Internationalisation shapes the character of FHWS
How employees experience internationalisation at FHWS
© Stefan Bausewein
There have been English language degree programmes at FHWS for six years. In parallel with this, the number of foreign students has increased year on year – intercultural life together is reaching every aspect of life at FHWS. This can also be seen in the everyday life of the administrative departments.
International collaboration has long been a topic at FHWS, which is part of a network of more than 230 partner higher education institutions. International students regularly come to FHWS, either during the course of an exchange for a limited number of semesters or for a full course of studies. In the past five years, FHWS has further boosted and specifically developed internationalisation. “The strategic further development of internationalisation, i. e. defining specific projects which are also associated with development of FHWS as a whole, is relatively new. We are in a catch-up process there,” says Dr. Daniel Wimmer, Head of the International Office (HSIN). By now, this process is progressing apace.
The kick-off for internationalisation forging ahead at FHWS was the start of the first TWIN programmes in Business and Engineering and Logistics in the winter semester 2014/15. English language equivalents, so-called twins, of the German language degree programmes were created. This system, which is unique in Germany, offers students the opportunity to complete their course of studies in two languages thanks to the pairing of German and English courses. In subsequent years, more degree programmes were added. The fifth TWIN bachelor's programme kicked off in winter semester 2020/21 with Robotik/Robotics.
The proportion of international students at FHWS increased hand in hand with this development: from close to 4% in 2014 to around 20% today. “That really is something that FHWS managed together, because something special has really happened for us,” Wimmer emphasises. For the future too, he has committed to continuing to take advantage of every opportunity to further drive internationalisation.
“Internationalisation here at FHWS defines our profile, it is a cross-sectional topic for teaching, research, administration – really, all areas of FHWS are affected by it,” Wimmer observes. No wonder, then, that the topic is clearly noticeable for the employees at FHWS in their everyday working life as well. Depending on the role and function, internationalisation means something different for everyone. It is obvious that the employees in the International Office are directly affected. But even here, experiences vary. Kristina Gehring, FHWS 3IN project coordinator, particularly notices internationalisation in her everyday work when she reflects on project work in “how we can prepare employees who are not part of the International Office for intercultural collaboration”.
Opportunities for advanced training
Since internationalisation is so ubiquitous at FHWS, intercultural collaboration has long been part of everyday working life. The so-called intercultural certificate, which explicitly prepares employees for cultural differences and communication, is therefore offered. This training consists of language classes, mostly English, in combination with intercultural sensitisation for various cultural frameworks and the possibility of a stay abroad. Most of the intercultural workshops here are conducted by the International Office itself. Wimmer reports that some FHWS employees are also happy to attend more than just the required number of classes: “Because it is really about broadening their horizons. And that makes us proud, that we have built something that appears to address a need.”
English classes are also enthusiastically taken up by the employees as preparation. Communication with the students works well, even when both parties are not native speakers of English. “I see even language barriers and difficulties not negatively, but rather as a challenge and motivation to solve them individually,” says Ulrike Szallay-Grasser from the FHWS Library in Schweinfurt. Oliver Schauber at the Department of Student Affairs (HSST) also finds: “In my experience, it is when you talk to international students every day that you make the most progress with language. I actually find that I speak more freely when the person I am speaking to also isn’t a native speaker of English. Then you know that the other person is trying just as hard.”
Experiences with personal contact
The faculties at FHWS in which there is more contact with the public experience internationalisation much more directly, predominantly through contact with foreign students. “The library is often the first point of contact for international students because it is frequently also a question of problems from completely different areas outside their subject,” says Szallay-Grasser. In addition to factual questions about the library itself, there are questions about everyday life and requests for help with all kinds of bureaucratic matters. Here, it may be that rental contracts or insurance certificates suddenly become an issue. Because the German customs and formalities can definitely become overwhelming if they are different from those in the students’ country of origin. Szallay-Grasser believes that the fact that the library is often the first point of contact is down to the opening times: while other places are closed in the evenings or on Saturdays, people looking for help can always find someone to talk to in the library.
The Department of Student Affairs is in contact with international students from the application process. When they then actually come to FHWS, they often need to learn more about the basic procedures at FHWS because these generally differ significantly from the conditions in the countries of origin. “Initially, there were concerns about whether we would be able to communicate everything to the extent necessary in English, but experience has shown: it works better than we thought,” says Schauber.
HSST receives questions from German and international students alike about examination regulations, rules on deadlines or supporting documents . Some need more support here and, according to Schauber, then come back to their original contact person again: “It's often a bit like a chick hatching. They continue to go back to the first person they see. Some therefore then come back to me the next time if I was able to help them a bit.”
Internationalisation as a topic close to our heart
For large parts of FHWS, getting involved of their own accord and seeing the challenges of internationalisation as an opportunity is a matter of course. “We meet everyone with open arms and want to help with empathy in every situation. I personally see myself as a carer as well,” Szallay-Grasser says. Personal experiences with international contact provide additional motivation here. Ultimately, international contacts help everyone involved with personal development. Schauber summarises: “If internationalisation hadn't grown so strongly, then we would also have lost something in personal development.”
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