01. December 2021

Learning German Over Coffee and Cookies Refugees, international program participants and students all come to chat at the Lerncafé.

Improving their German skills so they can study in Bonn: refugees, international program participants and students all come to chat at the Lerncafé.

Mehmet Boz spends an hour and a half traveling from Düren to Poppelsdorfer Allee. Nearly every Wednesday. He’s happy to sacrifice the time, because he has a clear goal in sight:  he wants to study nutrition science and then go on to work in sport. To obtain a language certificate at the level he needs, he’s taking part in the “Academic Integration for Refugees” (FdIS) program – and is also visiting the voluntary weekly Lerncafé organized by the International Office at the same time.

Visitors to the language café chat with the organizers.
Visitors to the language café chat with the organizers. - Palina Arlova, Marina Kohl (coordinator), Franziska Scharle, Sima Beheshti, Yasmin Moslem, Leo Brandt, Mehmet Boz. © Universität Bonn / Gregor Hübl
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Unless he passes the “German Language Proficiency Test for Admission to Higher Education” (DSH2), however, he won’t be allowed to study in Bonn.

Next to him on the bench sits Yasmin Moslem from Aleppo, who crossed the Mediterranean with her daughter in 2015. Turkey, Greece, Munich, then Bonn. “Bonn is a nice, pretty city, not as big as Munich,” she says. Back in Syria, she had begun to study agricultural sciences, and the subject had gripped her from the start. The 36-year-old can’t always make it to the Lerncafé as her family takes up a lot of her time. Her wish, however, is to get a good job and maybe become a lecturer at the University of Bonn. The language course is her first step toward getting a degree.

Marina Kohl from the International Office knows why the DSH exam is so important. She is in charge of the project that prepares refugees for embarking on a degree program. “Most University events are held in German, and most students are native speakers,” she observes. “Plus people tend to speak fast and use highly academic language, without really thinking about it. Getting students ready for that is what makes our language course different from general language courses or those that gear you up for a particular job.”

Around 40 to 50 people take part in the German courses every year, with between 12 and 18 on the FdIS program. Many of them also spend time in the Lerncafé, which is open to all international program participants. “The Lerncafé gives the participants the opportunity to talk with one another in an informal setting and get an idea of what studying at the University of Bonn is like,” Marina Kohl explains. “And they can also expand their vocabulary at the same time.” In addition, they can get advice on social questions and matters of residency law – finding accommodation, opportunities for getting involved, sports clubs – from the four mentors, a full-time member of staff and the German teachers. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has been supporting language teaching since 2016 with its “Integra” and “NRWege ins Studium” (“NRWays into Studying”) projects.

There was a time during the pandemic when the all-important face-to-face dialogue was difficult at best. “The current course members had a harder time of it last year, when the coronavirus was at its worst,” Kohl notes. For a long time, meet-ups and language courses were only held online. It was not until the summer that the Lerncafé was able to resume in person, organizing picnics on Poppelsdorfer Allee.

Making the transition to the German academic system is not always easy. “We also get them ready to enter the German university system,” says Kohl. “Studying in other countries often involves different requirements and environments. Although many participants will have started a degree program or completed subjects in their home countries and can build on this in some cases, it won’t always be compatible – such as a law degree in Iran.”

To mark the end of the semester, some people have brought along local dishes, such as a Persian rice pudding known as Sholeh Zard. Participants talk attentively and animatedly about their daily routines and the exams they have just done. And they ask the students present about their own day-to-day lives.

Mehmet is a fan of the concept: “The language course by itself isn’t a whole lot of fun, but, combined with the Lerncafé, it’s fantastic. I think it’s a very good opportunity. It’s really helped me, such as with colloquial language. You often hear the word ‘Alter,’ or ‘mate,’ when you’re among friends.  Here at the Lerncafé I found out that you shouldn’t use it in more formal discourse.”

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