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Nineteen months in Germany...
Interview by Thilo Koetters, 2012
Photos by Thilo Koetters and Katrin Baeumer


„It was a tough time. But I’m proud I achieved so much so far”, student Arkan Al-Bakr says. He and nine other Iraqi students have been in Germany for more than one and a half year now. They take part in the PLIQ project (planning education for Iraq) and will be studying spatial planning at TU Dortmund University from the start of summer semester on.

Five of them just took the last hurdle by passing their compulsory language exam.
A goalpost for them – having begun their efforts with their first careful trials to pronounce a German words and having finally arrived at language skills making it possible for them to succeed in their studies and private lives alike.
In December 2011, the five of them passed the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH), the official language exam for foreign students that qualified them to take up their studies in Germany. During their examination, they proved to be able to apply grammar rules, to read a German text, to understand a performed text and to write a text themselves.
Situation in summer 2010 was fairly different than that. Back then, the students had just arrived in Dortmund and just a week after they had set foot on German soil, they attended their language course for the first time. In the language centre of TU Dortmund University and later on in a private language school they were taught basic knowledge along with other international student. “That was very difficult for us as we didn’t have any idea of the German language at all at the start”, student Bafreen Almani says. Her knowledge of languages – apart from her mother tongues Kurdish and Arab was confined to some smatterings of English. Arkan had even more difficulties: “I only spoke my mother tongue Kurdish.”


So the language teacher had to make some efforts to teach them, as her first descriptions of a language completely unknown to her students were in English – or German, of course, to which she gradually shifted according to the students’ progress. Mutual aid was what was needed in the group. “We helped each other and left nobody behind”, Arkan says, who gradually felt more comfortable in expressing himself in German. Eight months later, in April 2011, the students felt safe enough to prepare more precisely for DSH.
In the language centre of Dortmund University they practised German for several hours a day. This time their classmates not just came from the Arab countries but from all over the world. “That’s when we finally started to speak German all day – that really helped me to catch up”, student Avan Dalloo says.
Even if they vigorously prepared for DSH in their intensive course, learning German still remained a hard nut to crack: Only three of them passed when they all sat their DHS exam in September. This led to a great deal of nervousness in the run-up to the second retry of the exam which was in December 2011. “I will never forget that day”, Arkan recalls. “We sort of knew if we did not pass we might have had to go back to our home country.” But they passed and happily received their DSH 2 certificates.
An exhausting time was overcome. A time which the students passed not only on their desks, bent over books, but also outside. The Faculty of Spatial Planning had assembled an interesting programme of excursions, taking their students to Leipzig, Weimar, Berlin, Hamburg and Bonn. “There we got into German history”, Arkan says. “For example, I had always thought the only interesting thing in Berlin was the Berlin Wall. But now I saw all the other fascinating sights.” His conclusion: “German culture is 70 percent different from our culture.” This proved to be true not only in food matters.
Arkan, who shares his flat in a students’ hall with a German flatmate, has discovered other cultural differences that are touching on the religious sphere. “I don’t drink any alcohol. And when my flatmate starts a party, his guests even try to drink not so much as usual”, he laughs.
And what was the most difficult task in the last 19 months? “I long for my family and for my twelve siblings in particular. But when feeling homesick, I usually can’t determine whether I feel it for one single family member or for the complete family.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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