Friday, January 21, 2011

Retirees help foreign students adjust to German life

A university in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg has been honoured for its scheme to help foreign students adjust to life in Germany by pairing them with senior citizens who volunteer to help with language and integration.

The University of Applied Sciences in Offenburg teamed up with the local pensioners’ bureau to form the “Senior Service” programme in 2002. It now provides roughly 50 retired volunteers to help cushion the students’ culture shock with German language lessons, rambles through the Black Forest and visits to art galleries and the theatre.

The students, who come from as far afield as South America, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, benefit from time with the local retirees eager to share their time and acquired wisdom.

According to the university’s website, the program “has been going from strength to strength” since it started, now welcoming around 150 students from 60 countries each year.

In December 2010 the programme received the Hochschulperle from the German science and industry institution Stifterverband.

“The most exciting part is the contact with the students,” says project leader and former electrical engineer Franz Roser. “I was on the road a lot during my career, and benefited a lot from others’ hospitality abroad. By far the nicest thing that can happen is an invitation to someone’s home.”

Rohish Kalvit, an energy conversion and management student from Pune, India has high praise for the scheme, having struck up friendships with three different Offenburg families since taking part.

“We chat in German about all kinds of topics, which I really appreciate,” the 27-year-old says.

It is not uncommon for the pensioners to take on the role of mentors.

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Source photo: DPA /

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