate each year.
Since 2011, OBW has offered grants to faculty members in Ontario and Baden-Württemberg to conduct research stays at universities in the partner region.
“OBW is such a broadly and deeply collaborative project and has given me the opportunity to work at the centre of networks of resourceful and imaginative colleagues and partners in universities and government,” Darby said. “I have met and worked with hundreds of adventurous and highly motivated students from 24 partner institutions across Ontario and Baden-Württemberg. Witnessing the students’ experiences – not to mention seeing the varied opportunities their time away from home subsequently opens for them – is an enormous privilege.
“Western’s support – at the university level, in my faculty, and among my departmental colleagues – has been crucial to my being able to play a key role in the OBW partnership for the last 15 years.”
Since 2015, Darby has also served as Lead Academic Director of Ontario Universities International, which administers Ontario-wide student exchange programs with Baden-Württemberg, as well as partners in China, France and India.
“Germany has provided all kinds of opportunities to me: I taught there; I completed a part of my graduate work there; I have been fortunate to have had many good reasons, both professional and personal, to spend periods of time there. It is also a place I go to see some of my closest friends. Returning there always has something of the familiarity and warmth of a homecoming,” Darby said.
“The notion that, through OBW, I could make some positive contribution to relations between Germany and my adopted home in Canada is as astonishing now as it was inconceivable when I was 15.”
Similar to the Order of Canada or Ordre des Palmes académiques in France, the Order of Merit was instituted in 1951 by Federal President Theodor Heuss. The honour may be awarded to Germans as well as foreigners for achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual realm and for all kinds of outstanding services to the nation in the field of social, charitable or philanthropic work.