Supporting International Students in Bayreuth

(c) Maya Krystosek

Adapting into a new environment is challenging. Especially when moving to a completely new country. The International Student Network (ISN) in Bayreuth supports international students coming to Bayreuth. The FALTER spoke with two speakers of ISN Bayreuth, Caro and Johanna, and foreign student Jaakko from Finland about ISN.

“What is ISN Bayreuth doing?”

Caro: “We are here to support the international students. ISN organizes trips, parties and other cultural events. And we have the Buddy Programme, matching international students with a local mentor helping them to settle in. ISN is part of a big network from over 40 countries in Europe with more than 1000 volunteers. ISN Bayreuth has been a part of this network for ten years and exists in general for almost 18 years.”

“Which activities is ISN organizing?”

Johanna: “Besides the Buddy Programme, the welcome week is an important part. The new students arrive, and we get to know each other. We do a city tour, a pub crawl, speed friending, and “Deutschland for beginners”, where we introduce the different parts of Germany and explain the culture.”

Caro: “Moreover, we often make trips together, next week for example we will visit Berlin for one weekend. We have already been to Hamburg, Rothenburg or the Christmas market in Nuremberg.”

“You mentioned the Buddy Programme, can you give some details about it?”

Caro: “The Buddy Programme also supports the international students by pairing them with a local student who will be their mentor. The mentor helps the new buddy settling in by answering questions, picking him or her up from the train station or showing the city. How often the buddies meet each other or what activities they do is up to them. The goal of our programme is to help the international students to get used to their new environment and to be able to enjoy their student life here.”

Johanna: “For example, one of my buddies arrived on October 3rd, so she could not go to the supermarket. Before she arrived, I bought her some groceries. In general, the buddies need the most help at the beginning of the new semester, but many buddy pairs have contact with each other the whole time.”

“How can people become part of the Buddy Programme?”

Johanna: “If you want to be a mentor you just have to have lived in Bayreuth for one semester. Before the new semester starts, you can simply sign yourself up as a mentor by email. It is also possible to request a buddy from a certain country. We then try to find a matching buddy for you. After that you can contact each other.”

Caro: “We always need more volunteers, especially for the Buddy Programme. Normally every local mentor has just one or two buddies. But there are way more international students who want a mentor than volunteers.”

Jaakko: “When I got my admission for the University of Bayreuth, the International Office sent some emails with information. They introduced ISN and the Buddy Program. I liked it, so I just sent ISN an email and told them I wanted to be a buddy.”

“Jaakko, which experiences did you make in Bayreuth and with the Buddy Programme so far?”

Jaakko: “I have been involved in the Buddy Programme since I moved here this semester and I am very happy about it. For me this is a big help. For example, at the beginning I did not know that shops close so early here. In my first weeks in Bayreuth I met a lot of people from ISN. And I could ask my buddy many questions, especially because she is studying the same subject as me. This made it easier for me to settle in.”

“How many International Students are living in Bayreuth right now?”

Caro: “Right now, we have about 600 foreign students and about 280 of them are part of the Buddy Program.”

Johanna: “Most of the internationals are from China, South Korea, Latin- America, Italy and Scandinavia.”

“What do you like about being part of ISN?”

Caro: “I have been a part of ISN for already two years. I like, that I am part of a big network with a great community where we support each other. I get the opportunity to meet different people from many cultures. By now I know people living all over Europe.”

Johanna: “When I was studying abroad, I did not have as much contact with local people as I was hoping to. There was not a Buddy Programme. But I still enjoyed my time abroad very much and I missed being around different cultures. Due to this experience I decided to join ISN. I like being part of an international community and meeting new people.”

“What if people do not know how to answer their buddies questions?”

Johanna: “The mentors can always ask the ISN team when they are not sure how to help their buddy. This happens often with questions about forms for the administration. ISN is also working closely with the International Office, they can provide help as well.”