Buddies: Tandem fun instead of freshman chaos

Tandem partners, buddies, tutors – At many German universities, experienced German students volunteer their time to help fellow international students get acclimated to university life in Germany. Whether it’s only to pick you up from the train station, accompany you to the authorities, take you to information events or plan recreational activities – your “buddy” is there to help you every step of the way!

by Jo Graff

Tutor Robin and Mehmet © Private
Tutor Robin and Mehmet . © Private

At the University of Potsdam, they call it the “Buddy Program”. Saskia was assigned as a buddy to Valentina from Italy for one semester. Saskia helped her with problems of everyday life and planning activities in her free time. “My help can range from opening a German bank account to offering advice for apartment hunting.” The 23-year-old Sports Studies student from Potsdam had a lot of fun being a buddy. She helped whenever she was needed. “I thought it was great that I could make Valentina’s start in Potsdam easier. We hit it off immediately.” 

“Buddy Up” in Potsdam

The programme in Potsdam has been running for more than five years. And the response has been very positive according to Laura Lizarazo. Among other things, she is responsible for the programme offered by the International Office. At registration, the staff tries to match candidates with similar partners. “In addition to their subject of study, we also look at their personal interests,” Laura explains. “For the upcoming semester, we’ve already set up 220 buddy pairs.”

The programme coordinators Sarah and Laura © Fritze/Universität Postdam
The programme coordinators Sarah and Laura . © Fritze/Universität Postdam

After a few weeks, Saskia introduced Valentina to her circle of friends – the beginning of a wonderful time together. Valentina stayed in Germany for seven months. Both have remained friends and regularly write each other e-mails. Saskia is planning to visit Valentina in her home country soon.

You can improve your German together with your tandem partner. But not only that. Maybe your buddy would like to learn your native language? Then you can practice speaking it together. There are plenty of reasons why learning a foreign language in tandem makes sense. First and foremost, speaking a foreign language with a native speaker improves your language skills enormously. Alex can attest to that. The 25-year-old Sociology student has been learning Japanese for the past four years. He regularly meets with a foreign student with whom he’s been able to improve his Japanese skills in a very short period of time. “It’s a great opportunity to immerse oneself deeper in the language. It’s not like classroom instruction with didactics and vocabulary. I’m learning the language the way people actually use it.”

Robin and Mehmet studying © Private
Robin und Mehmet beim Lernen . © Private

How do I get a buddy?

The International Office at your university is responsible for assigning tandem partners to international students. You generally receive information about this possibility at the beginning of your studies in Germany. If not, you can simply contact the International Office directly and sign up. “It goes fast. We only need a few bits of information about yourself,” Laura says. Following registration, a buddy is assigned to you. Then you contact your buddy directly. Your buddy is aware that he or she will have to help you more intensively during your first few weeks at the university. After that, your buddy will still be around to offer support when needed. Participation in buddy programmes is free of charge. If it so happens that university does not have an official buddy programme, you can find a tandem partner on your own by posting a message on the Schwarzes Brett or the university’s online forum.

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