The buddies should be basically open-minded and friendly!

Bastian Salmen works at the International office of the University of Tübingen. In the section for exchange programs and he usually works with the students who want to go to abroad to different regions in the world. Besides that job he is the head of the Exchange Buddy Program.

“I studied English linguistics and literature at the university of Augsburg in Germany. And I also went abroad myself. So I went to Canada and to Norway for one semester each. I think I have enough experience to know how students that go abroad and that come to a new place, feel. That’s why I also think that the international Exchange Buddy program so important.”

When was this program founded?

The origins of the exchange buddy program go back more than 10 years. In the beginning it was administrated by a student group, called StudIT, ,which organizing student trips and events for exchange students. And they took care of mentorship program, which was basically an exchange buddy program. StudIT didn’t have enough time to take care of it anymore. So we took it up away from StudIT and made it our own program. Then we renamed it as „Exchange Buddy Program“. That is the history of it. It has been called as Exchange Buddy Program for about 3 semesters now.

What are the difficulties of the Program?

One difficulty of the program is definitely the number of participants. It should be imagined that we pair up around 500 students each semester. So 250 buddy pairs. This numbers are the difficulties of the program. It takes a lot of times. You have to communicate with 500 people. Also the technical side of the things are difficult. In earlier days the registration for the program was done via E-Mail basically. All the registrations came in to an email account. We had to abstract all the informations in to database, then match. And then we send the emails to students for the matches.  That was really time consuming. It was also difficulty to find technical solutions to have the students register. But we actually found the quite good solution. We have form and online form now, where we can easily abstract informations in to excel sheet  and that makes a lot easier.

At this point of time we actually match the students by hand. So we go through the whole list and match the students according the different criteria. Also you can imagine that with 500 students it takes hours and hours to do that. So it is very time consuming at the moment but now we have students who developed the software program to do this matching process automatically which will save us a lot of hours of work.

What kind of new ideas do you have in your mind for the coming semester for this program?

The plan is to expand the program to make it better than it already is. So maybe to offer even more events around the program. I had the idea to organize something like a sports event for buddies. So they can do sporty stuff together. But you always have to bear in mind, that is a lot of people. So my idea was also do offer maybe intercultural training, tutoring the buddies before they actually meet their international exchange buddy. But if you are 250 people it’s very difficult to do that because you need the resources, which we usually don’t have. I also had the idea to make like a welcome event where you bring all the Tübingen buddies and exchange buddies together.  But again with 500 people that takes a lot of work.

Do you get any complaints about program and buddies ?

Complaints are not so much. We sometimes get emails from exchange buddies, from Tübingen buddies and international buddies that their respective partner doesn’t answer to the emails for example. So they’re not sure what to do or they say we don’t get along for example and those are the usual issues we have but we try to resolve them right away. So if somebody doesn’t answer to emails, we tried to contact the person and then usually work somehow.

How can be a student Exchange Buddy?

So basically, everybody can be an exchange buddy if he or she wants to. The process is rather easy or just register on our website at the correct time, so there are certain times we can register and you have to be aware of the registration deadlines. Students can get informed also via the website. We send out an email to all students and ask them to participate in the program. We send a separate email to all students from Tübingen who just came back from the exchange because they usually are very eager and keen to participate and we will also offer an information session on the different buddy programs in Tübingen each semester. So students can also get informed via information session.

What kind of features/characters should the students have?

The features that the students should have is basically open-mindedness. So if you want to participate, you should be aware that you take care of a person with a different culture of yours. So you should be open minded and you should of course be friendly and helpful. But I mean everybody who registers probably fulfill these practices automatically because they wouldn’t register if they wouldn’t want to help.

How works the matching the process? What are the most important points for the best matching?

The matching process we do is according to different criterias. For us the most important criteria is the study subject. Because of our experience, the most problem, which exchange students have, is with courses and course registration. So it would be our first preference to match students to study the same thing. After that we look at Study Abroad experience so if somebody comes from Spain we would preferably match him or her to someone who’s been to Spain on the exchange for example. Language is also a criteria. So if somebody from Japan comes to Tübingen, we would match maybe someone who speaks a little bit of Japanese or has interest in the Japanese culture. Then also hobbies are one of those important criterias. We have a look at the hobbies and if they have similar or the same hobbies, we would also try to match them together. Those are the main criterias. The process is that the exchange buddies, the international exchange buddies and the Tübingen exchange buddies register via an online form on the website and then we just go through the list and have a look at the study programs and hobbies and the languages and staff like that. Then we start pairing them up together, and then we start with the like most ideal pairing.

What are the official tasks of buddies? Which taks do they dont have to do?

We don’t force the Tübingen buddies to do anything. It’s a very free program that can basically decide themselves what they want to do, and how much time they want to spend with the program over the exchange buddy. Of course we make suggestions for example picking up the international student at the airport when he or she arrives, checking into the dormitory, registering with the city, in course enrollment or enrollment with the University, opening a bank account and stuff like that. That’s typical tasks for a buddy. I would say also showing around and the city and maybe even do something and having free time together. But there are no real applications for exchange buddies. It is very free. Of course a Tübingen buddy does not have to do everything. So we have professionals here in the international office who take care of administrative things. And if the international exchange students have serious problems or issues, of course, we do not expect the Tübingen students to take care of everything. So there are major things, psychological problems or whatever; we don’t expect the Tübingen buddy to take care of every detail. So if there are any issues they cannot help anymore, they can always referred to us at the international office.

Do a Tübinger Buddy get just 1 international buddy?

 It depends on the number of registration, so if there are more registered international exchange students than Tübingen students then we would assign perhaps 2 exchange students to 1 Tübingen buddy. But we ask those buddies before and if they would be willing to have 2 exchange buddies and in that case we would do 1 to 2 matching. Ideally of course it’s a one-to-one system.

What is the connection between StudIT and EBP? How do they help each other?

 At the moment there is no real connection between StudIt and Exchange Buddy Program. As i said before it used to be part of StudIT people, which are 5 students, who normally organize trips and events. They also took care of buddy program, which was called mentorship program. But now we took it away from StudIT made it separate program out of it and now they are two separate things. StudIT has not that much to do with buddy program. But of course we encourage the buddies and Tübingen buddies participate in the events of StudIT. So it might be that Tübingen buddies also go one of the trips which  StudIT organizes and attend the „Meet and Greet“ of StudIT. So that is a connection point but from administrative side there is no connection anymore.