Unsere Beauftragte für Flucht, Migration und Studium, Hannah Dehning, hat sich mit Arthur Menezes, dem Vertreter der HGAS (Hochschulgruppe für ausländische Studierende), getroffen. Sie wollte etwas über seine Arbeit in der HGAS erfahren und wissen, vor welche Herausforderungen internationale Studierenden in Zeiten von Corona stehen.

Hannah: Could you explain your work at HGAS?

Arthur: My work as a HGAS representative is to stand for the interests of our international community. Currently, my work at HGAS consists mainly of rebuilding the structure of the group. Our group has been a bit abandoned by the last generations of representatives, so it is, as it stands, a bit chaotic and inefficient, so we are putting the effort to turn HGAS into a group that our international community can be proud of, and turn it into a valuable asset. One of these tasks is to make HGAS into a vessel for useful information for our international students, so I am currently helping manage our new social media presence (instagram and facebook, @hgasuol) and our new blog (in our website hgas-oldenburg.de). We are getting a lot of good feedback, which is very gratifying!

Hannah: What do you think are the biggest challenges for international students in corona times?

Arthur: As international students, we are often alone here. We leave everything behind, our families, our friends, the languages we are comfortable with. For us, connection is very important, even more than for a german student. It’s the difference between feeling at home, like you are a part of something great, and feeling like you are an outcast. And especially for us, who need it the most, integration can sometimes be really hard. It’s a monumental task to be able to comprehend a new system, find ways of being valuable and financing your life, and on top of that create a social network, all in languages you don’t fully master. Needless to say, during the past months, the international community was hit especially hard. ‚Stay at home‘ is not a simple order for a group that so desperately needs to go out and pursue integration. Much is said about the financial aspect, which is also very true, many international students were employed by the gastronomy industry, amongst other sectors that felt a strong impact. But I would also like to point out the social aspect, that is certainly a big challenge for our community in these times.

Hannah: Which support do international students need in times of corona?

Arthur: I must say, our community showed a lot of strength during these times. And it makes sense, international students are no strangers to adversity: for most of us, every day is a challenge, we have significantly more obstacles to overcome on a regular basis than a regular local student. It’s not an easy path, so the ones who thrive are very creative, ingenious people who can adapt quickly. However, that also means that when life gets even more challenging, for reasons outside of our control, that can push an international student over the edge maybe a little harder, and that was certainly true in some cases. A lot of us were benefiting from jobs that were cut or severely limited by the pandemic. A lot of us saw their home-country currencies devalued, meaning that receiving financial help from their families became harder or even impossible (and that problem is likely to worsen in the near future). Most of us felt the absence of integration activities that always assisted the new students in creating networks to support themselves and to help place themselves in society. In all of those regards, support was truly needed. The financial support from the official channels, like the Überbrückungshilfe, the KfW loans, the DAAD-Stipendium, amongst others, were of great value to our international community, and certainly helped most of the students in dire financial situations to bridge the gap on the hardest months. The social challenges, stemming from inclusion and networking difficulties due to social distancing, were also in great demand for support, but were – and still are – understandably much harder to bridge, and there are still ideas to be had and work to be done on that regard.

Hannah: How can you as HGAS representative provide support?

Arthur: As HGAS we have been focusing on another front of support, which is of information. In this pandemic we realised that there is also a demand for reliable directed information at a group level. There are no channels that are constantly providing information to our international community. That was made apparent to us with the corona situation, but it goes far beyond that: in all layers of society, proper information is many times the most important tool for integration. When you arrive here as an international student, or even after you have been here for a while, there are several elements of society you don’t really comprehend. Social media groups and word-to-mouth help fill the gap a fair amount, but we still see space for more channels, and we see ourselves in the position to provide that service. Our systems are still in their infancy, since they had to be built from the ground up, but we are working on them regularly, and hopefully it will be an indispensable part of the toolkit of every international student very soon.

Hannah: How should the university support them better?

The University offered, through the ISO and through other channels, a lot of support to our international community, and we can only be thankful for their efforts. They are also developing workshops and seminars that will be directed specifically to international students, which will definitely help our community integrate better. I believe that the University should keep paying attention to our community, and keep investing in finding ways to support, and the HGAS is definitely available to work together with them in the development and deployment of these tools. I believe that internationalisation is a very strong trend in science, the tendency is only to increase over the coming years, and providing a good environment for international students to succeed is going to be very beneficial both in the micro level, within the university, and in the macro level, for society as a whole.

Hannah: How can people reach you? 

Arthur: If you would like to reach out to us, you can always send us a direct message at our instagram or facebook accounts (@hgasuol), as well as write an email at hgas@uol.de, or use the contact form at our website hgas-oldenburg.de. 

Ein großes Dankeschön an Arthur, der sich die Zeit genommen hat, um die ganzen Fragen zu beantworten!