Assistance in settling into the German university system
Starting in the 2013/2014 winter semester, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is inviting exchange students from abroad to take courses specially tailored to their needs at a German university. The aim is to help them to better master initial obstacles when they begin studying in Germany and to cope with the somewhat unfamiliar academic requirements in their host country. This project has been initiated in view of the fact that foreign students bring with them very different levels of prior knowledge and often do not have sufficient German language skills, something that is seen as a necessary prerequisite if they are to benefit from the research-led teaching in a university environment. The new program will thus help international students subsequently attend university courses with success.
The two initiators, Dr. Annette Schmitt of the Institute of Political Science and Dr. Pia Nordblom of the Department of History at Mainz University, have developed the new program concept and have designed two courses to launch it. These courses take an interdisciplinary approach and are aimed at exchange students who want to learn more about Germany. The seminar ‘Learning from the Past: Politics and Society in Germany’ is designed for exchange students with little knowledge of the German language, while the seminar ‘The river Rhine – History in flow’ is primarily targeted at students with more advanced German language skills. Both courses consist of a seminar and a tutorial with an introduction to the academic working methods at German universities. Those who successfully complete these courses are awarded 8 ECTS credit points for their participation.
“Our program is designed to help the foreign students who come to Mainz University to be better prepared and also to provide them with the necessary skills to help them successfully complete regular courses in other subjects,” explains Schmitt. Her seminar ‘Learning from the Past’ currently has 25 participants from 12 different countries who are taking Bachelor’s and Master’s programs of study in Social Sciences, Economics, Law, and Romance Studies – a very heterogeneous mixture, but the course was specifically designed with this in mind. “We want to give incoming students insights into the discursive and research-led university courses in Germany, both when it comes to dealing with a specific topic as well as with regard to how to present information in the form of presentations,” adds Nordblom. The courses are also open to JGU students who would like to encounter new learning experiences in an international environment. “We are confident that the participants will also benefit over the long term when they return to their home universities.”
Currently, some 450 foreign students annually come to Mainz as exchange students, primarily funded by the European Union’s Erasmus Program. Once here, they are supervised by the JGU International Office. After being initially sponsored by the Gutenberg Teaching Council (GTC), the new course concept developed by Dr. Annette Schmitt and Dr. Pia Nordblom will be funded for the next three years by the university’s International Office.
“Our goal is to establish a regular program over the long term,” claim Schmitt and Nordblom. “We want foreign students to realize what Mainz can offer them. There can be no better advertisement for Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz than enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations by exchange students returning to their home universities.”