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A good match

Through the club „Rock Your Life!“, University students accompany high school students for two years until graduation when they launch their career

Freiburg, Jun 18, 2018

A good match

Photo: Thomas Kunz

Boosting self-confidence, fostering talent, broadening horizons: Nearly 70 University students volunteer for the Freiburg branch of the club “Rock Your Life!” with the objective of increasing career prospects for socially disadvantaged high school students.

A case for three: Tolughan Akis (right) and Janek Weber have been a team for nearly two years now. Stefanie Lorenz is the point person for the tandem partners in case they need assistance.
Photo: Thomas Kunz

Tolughan Akis is excited. The 16-year-old just visited the University Library in Freiburg (UB) for the first time ever. The swivel chair, the large windows, the view across the plaza. “It is totally chillaxed in here,” he says with a grin. “I bet it’s good for studying.” Janek Weber, 26 years old, has taken the Vigelius school ninth grader to the UB because he had to pick up a book before taking him to get ice cream. Now both of them are sitting on one of the concrete waves in front of the mirrored building while watching videos on Tolughan’s phone and laughing. You might think they are friends – even if there is a ten-year age difference and their vastly different daily experiences may separate them from one another.

Janek, the student studying to become a teacher who has tattoos and a beard, and Tolughan, the high school student with a taste for fast cars and who dreams of becoming an auto mechanic one day, have known each other for almost two years. They met each other during a club meeting at “Rock Your Life!” in Freiburg with students from the eighth and ninth grades from the Vigelius comprehensive school and the Albert Schweitzer school (“Werkrealschule”). The older students are meant to support the younger ones as they create a new perspective for their lives during the final two years of school.

30 tandem partnerships in Freiburg

“Rock Your Life!” was founded in 2008 by a pair of students from Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen. After listening to a podium discussion about the lack of justice in education and the enormous obstacles for social mobility in Germany, they wanted to do something about it themselves. In the interim “Rock Your Life!” can be found on more than 50 University campuses across Germany and, recently, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The Freiburg branch that started work in 2010 has roughly 70 volunteer members now. They work in teams to take care of public relations, charity donations, contact with local companies as well as training and support for student mentors and their young mentees. There are currently about 30 tandem partnerships.

The project aims to improve career prospects for socially disadvantaged students. “We want to boost their self-confidence and help them foster their talents,” says Weber, who volunteers as a mentor and co-chairs the club with Marcel Seeßle. The 26-year-old dental student knows that only a few children from uneducated families will find their way to the lecture hall. Many of them simply do not have a confidante with whom they could directly talk about their needs and issues “Unlike with their parents or teachers, the youth have a very relaxed relationship with us,” says Seeßle. “It is easier to motivate them.”

Tolughan liked what he heard during a “Rock Your Life!” presentation at his school: the clearly defined coaching that will serve to help him identify and reach his goals; the compulsory exchange and free-time activities with an adult who is as cool as the youth themselves; a sympathetic ear when things aren’t going so well. That is why Tolughan registered for “matching”, a kind of speed dating in which high school students and University students spend a few minutes talking. In the end the youth select their mentors who will accompany them on their way to graduation and a new career. Friendships often emerge through these tandem partnerships that go well beyond the two-year program. It is no wonder because they are often addressing major questions of identity. Who am I? Where do my talents lie? Where am I headed? Talking about these things fosters a sense of intimacy and trust. It also requires that the mentors possess a certain level of finesse.

Video application

In order for the relationships between mentors and mentees to lead to the desired outcome, the tandem partnerships are guided by counselors such as Stefanie Lorenz. “We make ourselves available to both people,” says the 22-year-old student who is studying to become a teacher. “Whenever any problems arise, we address them collectively.” As a result, the attrition rate is relatively low. In addition, Stefanie Lorenz watches after mentees such as Lana Younes whose mentor is currently studying abroad for one semester. The 16-year-old came to Germany from Syria in 2014. Today she attends the college-bound class at the Stauding comprehensive school. One of her teachers told her about “Rock Your Life!” Because the club was not involved in her school directly, she applied using video. “I was very shy and could barely speak German,” she says. “But I knew even back then that I want to be a doctor – and that I require support to realize that dream.” She got it. Her mentor took her along to an anatomy lecture and later helped her obtain an internship at the University Medical Center. By the way: Thanks to Lana’s initiative, “Rock Your Life!” now offers a mentoring program at the Stauding comprehensive school too.

Dietrich Roeschmann