Testimonial by André (full version)
international student, degree programme: M.Sc. Biochemistry
participation in Buddy-Programme: winter semester 2018/19
I participated in the Natural.PALS Buddy-Programme mainly due to my lack of knowledge in the German universities’ organizational system and for being new in Bochum and in Nordrhein-Westfalen. That being said, my expectations for this programme were that it could match me with a local student that would orientate me with the educational and organizational system of Ruhr-Universität Bochum as well integrate me better with different colleagues. Overall, my expectations were fulfilled. As Natalie was assigned as my Buddy, who was so kind and helpful for even contacting me and giving me information and showing her prompt availability for any question before the formal meeting organized by the programme.
Beside that, my Buddy had another international Buddy, Savina, and interestingly, this turned the meetings even more dynamic, either socially or during our study meetings. Despite the fact that I know German, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable to speak it all the time and, unfortunately, most times speak English due to our Master being in English and I spend a lot of my time with many international colleagues who don’t speak German. But Natalie made me feel more comfortable to talk in German and would help me correct some expressions I would structure or use words wrongly.
In the academic aspect, Natalie was great as we met to study for the Bioinformatics exam. As many students advised us that it was one of the most difficult to achieve a good grade in, we decided to exchange our knowledge and practice for the exam, discussing each other’s questions.
Culturally, I found it really funny and interesting that my local Buddy and many other local students were not aware of other German typical food from North Germany/Bremen, even if the cities are approximately 2 hours away from each other. On my meetings, I didn’t find many cultural differences, mainly because I’m used to the different cultures and I was culturally educated as German, beside Portuguese. The main “reserve” cultural shock that still affects me is the fact that Germans are no longer so focused on punctuality, which being raised by a German who was all crazy about punctuality makes me confused when it is no longer a “thing” among the young Germans.
One other contrast would be the honest and direct German approach, being very honest and direct when telling something rather negative about someone. I already knew about this, but still had to adapt myself a bit more to this way of approaching someone, mainly because I’m used to a more warm and friendly approach and the German approach would be mostly seen as “rude” in Portugal. Nowadays, I’m completely used to it and always advising and calming down some international colleagues that still are not used to it.
Nonetheless, another interesting thing about Germans is the fact that they really make boundaries between colleagues from friends, keeping their nice and helpful approach towards colleagues without entering their personal space. Even sometimes keeping colleagues apart from friends, whereas in Mediterranean countries they have a totally different approach: their first move when they feel comfortable or want to integrate an international colleague in their country is by presenting the new colleague to their friends.
On balance, my intercultural communication and view about my and other cultures remain the same, mainly because of my huge interest and open mind towards other cultures. The only point that I may have seen here is the fact that the younger generations are losing a bit of their reserved cultural features and having a more modern and universal point of view, mainly from European cultures. Being European I could see that study programmes are structured very similarly, the only difference was the fact that professors in Germany don’t have problems giving high grades, Portuguese professors, on the other hand, make it more difficult to achieve better grades.
Altogether, I would say that my Buddy Natalie was the perfect match, she was always available to help with any question or any problem, she was always friendly and kind. She would integrate myself and Savina with the other German students from the same Master or even with other colleagues from Chemistry. And surprisingly for me, she was very emotionally expressive and enthusiastic while speaking, which is very rare among Germans, since all my life dealing with Germans (my German family and others) I never encountered something like that.
The only thing that I didn’t expect from the programme was the “rules” and minimum requirements to complete the programme, but it actually makes sense as many of the other students from Biology and Chemistry will gain Credit Points for doing the programme.
A recommendation I would leave for future generations would be to try organize more group meetings, leading the group to socialize and exchange some experiences and perspectives between them and not only between the assigned Buddies. And maybe focus some of the formal meetings in some more culture exchange activities like the culture quiz in the last meeting.
Considering all aspects of the programme, I would recommend this programme to other international and local students. I recommend this for international students that may not be aware of the German education system and Ruhr-Universität Bochum’s structure, but mostly to students that are not aware of German culture. My recommendation for local students is due to the opportunity to learn other cultures better. To learn how to approach different perspectives in life and how to deal and communicate with people of different cultural backgrounds. But mostly, what I can take from the programme is the amazing people I met and that I may take for the rest of my studies/life, that in case of needing help my Buddy will still help me in what she can.