Studying abroad is always a big step. No get-togethers and a lot of alone-time: In 2020, students spent most of their lecture time alone in front of their computers. Olamide Ahmed-Macaulay and Rao Maaz Bin Khalid work as resident tutors in Potsdam and Wildau. As the first point of contact for questions, they know what challenges international students in particular faced during this time.
Hello, you two! What are you studying and how long have you been living in Germany?
OM: I am a 5th semester student of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Potsdam. I am from Nigeria and have been living in Potsdam since 2018.
RB: I have been living in Germany since 2016 and I am from Pakistan. Currently, I am studying industrial engineering in the 2nd semester at TH Wildau.
As residence or dorm tutors, you welcome first-semester students and have a lot of contact with international students. How did you experience the arrival of the new students? Can you describe what it was like for them to start their studies during the pandemic?
OM: Overwhelmed, most people did not know where to get the necessary information.
RB: They were expecting to meet new people, make friends, create memories before starting their journey in the student life. However, their expectations got shattered with the passage of time and because of loneliness a few got depressed too. The only way to socialize was also digitally, and after spending most of the time in front of a screen each day, they did not have the stamina to sit more. Since the cultural events also got cancelled, it created futher difficulties to
learn and adapt to the German culture.
Which people institutions were the most supportive and informative to them and why?
OM: The International Office and for some people, their course committee.
RB: The Buddies (from the Buddy Program at TH Wildau) and the resident tutors. They were their first contact whenever they got stuck somewhere and/or needed any support.
How about social contacts? Have they been able to make friends since their arrival?
OM: Most people have been able to make friends just with international students.
RB: As almost every dormitory has a social media group, the new students found through these groups a new community of multi-cultural students with diverse backgrounds. This surely helped them in making some new friends.
How are you and your fellow students getting along in your online studies? Is language
a problem? What does it feel like to study alone from home?
OM: I am personally done with my course work, but I guess students are adapting pretty well to the online studies, the lecturers are trying their best to mimic the onsite classes by making the online classes interactive as much as possible. However, students miss the ambiance of onsite classes.
RB:In the beginning it was quite hard to switch everything to online. Simultaneously it
was also good in the beginning as I saved much time. However, with time there were some other advantages (like recordings of lectures) and disdvantages (lower back pain). Language has not been a problem, rather the voices of the teacher are more clear now. Studying from home (theoretical subjects) might be more efficient, however, for the practical application of knowledge the presence exercises, lectures and labs can not be avoided.
What does your typical day during the lockdown look like?
OM:I basically write my outstanding protocols to complete my course modules, study German and go to work.
RB: I wake up at 04:30 in the morning, make myself a cup of coffee and go out to deliver the newspapers for almost 90 minutes. I chose this minijob as it motivates me to wake up early and it is an alternative to morning walks as well. After coming back home, I take a shower and sit down to start with the daily lectures or go to the university if I have a lab. I usually come back home at around 15:00 and take a small afternoon nap for about 2 hours. Between 18:00 and 20:00 I hang out with some friends or play games. After that I cook myself dinner and go to bed at 23:00 at the latest.
Which kind of support for international students would you find helpful?
OM: A subsidized avenue for intensive German courses and more programs that could facilitate the integration of international students into the German system. Also: Enlightenment on how to navigate the German job market.
RB: In general, I would like to create awareness among the international students about their student rights in Germany. The International Offices have some other priorities and so do the Student Parliament and Student Council. I would love to see more cultural events after the end
of COVID (or when more than 50% people get vaccinated) to go back to a life like before. Because in my opinion life is a continous journey and without free movement there is no meaning of living such a life.