Succeeding beyond the lecture hall

The language barrier is not the only thing that makes it difficult to settle into life at a new university, in a new city, and in a strange new country. To help ease the transition, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) began providing international students with an extra measure of intercultural support. Starting in 2012, specially trained tutors were assigned to incoming Resources Engineering Master’s programme candidates from Africa, Asia and South America so that the newcomers could not only begin learning German, but also learn about German culture and how best to navigate their new surroundings.

As of last year, incoming foreign students enrolled in the Resources Engineering programme can take part in an intercultural learning programme that meets twice weekly and runs parallel to the German language training conducted by KIT’s Studienkolleg. Initiator of the programme is Charlotte Kämpf, head of the Resources Engineering Office (REO) in the Department of Civil Engineering. To implement the programme, Kämpf turned to the German Studies department for support. She describes the intercultural programme as a classic win-win situation: “The tutors receive important credit points and gain experience for their future careers. At the same time, the international students can begin building their network of contacts beyond their own departments.”

The German tutors first undergo a brief round of training conducted jointly by the Resources Engineering Office and the Studienkolleg. After the training, the tutors are then responsible for organising and executing the group workshops. With the help of the tutors, the international students learn everything they need to know to successfully navigate their new surroundings at the university and in the city of Karlsruhe. The tutors help students with their individual study plans, but also cover a wide range of additional topics such as time management, German eating habits and everyday German culture.

Always available
For DAAD scholarship holder Anabella Krieger, acquiring this practical knowledge was a very important step. “In a foreign country you need to learn how to take care of even the simplest tasks – things that you don’t even think about at home, like how to ride the tram,” says Krieger. “Even the structure of the degree programme can be hard to understand at first. Of course I can research this stuff myself on the Internet, but it’s much nicer to have a real person to talk to and learn from.” Krieger, who hails from Argentina, was among the first participants in the 2012 programme.

Tutor Robin Hettlage sees the intercultural programme as a way to give the foreign students a richer international experience: “Studying abroad is about a lot more than just the academic work, so we make sure to introduce the foreign students to the social scene and culture here in Karlsruhe.” A German studies major at the university in Karlsruhe, Robin Hettlage has been assisting international students in the Resources Engineering programme since 2010.

Intercultural support is well received
For Charlotte Kämpf, the intercultural programme plays an important supporting role in ensuring the overall success of a foreign student’s experience – both inside and outside the classroom. “We really saw an urgent need for this intercultural programme as a supplement to the German language training.  The students were having a difficult time organising their daily schedules effectively,” she explains. “And we’ve seen the tutoring have a positive impact. Within the context of their degree programme, the students are very committed, focused and know what to expect. And now they also move comfortably in circles that extend beyond the lecture hall or dorm.”

For Francois Nyobeu, the tutorials really helped him adjust to life in Karlsruhe:  “Our tutors helped me to apply for my residence permit, for example, and we did a lot together, which helped us to learn German quickly.” From Cameroon, Francois Nyobeu has been in the Resources Engineering program at KIT since the 2012 winter semester and was also among the first participants in last summer’s intercultural programme.
A DAAD scholarship holder, Nyobeu points out the lasting benefits of the intercultural program: “Our tutors are always there for us. Even today, we still get together occasionally on campus or go out to dinner together.”

The intercultural programme kicks off its second year in 2013. This year, the programme will be offered not only to students from the Resources Engineering Master’s programme, but also to international students in the Regional Science/Regional Planning programme, which is also among the development related post-graduate Master’s programmes supported by DAAD.