Italy, Iceland, or maybe Taiwan? Technische Universität Berlin cooperates with over 300 partner universities worldwide and offers TU students the opportunity to study at a foreign university for three to twelve months. Stays abroad and exchanges with people from other cultures enable students to foster both their professional and personal development.
To support exchange students at TU Berlin during their semester abroad and promote intercultural encounters beyond the scope of the stay, TU Berlin offers two initiatives: the volunteer Buddy Program and the “Intercultural Buddy Program” module. The goal is to provide international students with buddies and foster intercultural experiences. TU buddies accompany exchange students through everyday university life and help them become familiar with their new city. The module takes the initiative a step further and deepens these exchanges through exercises and questions, which require TU buddies to apply the cultural theory they have acquired. Students receive 3 ECTS points upon successful completion of the module. TU student Anna Giro and Fabio Paparella, an exchange student from Italy, met through the volunteer Buddy Program.
Fabio studies mechanical engineering in Milan and chose to complete a semester abroad at TU Berlin. He used this opportunity to apply for the Buddy Program. “I actually found out about the Buddy Program by chance. I saw the ad at the beginning of my semester abroad and thought, why not?” The Buddy Program has had a lasting positive impact on him and has encouraged him to undertake new initiatives. “My participation has motivated me to apply as a buddy myself once I return to my home university,” says Fabio.
Anna, who studies Sustainable Management at TU Berlin, learned about the program in a newsletter sent by the Office of Communication, Events and Alumni. “The application for the program included a questionnaire asking about personal preferences, for instance about which cultures you are interested in and if you prefer a female or male exchange student as a buddy. I didn’t indicate any preferences though,” she says. The fact that she was paired with Fabio, an Italian exchange student, and that her own family is from Italy, was an amusing coincidence, she adds.
The first time a buddy pair meets is often a combination of equal parts excitement and curiosity. Anna and Fabio exchanged messages before he arrived in Berlin. “We first got in touch via email so that we could get to know each other a little in advance.” There is also a big Facebook group. That helped us know which face to look out for at our first meeting,” says Anna, laughing.
It is common to experience challenges when starting at a new university, this particularly holds true for students from abroad. By participating in the Buddy Program, Anna was able to witness this firsthand. “I realized that everyday university life is full of difficulties for international students and not just due to the language barrier. Online portals like ISIS can be confusing and unclear,” she explains. Before meeting Fabio, Anna walked around campus to re-familiarize herself so that she could better help him settle in at the University. Fabio appreciates the opportunity the Buddy Program offers. “When you move to another country and foreign city as a student, participating in a buddy program is very helpful. A buddy is a support you can rely on and trust,” he explains. Another advantage of the Buddy Program is that TU buddies can help international students with finding an apartment. “Such programs also help students from partner universities gain an impression of the city and learn which areas are safe or less so,” continues Anna.
Volunteering as a buddy opened Anna’s eyes to the number of partnerships TU Berlin has with foreign universities. This was a particularly positive experience for her. “The Buddy Program revealed the variety of experiences abroad TU Berlin offers us. I hadn’t realized that the University has so many partner universities. We have the opportunity to go anywhere.” For Anna, the Buddy Program offers not least an excellent opportunity for social contact that is otherwise difficult due to the size of TU Berlin. “It’s nice to meet other students and develop friendships. So I thought, why not spend six months with others and see what happens?”
Activities and events organized by the International Office, such as a canoing trip or volleyball game and barbecue, bring together people from different countries. These events are of special importance to Anna. “It is interesting to experience how the exchange students communicate with each other and what they think about their own culture and socialization. This often leads to new perspectives and ways of thinking. It’s really great to see such a large group of people from different countries get along so easily,” she says. The activities also provide plenty of surprises and show TU Berlin from another side. “For instance, I wasn’t aware the University had a boathouse. I definitely want to spend more time there in the future.”
Ultimately, one of the greatest benefits of the Buddy Program for her is the intercultural encounters with people from all over the world, which often have a lasting impact. “The Buddy Program offers added value for students by giving them insight into other cultures and and an opportunity to develop new friendships.
In the end you have friends all over the world,” explains Anna. Fabio certainly wants to keep in touch and help Anna with her semester abroad – maybe even in Italy. “Maybe it’ll work out that we can visit each other once or twice a year. It would certainly be nice to stay in touch after I finish my semester abroad here at TU Berlin,” says Fabio.
In addition to the volunteer Buddy Program, the “Intercultural Buddy Program” module was developed for TU Berlin students, offering them an opportunity to delve further into the existing program. The module is ungraded and encompasses 3 ECTS points. It is financed with funds from the Qualitätspakt Lehre (Quality Pact for Teaching) of the BMBF and is a component of the “Intercultural basic qualification” module. Both buddy programs are central instruments of the “Internationalization@home” initiative for students.