A Warm International Welcome at German Universities
Universities in Germany are developing innovative programs and tools to support their international students. Instead of focusing on filling gaps in international students’ abilities, knowledge, or cultural understanding, tailored new programs seek to develop two-way exchanges that tap into the rich cultures, experiences, and unique areas of knowledge that incoming students bring with them from their home countries.
Nearly 10 percent of students in Germany are international, and it is the fourth most popular destination for international students worldwide. Through more than 130 innovative projects at universities across Germany, students, teachers, and administrators are developing new approaches and processes to help welcome and integrate the growing number of international students. And as these approaches and practices spread throughout the respective universities and beyond, they are beginning to transform individual mindsets as well as institutional cultures.
Many of the tools used in these projects are not new, but their adaptation and local implementation within German higher education is pioneering. There are mentoring and buddy systems, websites, blogs, and cultural events. There are podcasts that explain the intricacies of regional German dialects, networks to coordinate faculty and staff support, resource centers, professional training courses, language and culture classes – and the list goes on…
Transformational Experiences for Everyone Involved
International students are not the only ones who benefit from these developments. At the heart of these novel projects for welcoming international students is the idea that “integration” should offer everyone involved – students from Germany as much as those from abroad – an opportunity to grow and change.
German students are fully incorporated into most of these projects, often through elements that improve the domestic students’ cross-cultural sensitivity and prepare them to operate in other cultures. At one university of applied sciences, for example, international students’ technical skills and culture-specific business expertise are being used to help develop an export consultancy service that supports local German businesses.
“Buzzing, Proactive Support Communities”
In the past, international student support networks often existed on paper – but sometime the network members had little direct communication with each other, explains Stephanie Knobloch, a Section Head within the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the manager of the PROFIN program.
PROFIN (the German acronym translates to “Program for the Integration of International Students”) provides kick-start funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to support innovative new projects. “Clearly planned projects with a timescale, clear objectives, and the right personnel and leadership, can turn paper networks into buzzing, proactive support communities,” Knobloch says.
Cultural Understanding through the German Language
Because the projects are designed to meet local needs, there is enormous variation in structure and approach. But intensive instruction in the German language and culture is a core element of all the most successful projects, says Knobloch – even at universities where international students can complete entire degree programs in English.
“If someone is staying in a country for six months, getting a taste of the language and culture is nice. But if someone is staying for two or three years, they really need to understand what is really meant. They can’t understand the culture without the language.”
The third round of projects that were awarded PROFIN funding got underway in January 2012. Once again, German universities have come up with a vast range of ideas that enhance international students’ experiences and enrich campus cultures with valuable international and multicultural perspectives.
For more information about the projects supported through the PROFIN program, please visit www.daad.de/profin (in German only)
For a broad overviwe of study opportunities and life as a student in Germany, please visit www.study-in.de/en
Photo credit/copyright: Lichtenscheidt/DAAD