Multilingualism and education

From Students to Intercultural Negotiators

At the European University in Frankfurt lectures are given in German, English, French and Polish; Copyright: European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)Four languages, four subject areas: The Master’s programme in European Studies at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) offers a mix of interdisciplinary expertise and foreign language skills and prepares its graduates for a career in an international environment.

Building her schedule is not an easy task for Georgia Franzius. What about the lecture in English? Or the seminar in German? Or maybe a tutorial in Polish? Georgia is studying for a Master’s degree in European Studies (MES) at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) - a programme that is offered in as many as four languages: German, English, French and Polish.

Viadrina’s specialty: A multilingual degree course

The student Georgia Franzius appreciates the personal atmosphere at the Viadrina; Copyright: Georgia FranziusTwo years ago the University introduced its multilingual Master’s degree - one that is unique to this institution and which was also inspired by the international character of Frankfurt (Oder). The city is directly adjacent to the border with Poland, and the bridge over the Oder river is not its only tie to its Polish sister city Slubice. The city’s international character is clearly reflected in the University's statistics. Only half of its students are German. 20 per cent are Polish and the remaining 30 per cent come from another 76 countries around the world.

Georgia is fascinated by Frankfurt’s harmonious cultural diversity. “It’s an inspiration for me to study in this environment,” she says. She enrolled at Viadrina in 2002 and gained a BA in Cultural Studies before going on to study for a Master in European Studies. “To me, Viadrina has many advantages,” she explains. “It is a small university with a personal feel, and I get excellent support here.” Another benefit is the broad curriculum of the MES programme. Students can choose from electives in the four subject areas of culture, politics, law and economics.

More than 150 new enrolments in the new term

The River Oder marks the border between Frankfurt and the Polish town of Slubice; Copyright: European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)The degree programme has been very well received by prospective students. “We heavily advertised the programme last term and lowered the entry requirements,” says Jürgen Neyer, who has been the course coordinator since the 2005 winter term. Even he was surprised by the response. “150 new students enrolled for the programme this term.” Initially, the Master's course is taught only in German. Later students can decide whether and if so, what languages they want to add. “Most of them finish their first term and feel it's going so well they want to add further languages,” Neyer explains. Recently, the University began offering a double degree programme enabling students to obtain a qualification from Poznan University in Poland or Bilgil University in Istanbul, too.

The programme broadens

Professor Jürgen Neyer is planning a closer collaboration with the University of Strasbourg; Copyright: European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)Having successfully introduced the multilingual programme over the last two years the University now plans to broaden the MES curriculum to include more French elements, in particular. Two French guest lecturers are currently on the teaching faculty, and the programme intends to strengthen its cooperation with Strasbourg University. “That plan is still under development. It takes time for such a cooperation to get moving,” details Jürgen Neyer.

The MES programme is designed to prepare students for a career in an international environment. According to the University’s course documentation, it teaches students to analyse the main challenges facing today’s Europe and find ways to overcome them. It is still unclear what effect this approach has on graduates’ careers. “Unfortunately, we don’t have reliable information on where our students go after they graduate or what areas they are working in,” says Neyer. However, he is confident that “our students benefit from much better opportunities on the job market.”

Intercultural negotiators

Cultural mediation as the training objective: the Viadrina in Frankfurt Oder; Copyright: European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)The claim is fair to make because the “two times four” course - Jürgen Neyer’s tongue-in-cheek name for the programme (four languages, four subject areas) - equips students above all with two major abilities. “For one, our graduates have a good grounding in up to four languages and are therefore good intercultural negotiators,” he explains. “Then, by studying four subject areas they also develop a broad range of interdisciplinary skills.” In other words, graduates should be able to act as mediators between a French lawyer and a Polish entrepreneur just as well as between a British politician and a German cultural researcher.

Georgia, too, has already recognised the advantages of studying for a Master’s degree at Viadrina. “When I tell people that I'm studying in Frankfurt (Oder), I usually get very positive comments. ‘Oh, that's Gesine Schwan's university,’ they say.” Her language skills are another selling point. “I recently had a job offer from Google Polska,” she says. “If I'd been closer to graduating at that point, I might even have said yes.”

Kathrin Streckenbach
studies Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at Tübingen University and is also a freelance journalist.

Translation: Karin Gartshore
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion

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May 2008

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