Getting off to a good start
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Meant to be a source of convenience for foreign students and a fast track to the ins and outs of the University and life in Munich, it turns out that LMU’s Buddy Program is providing something much deeper and more valuable – enduring friendships.
LMU’s International Office (IO) set up a Buddy Program where local students help international exchange students get settled into LMU more easily than if left to their own devices. By checking the “buddy” box in their application for admission, each applicant gets paired up with a mentor who makes contact via e-mail soon after to allow for any pre-arrival concerns to be addressed.
Every semester offers the opportunity for LMU students to apply to be mentors. They are required to take a 2.5-hour introductory course outlining the program, and can participate in the IO’s intercultural training course. Mentor-mentee matches are made during the semester break and then contact data is provided to the matches. Each mentor is obligated to e-mail his/her mentee and offer assistance, meet the mentee at the beginning of the semester at least once, and provide support with everyday practicalities.
The Buddy Program team in the IO offers further support in the form of introductory events and activities throughout the semester. As well, a facebook group for members of the program has been created.
Launched in 2006 with 79 mentors and mentees participating, last winter saw nearly 500 students enroll in LMU’s Buddy Program.
Bonds develop quickly
Neza Zitko, an exchange student from Slovenia, found her mentor invaluable from day one. Lost in Munich upon arrival, her stress level was high by the time she found the University. But that disappeared as soon as she met Franzi, her new buddy. Franzi not only took her to lunch to relax, but helped Neza enroll at LMU, find the archaeology department where her courses would be, and even assisted in her search for a flat.
“From my mentor I got everything I expected,” says Neza, “like advice about accommodation and help getting along at the University, but more importantly, I have a new friend. I think she is the kind of person who simply likes to be there for other people. I’d be happy if she visited me back home so I can show her the country I come from.”
Swedish student Nikola Latinovic also has high praises for his mentor. Besides the obligatory help, his mentor had a lucky surprise.
“I really did not expect him to be fluent in Swedish,” says Nikola. “He had spent his ERASMUS semester in Sweden, so we had a lot to talk about, switching from Swedish to German all the time. He has invited me to events and soccer every week in the English Garden. Also my flat mates have benefitted from my having a buddy, since they don’t have mentors themselves. Thanks to the program I have had a lot of fun getting to know many people from Munich. It would have been a lot harder without my mentor.”
Internationalization at home
Alexander Greie, a mentor for the LMU Buddy Program for the third time, says he mentors not only to make things easier for incoming students, but to ensure that Munich makes a permanent imprint on them: “I want my mentee to have an unforgettable time in Munich.”
Whether in German or in English, within the first days, Alex likes to give his buddy an overview of the city, get him familiar with the public transit system, and show him the key hotspots. He also tries to arrange a trip to the Alps because, he says, most visitors have never seen them before.
“This spring I showed my mentee the most important places in Munich and introduced him to Bavarian cuisine specialties, such as Leberkässemmel and Weißwurst. We have been clubbing and have had quiet beers together. He’s met my German friends and introduced us to other exchange students. This has become an international gathering that I really appreciate.”
Alex feels the Buddy Program is an important benefit to him personally since he learns as much about mentees’ countries and cultures as they learn about Bavaria.
“I invited my mentee and his friends to a house party. They showed up in Lederhosen and Dirndls. That was so funny. I think they like Munich very much.” [Elizabeth Willoughby]