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LMU and migrants – and vice versa

Fleeing for broader horizons

München, 10/31/2014

The number of people who have fled their homes is now higher than at any time since World War II. More and more students and academics wish to become involved in helping these unfortunate victims.

Foto: Haak & Nakat

Students and LMU faculty members help the newcomers to cope with everyday problems in a strange land, offer free legal advice or provide free medical care. Indeed, the wave of new migrants has even made a mark on some curricula. Trainee teachers give German lessons for refugees, while young Afghans assist undergraduates at the Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies to cope with the intricacies of their own native language, Dari.

Learning German, teaching Dari
In some LMU Faculties, aid to refugees has already been integrated into university courses. As an example, after Dr. Elisabetta Terrasi-Haufe of LMU’s Institute for German as a Foreign Language and her senior students had sat in on classes given at the Waldwinkel Center for Vocational Training in Aschau am Inn, they prepared a new model for the further education of refugees, in cooperation with the local authority. The trainee teachers then returned to teach classes for final-year students at the Center, using the newly developed materials. German is now taught as an integrated element of classes on every subject on the curriculum, focusing on conversational problems that arise naturally in the given context, such as the practical class in the mechanics’ workshop. The commitment shown by doctoral students from Morocco and Burkina Faso at the Institute, together with their contributions as role models, has further motivated the young immigrants. “Many of them dream of being able to study at a university,” says Terrasi-Haufe. But the program also educates the teachers. “Our trainee teachers learn to think more deeply about the practice of teaching and to appreciate the value of voluntary service.” The new course in “Sprache und Kommunikation Deutsch” for students of Education, which is now under development, will benefit from the lessons learned in Aschau.

Not only does LMU help refugees – sometimes refugees can give LMU a helping hand: At the Institute for Near and Middle Eastern Studies Angela Parvanta has initiated an experiment which is so far without parallel in Germany. Afghan refugees from the SchlaU-Schule in Munich (a private school that provides teaching programs specifically tailored to cater for the educational needs of young migrants) are now teaching their own native language – Dari – to LMU students. In addition to the relatively informal language lessons, geographical, historical and cultural aspects of their homeland were also on the curriculum. “This type of language course has helped our students to overcome initial reservations and has allayed many misgivings,” says Parvanta. And according to the staff of the SchlaU-Schule, many of their students involved in the scheme have benefitted from interacting with others through the medium of Dari, have become more open-minded in class, and no longer regard the University as being remote from their concerns. Some of the teachers were, however, forced to withdraw prematurely, because the course reawakened memories of traumatic events they experienced in their homeland. Studies previously carried out by Barbara Niemiec, Birgit Magg and Professor Rita Rosner at LMU‘s Department of Psychology on the effects of traumatic experiences, the challenges presented by the unfamiliar living conditions in exile and the psychological stresses they cause in young refugees, have advanced our understanding of this phenomenon.

Student aid for refugees: Learning on the job
And then there are the many voluntary aid programs initiated by concerned and dedicated LMU students. Law student Franziska Fassbinder is one of them. A year ago, she founded the Refugee Law Clinic Munich, which offers free legal advice to asylum-seekers. The issues addressed during the weekly consultation sessions in Dachau include immigration law, hospital bills, cell-phone contracts or problems with the Office of Social Services. Law students can gain practical experience in these fields and learn how to interact professionally with people from non-Western cultures,” Fassbinder explains. The students involved in the consultations have attended the new lecture course in Asylum Law and taken intensive follow-up courses in this area of law. The group now consists of nearly 60 members, and includes 16 translators and nine qualified legal advisors who provide professional expertise.

In the Faculty of Medicine, Fabian Jacobs started the project “International Medical Culture” (IMECU) in 2011. Its aim is to help medical students to acquire intercultural competences that will be useful in their dealings with patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. For example, it acquaints young doctors with the options open to them when a refugee appears in a practice without a valid residence permit or health insurance; from the formal legal point of view, such a patient would have to be refused treatment. “That is a situation which every physician must now reckon with, so it is a good idea for medical students to give some thought to how they should handle this sort of case.” The project also organizes seminars with experts to discuss, for instance, how medical services for refugees in Bavaria can be improved, and how each individual can make a contribution to attaining this goal. As Jacobs points out: “This kind of project is good for LMU, but society at large also benefits.” And he can already point to a concrete achievement: MigraMed. This is a student initiative in which some of those who had previously taken part in his IMECU project now provide advice for refugees and their families on medical matters, consultations with general practitioners and help with language problems.