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Our CAS Trip Leaders are responsible for bringing our destinations to life. Aside from ensuring everything runs smoothly, our Trip Leaders are experts in their fields—naturalists, historians, artists, mountaineers—who have a remarkable gift for sharing their knowledge and inspiring young people. In the coming months, we plan to introduce you to more of the people working to transform our trips into unforgettable journeys and realize the CAS Trips’ mission

Today, we are pleased to highlight one of our Berlin Trip Leaders, Hannah Schneider. An expert guide and history fanatic, Hannah grew up in California but now calls her grandmother’s birthplace, Germany, home. Passionate about using historical context to illuminate contemporary issues, Hannah helps showcase the German capital as a place buzzing with innovation, creativity, and historical significance. 

Thanks for joining us, Hannah! From the suburbs of L.A. to an M.A. in History and a career leading historical tours of Berlin! How did this unconventional trajectory unfold? 

Yes, although I have almost eliminated the valley girl accent, I still have a lot of California in me. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, but my father was born in Europe and moved with his parents to America as a teenager.  

As a young person, I was eager to explore politics and the potential of social movements, so I moved to Washington, D.C. for university. I ended up with a B.A. in International Relations and an accidental minor in History. I hadn’t yet realized history was my true passion. 

I spent several years working for non-profits in D.C. before reaching a point of burnout and deciding I needed a change of scenery. I decided to move to France to improve my French and experience farm life—and wound up getting a relatively comprehensive wine education while working at a vineyard.

I then moved back to L.A., where I started working at a winery and managing a wine bar. I enjoyed the job, but when I came to accept that none of the patrons were very interested in talking about history with me—I realized it might be a good idea to return to school. 

So, I once again packed my bags and moved to London to enter a Master’s program in the history of war. It was a wonderful experience, and I loved being surrounded by people keen to nerd out with me about history. 

It seems your heart kept drawing you back to this side of the Atlantic. You mentioned one of your parents was born in Europe. What is the story of how your family ended up in America?

My grandparents were holocaust survivors who endured a remarkable journey. My Jewish Grandma was sent from Germany to Riga when she was 16. Living in the Jewish ghetto, she met my grandfather, who swiftly charmed her with his jack-of-all-trades approach and easy fluency in many languages. 

Together, they survived two camps and escaped on a death march, living for a time in the forest before being liberated in 1945. My dad was then born in Riga in 1946. Since my grandfather had kept working in the black market, his family was required to maintain a strict appearance as enthusiastic communists, to avoid drawing unwanted attention. 

Only in 1958, when my grandmother saw an ad in the local paper explaining that displaced Germans could return to their home country, were they able to leave. They arrived in Germany and traveled from east to west Berlin before the construction of the wall. As concerns mounted during the Cold War, though, they came to America in 1962. 

As you can imagine, I was amazed by this history as a child and have always wanted more context to better understand the circumstances my family lived through. 

Wow, that is an incredible story. No wonder you were so drawn to history. 

Yes. In a way, I am not surprised that I ended up in Germany. Once I realized I could get my German passport, I decided to start learning German and then went to live with my godparents in Dusseldorf in 2017. 

I visited a friend in Berlin shortly after, fell absolutely in love with the city and its wild historical richness, and decided to move a few weeks later. 

Sometimes you just know a place is home upon arrival. So how did you go from visitor to travel guide?

Initially, I got a job in a hotel, as I was hoping to keep improving my German. In my free time, though, I loved taking in all the great historical tours the city offers. As a result, I befriended a tour guide (thanks to the one million questions I asked during his tour :). This led to me being introduced to many other guides. We started spending a lot of time together, and as they saw the full extent of my love for history and stories, eventually, everyone started asking why I wasn’t also leading tours. 

Once I got my foot in the door, I realized I loved doing it and have been tour-guiding full-time since 2018. I was also eager when the opportunity to become a CAS Trip Leader presented itself. It combines many areas I love, including sustainability, service, and the drive to tackle global issues locally. 

It sounds like it was a very organic process—unsurprising, as you have proven to be a natural when it comes to showcasing your adopted home. What is your favorite thing about the CAS itinerary in Berlin?

I love that we usually start with a city walking tour. This is me in my element, and I enjoy welcoming the students to Berlin and getting them excited about the days ahead. 

We do many great activities on the trip, but I particularly love the street art workshop. I am always blown away by the creativity of the students. They go way outside of the box and make the project their own. The host is wonderful, and the whole experience provides a memorable engagement with this crucial part of Berlin’s identity. 

We have also recently started running a self-defense workshop, which is amazing. I was very involved in martial arts growing up, so I know how much it has given me in terms of confidence and empowerment. I love seeing the students receive the same benefits. In addition to the body literacy and techniques they learn, the structure of this activity is particularly rewarding because the next day, students get to lead their own workshop with younger kids. They are often very nervous before teaching but always end up surprising themselves and feeling really proud of what they can share. 

It sounds like working with young people has been a gratifying part of our journey. How was this changed your approach to trip leading?

Oh, for sure. It has made me more interested in education in general. I have gotten so much from the students on my trips. They are always inspiring me. 

Another great activity that illustrates this well is the slow fashion challenge. We begin by discussing slow fashion and how it relates to the UN SDGs. I am often impressed by how much they have to say about the exploitation of workers, how so many of our clothes end up in landfills, and how taking steps like reusing items or buying second-hand can positively impact the environment. 

Then, we take the students to a second-hand store. They get a budget and are challenged to create an outfit related to one of the UN SDGs. We do a fashion show, and they have to explain how the outfit they assembled represents their Sustainable Development Goal and how they plan to use the items in the future.

I have seen outstanding creativity here, from students exploring gender identity by mixing items traditionally associated with men’s and women’s dress to bringing attention to climate change by sporting swim trunks and an umbrella. 

What a perfect way to allow the participants to engage with the UN SDGs and have fun while doing it. We are so glad to have such an enthusiastic Berliner to show students this fascinating city! 

I could go on! I also really love the urban gardening activity. It reminds me of how much I learned when working on farms in France, and I see how much the students get out of it. It is the first time many of them have had a chance to plant something in soil and get their hands dirty! 

Overall, this job provides so many opportunities to build relationships in the community. I am glad I can facilitate an authentic experience for students as they witness real people endeavoring to improve the place they live for everyone who shares it. It gives them a ton of inspiration and guidance when tackling the CAS Project of Changemakers Challenge. Seeing how people are taking on local issues themselves and developing actionable solutions is a powerful experience that I am glad to share with the students. 

A huge thanks to Hannah for taking the time to share her insight! Her passion, knowledge, and experience help students see Berlin through the eyes of a dedicated and inspired community member. 

Stay tuned in the weeks and months to come as we share more stories from our trip leaders from around the world!