I Need You: VISUM’s Buddy Program

by Maya Moritz

At Universität Mannheim, one in five students hail from outside Germany, drawn to the availability of English classes and admirable rankings. Whether here for an exchange or an entire degree, they must navigate a foreign culture, a famously difficult language, and an intimidating bureaucracy.

While the International Office provides invaluable resources, foreign students may dream of a German genie to guide them through registering with the city or eliciting any response from landlords on WG-Gesucht.

Fortunately, VISUM’s Buddy Program provides just that. German students are matched to incoming international students to help them adjust and provide language assistance. Buddies are even encouraged to show their assigned newcomer to their accommodations from the train station.

We spoke to Alexander Poetzsch and Ibo (short for Ibrahim) Gezer, two students who organize the Buddy matching. Alex, a seventh semester political science major from Frankfurt, is currently writing his bachelor’s thesis. Ibo is a fifth semester business administration major from Hamm.

Alex Poetzsch of the Buddy Program

Both joined the VISUM hoping to get involved with student initiatives. Alex was matched with 2 buddies after attending a VISUM event and finding it “incredibly interesting.”

“In my second semester, I was asked to take over the buddy matching program from the guy who had been doing it,” Alex said. “I know what it’s like to be abroad and not know anyone. In Mannheim, many exchange students don’t speak German and some even don’t speak English properly. Some have never left their countries. They arrive in Mannheim having not met anyone.”

At another VISUM event, Alex recruited Ibo and they worked together on the program for two semesters.

“He showed me everything,” Ibo said. “I wanted to take responsibility in VISUM.” His main goals involve increasing diversity and to “be connected with friends from everywhere in the world.”

“I would like to help other people because it would be great if I go to another university and a buddy there would help me.” Ibo intends to study abroad in Japan, an experience that was postponed due to the pandemic.

“We have always had great feedback,” Alex said, “We have had cases where the buddy doesn’t get along with the international student but those are very, very rare.”

Ibo remembers being thanked by one member of the Buddy program. “He met his girlfriend through the program and now they’re planning to be married!”

Ibo Gezer of the Buddy Program

The Buddy program ran without disruption during Alex’s first two semesters until Covid-19 forced the organizers to rapidly adapt. “The program changed drastically with Corona. We had far fewer than the usual number of exchange students. That’s not a lot. [Before Covid], we had big problems in finding enough people to join the program. That wasn’t the case with the outbreak of Corona, but is the case now with more students coming in again.”

Ibo attributes the low supply of German Buddy volunteers to many causes. “It’s a problem because many German students don’t want to register. They may not be in Mannheim or it may be Covid or that they’re not sure if they will be able to use an online option.”

The Buddy program currently requires more than 100 German registrations to match each incoming student with a Buddy. German students can register more than once, with each registration matching you with one foreign student.

Alex and Ibo encourage German students to register, ideally multiple times, in order to meet this need. They also urge students to consider more active roles.

“If someone is interested in joining VISUM and wants to do Buddy matching, they are always welcome,” says Ibo. Both students will finish their Bachelor’s degree in the next year or two.

The Buddy program presents an opportunity to make friends, help fellow students, and even scout a future spouse.

Students can sign up here.