Multilingualism and education

Secondos: cultivating and promoting bicultural backgrounds

To take advantage of bicultural upbringing, universities have begun providing programs for “secondos”.  Photo: © Europaeum Universität RegensburgTo take advantage of bicultural upbringing, universities have begun providing programs for “secondos”.  Photo: © Europaeum Universität RegensburgStudents with foreign ancestry have become an integral part of German universities. In order to make full use of their bicultural orientation, universities have begun offering programs to support these so-called “secondos”.

“Secondos” is a made-up word that only exists as such in the German-speaking parts of Europe. It originated in Switzerland where it refers to Swiss-born citizens who grow up and go to school in Switzerland, but whose cultural roots are in another country – basically, people born of immigrant families. Germany is of course home to many such citizens and, despite being a minority in German universities, they have become a vital part of the system. In addition to being “native” to Germany, they bring with them the cultural influences of their parental homeland, which is a potential advantage for their professional lives. To learn how they can take advantage of this bicultural upbringing, universities have begun providing programs specifically designed for “secondos”.

Valuing and nurturing biculturalism

The Secondos Program at the University of Regensburg has been underway since 2010.  Photo: © Europaeum Universität RegensburgThe fact that students with different cultural backgrounds represent an enrichment of the German university and education system has certainly not gone unrecognized. But the idea of creating programs designed to help this group take advantage of their cultural heritage seems to be slow in gaining traction.

The Secondos Program at the University of Regensburg has been underway since 2010 and offers students the opportunity of spending two semesters in the country of origin of their parents or grandparents. Special courses are also offered in which students can learn to read and write the language of their ancestors – many of them are not able to, despite being able to speak the language. Geography and regional studies are even included in the course. The program PRO MINT & MED at the University of Ulm is currently being expanded to include support for “secondos”. Sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, the program goes under the motto of Creatively managing critical transitions, and effectively organizing and internationalizing curriculum. The project, which is being offered to all students initially, focuses on simplifying the transition to university life, improving curricula and internationalizing courses of study. The driving force in Ulm is that German, foreign and “secondo” students mutually enrich each other’s immersion at the school. There are special modules for helping participants adjust to courses, scholarship and the learning environment, and all of the groups involved are encouraged to bring their own cultural values and experiences to the table.

At home in two cultures

Secondos are more adept in intercultural situations than other students.  Photo: © Europaeum Universität RegensburgStudents from immigrant families have internalized the values of their parents and grandparents, but are in many ways also “German”. They are, after all, born and raised here, so it follows that they would be more adept in intercultural situations than other students who have only one culture as a reference. Even if “secondos” have enjoyed their education in Germany, they are typically exposed to other systems of learning through their parents or relatives, and that is something their fellow German students can profit from. In the case of complications in the learning process, they can consciously select and benefit from alternative learning strategies that would better suit them in their new environment.

Everyone is talking about globalization

For Secondos the chances for employment are particularly good in export trade.  Photo: © Europaeum Universität RegensburgThe world becomes more intricately connected by the day and globalization is on everyone’s tongues. When different mentalities meet in the workplace it can sometimes lead to complications. “Secondos” bring not only language skills but also cultural prowess to the table. “Secondos” already possess what many German employees have to learn in tedious seminars before taking a foreign posting. Their chances for employment are therefore particularly good in export trade, says Thomas Strothotte, director at the University of Regensburg. In addition to helping “secondos” see their bicultural existence as a positive thing and not as a hindrance, the programs also benefit society as a whole. Regional, national and even interpersonal dealings become easier when there is someone involved who knows both sides of the cultural divide.

“Secondos” are also able to move effortlessly between two cultures, to see and understand both perspectives, and contribute to mutual understanding and agreement. Now if that is not something to support…

Constanze Fiebach
is studied literature and works as a freelance journalist. She lives in Essen.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2011

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