In conversation with Steinmeier: ‘It was nice for our opinions to be heard’

Brazilian DAAD scholarship holder Isabella Montini met online with German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for a conversation. She spoke with him about the challenges faced by international students during the corona pandemic.

Ms Montini, the German Federal President wanted to know from you and other students how you are currently coping with your studies. What in particular do you remember after your virtual meeting?

Above all his genuine interest in us. He and his wife Elke Büdenbender really wanted to know about the difficulties we’re facing and how we find the teaching. Not much attention is being paid to young people at present, so it was nice for our opinions to be heard. He wanted me to act as a representative for international students and tell him about our concerns.

What did you say to him?

The biggest challenge for me as a DAAD scholarship holder is completing my studies within the standard period of study. Many lecturers didn’t even set up online teaching in the last summer semester, because they thought it would all pass very quickly. I could hardly join any courses, as places were limited, but I was fortunate and will complete my studies as planned. Some of my international friends aren’t so fortunate. Without a scholarship, they found it difficult financially and therefore flew back home again.

Many students are complaining of online burnout. How good is digital teaching these days?

It’s really difficult working 12 to 16 hours a day in a small room at home in front of your PC. My subject is Social Science and it requires me to write a lot of assignments, but I’m reliant on libraries that are all closed. I have to research everything via the internet and I also miss the interchange with my lecturers.

As a tutor to first-semester students, you also know the perspectives of the teaching staff. What is lacking in digital teaching?

Most students turn their cameras off. I sometimes feel like I’m speaking with a black hole. There’s very little feedback. I therefore leave my camera on as a student, because I know that it helps the lecturers. Social Science thrives on interchange with other people.

Who is Isabella Montini

This 22-year-old student attended the German school in her home city of São Paulo in Brazil. She has been a DAAD scholarship holder since 2018 and is in the fifth semester of her Social Science studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin. She is in the process of applying for a master's degree in Political science. Montini aspires to an academic career and a professorship. Her research will focus on inequality in the geographical area of Latin America.

Student life too is curtailed. Going to the canteen together, having a cup of coffee and celebrating is not just about having fun, it’s also about building a network that can be important later on in your career. Does that worry you?

I was just beginning to form some friendships when the corona crisis started. Now it’s virtually impossible to exchange ideas in person. Our parents tell us the time they spent at university was the best of their lives. That’s not the case for us. I get the feeling that my friendships and my network in Germany have stagnated.

We’re currently witnessing a global state of emergency. What’s it like for you being in this situation so far from home?

Brazil has been badly affected by the pandemic. It seems to me as if there’s a huge gulf between me and my family. Despite that, I didn’t want to rush back home when I still could, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to return to Germany. I’m privileged to be a DAAD scholarship holder – I have funding and a job at the university. My family doesn’t need to worry about me financially. A friend of mine went back to Brazil, and now he has to get up at three o’clock in the morning to take part in online seminars at his German university.

What helps you cope in this difficult time?

A fixed daily routine and making as many appointments as possible every week. I attend online yoga and dance courses, eat healthily and keep in touch with my family and friends.

As a social scientist, do you also see something positive in this situation?

I believe that solidarity and empathy are very important at the moment. The feeling of being together in this difficult situation unites us. We care about our fellow human beings and value interpersonal contact more than we did previously. I hope we can retain all of that for the future.

Interview: Eva Lindner

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What has life been like for you during the corona pandemic? Share your experiences, hopes and fears, and network with other alumni.

To the Community

March 2021

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