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German language as a requirement to study at University of Erfurt?!

Internationalizing the Uni Erfurt is a big topic. But what’s the situation actually like for foreign students coming to our little city? Our author critically examines the status quo.

Thursday afternoon, 14:01 pm. I am sitting in class, it is time to practice my “International English”. Right next to me sits my international friend Melis, she’s from Turkey and studying English and German at the University of Erfurt. As always we´re talking about really important subjects, such as the questionable consistency of our canteen food or boring classmates and suddenly she asks me when the semester is going to start in summer.
Laptop opened – I start to search for Elvis in my browser history. Honestly, without Elvis I would have been very lost in my first weeks of university. It tells you exactly where you have to be at what time in which building- it’s great!
And it was truly a shock when I was searching for the “Switch Language” button and could not find it. What the fuck? Elvis does not exist in English? Slowly recovering, I am taking a deep breath and then try to explain some german words such as “Semesterende” and “vorlesungsfreie Zeit” to my friend. If you are reading this article and you do not understand these words then make yourself aware that you’re not the only one struggling. It would be easy to say that all of this is just a funny joke, but I am actually really confused about how our international students are getting by without an English translation of the most important digital platform our university has to offer?

This leads me to the pressing question: How international is our university really?

There are a lot of good reasons stated on the website of international students why you should consider studying in Erfurt. Thuringia´s capital, a considered cultural heritage with a beautiful old town, the university offers modern facilities such as computers(!) in the library and also students are getting supported by an exclusive supervisor during the first weeks of university.
Even though our university is rather small and only counts around 5928 students at all, we are proud to number more than 509 international students (including the ones from Willy-Brandt-School). You do not need to have a doctor´s degree in maths to realize that these numbers are making up nearly 10% of our total amount of students.
And it is getting even more intense when you think of all these 10% coming to Germany without grand knowledge of our country and the school system. And let´s be honest: We Germans might not be the friendliest folks of all time. At least we create the impression to be not that opened up towards strangers because we tend to act emotionally reserved. It is hard to become a part of our social life, to get granted entrance to the “German bubble”.

Maybe it is easier to understand my point if you think of your own traveling experiences. I certainly had the most amazing time of my life, but there also were some moments when I didn’t feel homy at all. At times it is not easy to fit in a new culture and to free yourself from your cultural imprints.

When you turn it back around and think of our international students you can imagine that sometimes it is difficult for them to adapt to our mentality. It made me draw the conclusion that we should attempt to create our campus as diverse as possible and try to give international students a good time.

To do that, first, there is a need for some improvements.
Yes, I am talking about the failure of the international structure. We need an English version of Elvis. This is an incessant condition to improve the situation of our international students. Furthermore, I realized that only one out of four faculties runs an English website and in my opinion, this is ridiculous. It is certainly not too much to ask to put a bilingual design on each faculty’s website to give non-German speakers the chance to participate in discussions and give them an insight into our daily study life. When I look back on my first weeks on campus, I can also remember that it was hard for me to figure out in which building I’m supposed to have classes. But hey, there are signs to help you out with that. And as to continue my disappointment towards lacking international structures the signs are only in German. Wouldn’t it be nice to show some “internationality” and add bilingual signs as a welcoming gesture to our international students?

Sounds easy, right?

But if you think about the demands in a realistic way they are getting difficult to implement.  

For example, to provide an English version of ELVIS. To get a statement from the university about this matter I went to the administration building and talked to Mr. Becher who is the man in charge of ELVIS. And I must admit that his point of view really did have an effect on my mindset. Our university, as an educational institution is limited in resources and staff. The main priority is to give students a professional atmosphere with qualified professors and courses. It would be nearly impossible to create an English version of ELVIS, because it would take a massive amount of time and costs that are not affordable at the moment. For example, it would mean that you have to translate every examination rule into English. And guess, who would have the honor to do that? Right, the teaching and administrative staff. It´s a tough request because you not only would have to translate the german rules but furthermore, it has to be an official translation in perfect English. What is perfect English? British standards or rather American? That is indeed another question.

As you can see, it´s not as easy as expected. The process involves a lot of time, money and authorization from other officials. Besides, there is the calculation of costs and benefits and as our university has a lot of ongoing projects – priorities are set elsewhere.

Nevertheless, our University should always have the demand to stay as international as possible, but the projects have to be affordable and enforceable. Maybe there should be some small changes first, such as adding bilingual signs on campus. And who knows? Maybe in 10 years, we will be laughing about this controversial subject while searching for semester dates on a bilingual website of ELVIS.
But let´s go back to the present. I really want to draw attention to some good opportunities we already have instituted on campus.

If you are interested in some cultural exchange there are a lot of possibilities to participate in. For example, The TANDEM program, where you can meet and talk to a person from other cultures to improve both of your language skills. And you might also be able to find international friends and have some interesting conversations about countries and dreams far away. International Cafe, every Tuesday evening in our beloved auditorium 7 could also be an opportunity if you seek some additional cultural knowledge or just want to have a good time. In addition, there are also a ton of events for national and international students, interested in activities involving huge amounts of beer or various other alcoholic beverages to ones liking, as can be found in the first weeks of the semester. The student organization ICE is constantly trying to improve the cultural exchange and connects students all around campus. Doors are always open if you want to give them a hand. Our Campus is disparate, and it should be. The more diversity we are representing, the more inspiring our students and social lives will be. And if we are aware of that, we are all going to have a great time.

1 comment

  1. Thanks Nora for this article. You have articulated a few of the issues that are of concern to international students. While the University is faced with human and material resources, and on the issue of ‘internationlizing’ ELVIS, I would suggest the school institute project groups (mainly students) with their supervisors( Profs or administrative staff) to oversee the conversion of some part( probably on a pilot base) where some sections of ELVIS can have an English version created by project groups. I do not want to bore readers of a long essay but I feel there is a cost effective way to implement this. I am up for further discussion on this idea.

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