Student-house tutors – they make sure that international students in Germany find their feet. A visit to a student-house in Dieburg near Darmstadt.
Dieburg. Oriental music drifts quietly across the hallway. The female voice mingles with the sound of running water coming from one of the communal bathrooms. At the end of the hallway, one of the green doors stands ajar. A sign on the door-jamb says: “Mahamadou Koné. Tutor for foreign students in Dieburg”. Mahamadou Koné is sitting at his desk in the eleven-square metre room working on his thesis. During six years of living in student accommodation piles of books and papers have filled the shelves in this cosy, small dwelling of the online journalism student. Among his 190 fellow students Mahamadou’s long stay in the student-house is rather the exception than the rule. Most students come as exchange students for one or two terms to the student-house in Dieburg near Darmstadt; 29 nationalities on four floors live here under one roof.
Mahamadou looks at the clock. In ten minutes he has a meeting on the third floor of the house with a new student from Singapore. Mahamadou has worked as a student-house tutor for four years now and is familiar with the questions and problems of newcomers. A map of the world hangs above his desk. First the new students have to show Mahamadou where they come from. He left his own country, the African Ivory Coast, six years ago. He still remembers how difficult it was for him to get along in a foreign language. A friend helped him with his visits to the authorities. Today, in his role as tutor, Mahamadou passes on his experience to other students and in return receives an allowance from the Studentenwerk. Seven tutors in Darmstadt – six of them are international students – currently look after 2000 foreign students from 106 different countries. The students meet regularly to talk among themselves and with their supervising tutors from the Studentenwerk in Darmstadt, to exchange news and ideas for future work.
Mahamadou doesn’t just help with all things to do with studying; he also mediates in situations of conflict. The walls of the building built in the 70s are a thin and differences of opinion cannot be avoided. If someone plays loud music at one o’clock in the morning Mahamadou can’t turn it down, but if a neighbour complains he can offer to mediate between the two parties. As a student he is not allowed to make any rules such as the caretaker or the social advisor from the Studentenwerk can, both of whom have an office in the student-house, but he is able to arbitrate a dispute.
Mahamadou turns the computer off and leaves his room. Now it’s quiet in the hallway, most of the students are in lectures. On the third floor, just outside the kitchen, he meets Edwin Ng from Singapore. Mahamadou greets the electrical engineering student with a “How are you?” The 24-year old arrived a week ago and wants to study in Darmstadt for two terms. As it takes half an hour every day on the bus to get to the university, he wants to get himself a ticket for the whole term. They sit down together on the leather couch in the kitchen. Mahamadou tells Edwin where to go and who to ask at the university in Darmstadt to get the ticket. The young student has had two terms of German at the university in Singapore, but is still unsure when speaking the language. He says he feels at ease here with the other students, but there isn’t much to do on the campus; the swimming pool and the football pitch are the main attractions. He trains for an hour every day in the fitness studio opposite. If he wants to do some shopping or go for a coffee he prefers to go into Darmstadt, but the busses are not very frequent and don’t run late in the evenings.