How can I help you?
Students voluntarily campaign for a season ticket for public transport, give orientation courses for high-school graduates, translate medical terminology into plain language – and lots more. Why?
“Of course, it’s not always easy to reconcile the demands made by one’s studies with a commitment to voluntary work,” says medical student Alexander Blaut. “On the other hand, working for others is an experience that I would not want to miss.” For several years Alexander devoted much of his leisure time to the – ultimately successfully – campaign for the introduction of a season ticket for public transport, specifically for students in Munich. All students at third-level institutions in Munich now receive the ticket, which represents a much more economical alternative for many, though not all, recipients.
Looking beyond the end of one’s nose
“If I were to say that public transport is an issue that has always been of great interest to me, I would be lying,” Alexander says. It all started simply because he wanted to look beyond the confines of his medical studies and get to know students in very different disciplines. Three years ago he began to distribute flyers among fellow students. Today he negotiates with representatives of the Munich Urban Transport Authority: Meanwhile I have become something of an expert in the subject – and I now find it fascinating.
The students’ representatives who participated in the negotiations relating to the Semesterticket had to prepare themselves thoroughly and become acquainted with all the relevant details, which often meant burning the midnight oil. “We didn’t really believe that we could succeed in having our demands met,” Alexander tells me in the small conference room on the Leopoldstrasse used by the LMU Students’ Representative Council. “The most important aspect of the whole process was learning-by-doing – for instance, how best to design the website and the flyer. The whole thing taught me a lot.” Lining the walls of the room are stacks of leaflets and other informational material that Alexander and his fellow-members of the Working Group Mobility designed and printed, which was then distributed by other student volunteers. That all the hard work was worth it is evidenced by the fact that, in the last poll on the issue, 96% voted for the concept, even though not everyone profits from it. “Many who voted for it obviously did so to show solidarity with those who really need it,” says Alexander. “A rather amazing but very heartening result.”
Giving – and receiving
“People with a degree in sociology end up driving taxis, everyone with a teacher’s degree ends up in a school.” These are the kinds of clichés that Jessica Feichtmayr (22) would like to get rid of (as a student of Sociology and Education she hears them all too often …). So she offers orientation classes (Schnupperstunden) for final-year high-school students/graduates three times a week: She takes them to lectures, explains what university studies really involve, and in particular does her best to motivate budding students from underprivileged backgrounds. “If you are the first in your family to go to university, you probably have lots of “silly” questions that you would prefer not to put to a student counsellor,” says Jessica. She intends to go into counselling when she finishes her own studies, and her Schnupperstunden are a good way of gaining experience in the field.
Strikingly, the question her “clients” put to her most frequently is: Do you enjoy studying? It is perhaps the most urgent question for young people who have left the regimented world of the classroom for the very different world of the lecture theater, Jessica points out. Moreover, her willingness to help her charges doesn’t end with the 90-minute lecture. She maintains contact with most of them for months, and can often keep track of the impact of her program. Indeed, one of her customers has now applied for a place at LMU, and intends to study – Education.
Practically a refresher course
In most languages, medical terminology is a challenge for the layperson. In this regard, German is no exception: When a patient receives a letter from his family doctor, he may be confronted with terms like Splenektomie, Apoplex, Pneumonie – and is very often none the wiser. That’s why Anina Schafnitzel translates such missives from medics containing details of diagnoses - for patients to whom they mean little or nothing. Anina is in no doubt that patients who understand the nature of their illness are likely to get better sooner. The Web portal Washabich? (Wha’s Wrong Wi’ Me?) provides free translations of patients‘ disorders into plain and comprehensible language, with the help of students like Anina.
What motivated her to get involved? “I just don’t want patients to sit there feeling stupid,” she says. “And helping others also makes one feel good.” And she also benefits, for she repeatedly encounters terminology that she will come across in the course of her medical studies and in her clinical year, and of course in her later career. “I have learned that, in one’s dealings with patients, one always be aware that they are patients – and not medical professionals who are familiar with clinical terminology.”