Joseph-Dietrich Breckwoldt

Inspirational Individual Award
Awarded for achievements and inspiring others by overcoming adversity.

College of Social Sciences and Arts 
BA Hon History

Joseph-Dietrich Breckwoldt has been awarded the Inspirational Individual Award posthumously following his passing. We were honoured that his family was in attendance at the awards dinner to receive the award. You can read Joseph’s story below.

What they did: 

“The student tragically and unexpectedly passed away while on a study abroad exchange at Charles University, Prague. When their death became known, we received a flood of stories about their time as an exchange student, and indeed as a prospective exchange student the semester before leaving for Prague, which made very apparent the way the student had thrown themselves into the international experience. The student had very clearly fulfilled what we ask of our outgoing exchange students, to be an ambassador for Sheffield Hallam University.  

 Before leaving, the student was in Hallam accommodation with many of our incoming exchange students. At that time, the student made many friendships among the community of international students studying with us. The student helped these students integrate with the SHU community, and maintained these friendships as they went to Prague. Indeed, the student was picked up at Prague airport by a Czech friend they had made in Sheffield.  

While abroad, the student took part in many of the Erasmus events open to exchange students. While on one of these trips, they met the daughter of one of our History academics, herself an Erasmus student (from a different university), who told her mother that our student had been full of enthusiasm and gratitude for the many opportunities the exchange was giving them, and that they were making the most of every chance offered. Their full involvement in and excitement at their new experiences was truly inspirational, we were told. 

 When the student passed away, Charles University in Prague created a tribute to our student that was placed in the department in which their studies had been based. Over a vase of flowers, a notice talked about how our student had fallen in love not only with the city of Prague, but also the Department of Education, where they had made many friends and attended lectures with great interest. We, and their parents, then heard from their many international friends, about how our student had thrown themselves into the exchange experience, socially, academically, experientially. The students’ parents told me that they had absolutely flourished as a result of becoming an exchange student (both in Sheffield before leaving and whilst abroad), and the impact of this could be seen in the many, many international students our student befriended, and who learned of Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam, through them. I was in contact with the former exchange student who had collected our student from the airport, as he had been an incoming exchange student in our department at SHU, who told me many of these same things. Many of these friends attended our student’s funeral remotely, making clear the international range and degree of their impact on others. We in our department are incredibly proud of this student; they represented us in the best possible way.” 

 What was the impact? 

“As an exemplary Erasmus/exchange student, they made Sheffield Hallam known abroad in the best possible way, both to the people they came into contact with, and with the university they were part of while away. Our connection with Charles University has become much stronger as a result of their time there: not only via the tragic circumstances of their sudden illness and death, but in the way they conducted themselves as a student in Prague. In my own role, hearing from the student themself while away, from their friends, contacts, Charles University department, and from their family afterwards, has informed how I speak to prospective exchange students about the transformational opportunities studying abroad offers.” 

 How it inspired others: 

“Everyone our student came into contact with while away seems to have been inspired by the way they seized the opportunities exchange offered them. This also now has the potential to inspire our new students to take these opportunities for themselves through the way this student’s embrace of the exchange experience has impressed me and my colleagues, who are now communicating with new SHU students about the exchange programme. Stories of the student’s time abroad made their way back to many different areas of SHU connected to exchange; others, like me, have felt extra impetus in our roles to make this amazing opportunity available to other students, from having heard so much of the fantastic experiences of this student, which were brought to such a tragic, untimely end. The last three months of their life opened up their horizons in ways that are both incredibly inspirational and, in retrospect after his early death, incredibly poignant. The student packed so much into those last weeks as to leave a vivid legacy with those they had encountered”. 

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