Deutsches Studentenwerk

The campus with its five faculties, located on the outskirts of the small town of Dieburg and 15 kilometres from Darmstadt, is not very attractive for German students. They prefer to be put on a long waiting list for one of the student-houses in Darmstadt. International students, on the other hand, have to rely on finding a place to live quickly and cheaply and in Dieburg there is always a room available. The rent costs only 220 Euro per month – so three quarters of the residents here are international students – only 52 are German. In many other student- houses all over the country the proportion of foreign students is a little over 30 percent. With this percentage the Studentenwerke’s aim is to integrate international students. People like Mahamadou are all the more important because it is their task to promote the interaction between international and German fellow students.

Mahamadou says goodbye to Edwin, who picks up his rucksack. “Good luck”, he calls after him. A group of students come into the kitchen and Spanish chatter fills the room, “Hola Mahamadou”, says one of them and opens the oven. A spicy aroma fills the kitchen. As there is no crockery in the kitchen everyone has brought their own plate. ‘Please wash dishes immediately”, says a notice above the sink. Plus three exclamation marks. The appeal obviously works because the sink is empty and clean, but it’s not like that everywhere, says Mahamadou. The 14 eat-in kitchens which are shared by between eight and 16 residents are never-ending points of contention. The caretaker has put notices up on the walls explaining the German waste separation system in ten different languages – used paper, domestic waste and glass. The fridge at the end of the worktop is divided into ten lockable compartments, but the strongbox-like system has not proven successful. Food is often left to rot, so now each room is to have its own fridge.

The Brasilian student, Luis Octávio Noschang, can’t wait for the day when the fridge arrives. Since his arrival three weeks ago he keeps his food in a see-through plastic box on a shelf in his carefully tidied room on the fourth floor. “The kitchen here is not very nice”, he explains. Here the cultural peculiarities of each nation become very evident. The student of media production plans to stay in Germany for at least four years and to finish his studies here. Luis has to ration his hard-earned savings carefully because, according to the law, as an international student he is only allowed to earn extra money by working for 90 full or 180 half days. He can’t afford his own flat. A German-Portuguese dictionary lies next to his bed. His dark-haired girlfriend from Brasil smiles at him from a photo on his desk, next to her is his laptop. Luis would like to get internet access so that he can write emails to her from his room. But there is no internet access here, so he turns to Mahamadou for help. The tutor suggests: “Come and see me tomorrow and I’ll show you how to get connected.” In the student-house internet only works via wireless LAN. Mahamadou has contacts at the phone companies and can help with sorting out a contract.

After his entry into the country, Luis nearly missed the deadline for enrolment. He only had two days to register and didn’t know that he still needed to get health insurance. He could only arrange that if he had a German bank account. The second bank that he asked agreed to give him an account and then a race against time began: “I ran around like a madman, and so many public authorities close early.” He just managed to register in time. No-one in the enrolment office at the university in Darmstadt had told him about the complicated process. Mahamadou has already heard of this problem from other students he takes care of. He arranges to meet Luis later on for lunch in the cafeteria opposite.

Mahamadou takes the stairs to the first floor and walks down the hall to his room. He must write some more on his thesis which he will hand in in just a few weeks. Once he has graduated, at the latest in September 2007, his time as student-house tutor will be over. Until then, every student who has a question can come to him. There are no opening hours; his door is open to all. And if he should happen to be out he has prepared a yellow slip of paper so that everyone knows where he is. It says:  “I’m at the football pitch”, or “I’m at the university”. Sometimes Mahamadou would just like to be left in peace, in which case he has prepared another note. The message is friendly, but clear: “I’m having a well-earned sleep.


Text: Anna Kröning, photos: Iris Maurer


The above article was published in the DSW-Journal 2/2007.


part 1