Sönke Wallbaum works as a buddy at HAW and helps students from abroad.
Sönke Wallbaum works as a buddy at HAW and helps students from abroad. Foto: Christoph Petersen

Between party and apartment search: Student life can be very stressful – especially for students from abroad. At the University of Applied Sciences HAW Hamburg so-called buddies help them.

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Xavier wants to register as an Erasmus student. Looking for the right contact person, he passes almost every office of the service building at his university. But when he finally finds the responsible clerk, she sends him back home immediately: Without the consent of the lecturer, his student ID, a letter of motivation, his CV, the title of his bachelor thesis and the completed form E 111, she could do nothing.

This scene from the film “L’auberge espagnole” shows in a very amusing way which problems students face sometimes. This is often nerve-wracking, especially for foreign students. At the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg (HAW), the International Office therefore provides students from abroad with so-called buddies: students who are familiar with the procedures and facilities in the Hanseatic city.

Studying abroad can be so much fun

22-year-old Sönke Wallbaum is such a buddy. The student for Foreign Trade and International Management has already successfully assisted three buddies during their stay: a Dutch woman and two Finns. “Getting into a new country where you do not speak the language is a big deal, and as a buddy, we can help and be there for them, no matter how unsure they are. It’s very reassuring and you can look forward to studying in Hamburg”, says Wallbaum.

As a buddy, he picks up his foreign study partners from the airport, shows them the city, accompanies them to the registration office or to the account opening. However, the focus is on leisure time spent together: “With my Dutch partner, I went through the entire introduction week, we celebrated together and had dinner in restaurants, it was a lot of fun and an exciting experience.”

In addition to the orientation phase during the first semester weeks, the cultural exchange remains in focus. The hope is: getting to know foreign people and nations reduces prejudices. Project coordinator Marina Paunova puts it beautifully: “Those who celebrate together won’t fight each other.”

Buddies urgently wanted!

For the coming semester, the International Office is still looking for buddies who would like to accompany a student from abroad. If you want to, you can specify preferences, for example the gender of the guest. “Maybe someone speaks a language very well or wants to get to know as many different nations as possible. We try to fulfill as many wishes as possible,” says Marina Paunova.

Sönke Wallbaum would like to look after a buddy again next semester. “I’d recommend to anyone to throw themselves in. The worst thing that can happen is that paths seperate after the program, the best could be friendships or careeer contacts”, he says.

By the way, Xavier from “L’auberge espagnole” manages to overcome bureaucracy and spends his Erasmus year abroad. For him, it will be a turbulent and unforgettable time – hopefully as well as for all international students at HAW.