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Appreciative guests

The Welcome Service helps visiting academics to feel at home however brief their visit

Freiburg, Oct 18, 2017

Appreciative guests

Foto: Jürgen Gocke

This time they might be from Japan, next time the USA, then Malaysia or Brazil, but each year the Welcome Service of the University of Freiburg receives around 200 visiting academics from all round the world. In order to help them settle in, the Welcome Service gives guests support from the start, especially with organizational aspects. And visiting academics are grateful that there is someone there to guide them through the confusion of German bureaucracy – or maybe simply to help them buy a bicycle.

Welcome to Freiburg: Annegret Schönherr and Atavi Yenke offer advice to foreign visiting academics at their office, which can be found in the Rectorate on Fahnenbergplatz. Photo: Jürgen Gocke

In Freiburg, Annegret Schönherr welcomes international guests to the university. But her work begins long before they arrive – for instance with applying for a visa or finding accommodation. Then, once the visiting academics have arrived in Freiburg, completely different questions arise, “We also help if someone wants to buy a bicycle or would like information about leisure activities in Freiburg and the region,” says Schönherr. For three years now she has provided advice and support for visiting academics. In October 2017, the Welcome Service expanded to include her colleague Atavi Yenke. Schönherr knows how important it is to have someone to call on in a foreign country. She lived abroad for several years and can empathize with the new arrivals. “I remember how difficult it was when there wasn’t just a different climate but also the language and the culture and you don’t know anything or anyone – you’re delighted to have someone to turn to.”

Visiting academics are under no obligation to use the Welcome Service, but so far almost everyone has turned to them at some time for help during their stay. “Some have a good secretary, so we hardly have to give them any help, but others are completely helpless, so there we have a bit more work to do.” The visiting academics mainly express gratitude. Post-doc Mohd Firdaus from Malaysia, who has been in Freiburg since November 2016, is impressed by the work of the Welcome Service, “The staff are very competent and help you wherever they can. They were particularly helpful when I was applying for a residence permit. The support offered to us here is a tremendous help with settling in properly in Freiburg.”

A German greeting

However, guests are not just thankful for the organizational help, Schönherr reports – the human touch is also important, “They are really happy when they come to our office and see that there is someone sitting here who can explain everything to them right away.” Many send them sweet thank you messages. “You don’t expect that at all in Germany, but people from other cultures are just different – and it’s lovely.”

By contrast, there have been hardly any difficulties with cultural differences, Schönherr relates. Not everyone says “Guten Tag” and shakes hands, for example. “But I don’t expect it either,” says Schönherr. She prefers to adapt to the guests, so that they feel comfortable. “We recently had a Japanese visitor, for instance, who insisted on greeting me in ‘German’.”

Schönherr is surprised by the integration displayed by many of the visiting academics, “One visiting academic from Columbia introduced me to his newborn son together with his wife. The little boy was called Matthias, and the parents were almost a little disappointed that he couldn’t have German citizenship straight away.” That is the thrill of her job for Schönherr, “You never know who will be outside the door tomorrow.”

Jannis Behnke


Welcome Service