"Today we want to celebrate you!"
Lively music, a poetry slam, and a theater performance marked the end of the semester for refugees in the Studienkolleg preparatory program at Freie Universität.
Mar 17, 2017
Learning a new language, making new friends, wading through bureaucracy, coping with everyday life: Refugees making a new life in Germany have a lot to deal with, and Freie Universität has been giving them extra support to help them get started at the university.
Since the summer of 2016, the Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin program has been offering a one-year preparatory program within the Studienkolleg that includes German classes as well as introductory courses in various subject areas. At the end of January, the participants celebrated the end of the first semester along with friends and the program organizers at a party in the Henry Ford Building.
There is just enough time for them to catch their breath, as the new term will start after a one-week break. On this Friday afternoon at the end of January though, it was time to celebrate what they had achieved. "Today we want to celebrate you," said Florian Kohlstall, who together with Stefanie Böhler coordinates the Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin program for refugees interested in studying at Freie Universität. He continued, "We are very impressed by your achievements and your motivation."
The welcome program for refugees was started in the fall of 2015. In the meantime about 300 individuals are making use of various features being offered: Roughly 100 refugees are learning German in the language courses, another 100 attend regular seminars that have slots available for refugees, and another 80 are enrolled in the Studienkolleg, a special program for individuals who completed their secondary schooling outside of Germany and require preparatory courses to enroll at a German university.
Students and staff at Freie Universität are also involved in the program: More than 100 of them volunteer as mentors, or so-called buddies, to help the refugees find their way around the different academic system. At the University Sports Center, refugees and their buddies can join selected sports courses for free. Matthias Dannenberg, the executive deputy director of administration and finance at Freie Universität, expressed great appreciation on the part of the university management to all the members of the university involved in the welcome program.
The end-of-term party was organized by Salma Hamed, Fatima Ajroudi, and Carlotta Mellies, who are all student assistants in the welcome program. The music by il Civetto was irresistible: a mixture of Balkan music, folk, and swing. The sound of the Berlin quintet has been influenced by the musicians' trips through Africa and South America. After only a few bars of music by singer Leon Keiditsch and the band members, those listening had to join in, dancing, clapping, or swaying back and forth.
Poetry slammer Faten El Dabbas gave a more thoughtful presentation. A political science student, she said she wasn't telling a fable from "1001 Nights," but rather shared her feelings as an Arabic, Palestinian, and Muslim woman in Germany. This afternoon Faten El Dabbas read her texts in German. After all, German is the common language for all those in the Studienkolleg. Many of them are from Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, or Iran.
The theater group "AugenBlick" presented a multilingual play in German, English, Arabic, and Persian. It was all about being together in spite of different backgrounds and origins. The message: peace has to come from the heart. And: anyone who wants peace, has to trust others.
Samala Kassem, who majored in archaeology in Damascus and is now working on her master's in classical archaeology at Freie Universität, was in the play. During a panel discussion that followed, she and other participants in the Studienkolleg program told about their experiences in Germany, their new home.
When asked about differences between their old and new universities, Wael, who is from Syria and studies computer science, had a lot to say about the differences in dealing with mathematical assumptions. "Here we have to prove every theory. In mathematics, assuming something is not enough," he said. Wael and Nathmi, who is from Jordan and now enrolled in the Arabic studies program here, are among the first students who went through the Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin program and then enrolled in one of the regular degree programs at the university. Speaking from his own experiences Nathmi, who is from Jordan, added, "At first, everything is difficult, but the effort pays off. We have many opportunities here."
This text was originally published in German on February 7, 2017, in the campus.leben online magazine by Freie Universität Berlin.