It is initially often difficult for international students to adapt to life in Germany: How do I find my way around campus? What can I do in Stuttgart? What are the Germans like? The International Office's Intercultural Mentoring Program supports newcomers during their first semester by placing them with an experienced student.
The special feature of this program at the University of Stuttgart is that the mentors support the international students on a one-to-one basis. The organizers attach great importance to ensuring that the interests of the respective mentors and mentees are well suited to each other - both professionally and personally. And there are regular exchanges between the program coordinators and the mentors and mentees, so that they can provide quick and uncomplicated help in the event of any ambiguities or questions. The Intercultural Mentoring Program turns ten this year. To mark the occasion, a celebration was held at the International Center (IZ) on the Vaihingen campus in early July.
The two program coordinators Anu Dohna and Kerstin Glaser were delighted that many current and former program participants, employees, and friends of the program attended the anniversary celebration with live music and a sparkling wine reception. The mentoring band "Everybody speaks Music", which is made up of current and former members of the mentoring program, provided the music for the evening. The event also featured traditional Turkish music with singing and the Turkish plucked string instrument, the Bağlama.
Marion Höcke, head of the International Department, emphasized in her speech that the program thrives on personal encounters, which became painfully clear during the Corona pandemic. Online encounters were made possible thanks to online meetings and other offerings, organized with great dedication by the staff and student assistants. She concludes, "Ten years is a great accomplishment for a program that was originally planned to be a test phase for only a few years."
„Ten years is a great accomplishment for a program that was originally planned to be a test phase for only a few years.“Marion Höcke
Development of the Intercultural Mentoring Program
The Intercultural Mentoring Program was created in 2012 with the aim of giving international students the best possible start at university and thus reducing the dropout rates, which are higher for foreign students than for nationals, in the long term. At the same time, the program also encourages encounters between students from different cultures. The first round in the summer semester of 2012 comprised 50 experienced students as mentors and 50 new international students as mentees. This number quickly increased to 100 pairs of mentors and mentees per year. During the past ten years, a total of 1,585 mentor and mentee partnerships have been formed.
Significance of the program today
Maja Heidenreich was the first program coordinator and led the program from 2012 to 2018. She recounted the start of the Intercultural Mentoring Program and its role as a best practice example. Many universities were invited to learn about the program. She attributes the success of the program to the careful matching of mentors and mentees, as well as the fact that all participants are very committed to making it work.
She emphasized that the Intercultural Mentoring Program is about friendship and sharing: "Times have changed dramatically since 2012. There is a war in Europe, there are many flashpoints in the world and nationalism is getting stronger everywhere. During such times, it is especially important to have programs based on mutual understanding, on friendship and on shared memories." She also stressed that although the mentoring program cannot save the world, it can help make it a little better.