Inside Gauss Haus: The Soul of Braunschweig
by Lena Heinecke
It is widely known that the Gauss Friends provide comprehensive support for 300 students a year as part of the Buddy Programme and that the support for international students in Braunschweig was significantly improved by the founding of the Gauss Friends in 2008. Now, having a variety of offers for international students at German universities is not unusual, but what sets the Gauss Friends apart from the multitude of other projects?
Although counselling is not the only focus of the Gauss Friends events, international students often prefer to turn to the Gauss Friends team rather than to the counselling locations at the university and in the city, as there are many inhibitions about using the counselling there (language barrier, bureaucratic effort, etc.). The Gauss Haus, on the other hand, offers a much lower-threshold approach, as most of the volunteers at the Gauss Haus came to Germany as foreign students themselves and are therefore familiar with the problems and can understand them. According to Andrés from Mexico (chairman of the Gauss Friends), the Gauss Friends also facilitate an exchange between students and alumni of the university, so that, for example, experiences can be exchanged about job hunting. In addition, all visitors are encouraged to contribute ideas or wishes. This participatory approach makes it possible to meet at eye level. Fanzheng from China says: “There are many fantastic people in the Gauss Haus. Everyone is very friendly and contributes their ideas.”
Even though participation in the Gauss Friends events is completely voluntary and possible without registration, Tuesday evening at the Gauss Haus is a firm fixture on many foreign students’ schedules. At this time, the Michaelishof becomes a place of encounter where one can experience many cultures and languages up close in a mixture of culture and science and through direct exchange with people from other countries. Holidays or public holidays are no reason to close: You can be sure that the Gauss Haus is open on Tuesdays, which ensures that no one has to sit at home bored and lonely. On Tuesdays, you meet old friends and make new ones, with whom you can then of course spend the rest of the week together. Like in a big family, everyone is warmly welcomed and quickly feels at home.
The voices of various visitors to the Gauss Haus reflect that the family-like and unbureaucratic atmosphere is particularly appreciated (according to Samar, Tunisia, among others). Jeannette from Germany says, “The Gauss Haus is a kind of family and everyone who wants to can be a part of it. Vicente from Brazil names openness as the greatest strength of the Gauss Friends. He thinks “the Gauss Haus is a place where everyone is welcome. People from all over the world come together there and get support” and calls the Gauss Friends a “reliable source of information to cope with the challenges in a foreign country”. Linbin comes from China and finds it remarkable that most of the work of the Gauss Friends is done voluntarily and by the international students themselves, which is why he has also been involved in the association for many years. The Santa Gauss event, which takes place every year on Christmas Eve, is the favourite event of Damini from India, as it ensures that no one has to be lonely on Christmas. Raoul from Cameroon appreciates that “no matter what language you speak, you can always find someone to talk to.” Hussain from Pakistan also likes meeting new people and learning about their countries and culture. “I made many friends from all over the world at Gauss Haus, which helped me a lot to become more open and aware of the diversity of people in the world and their traditions.”
Thus, as the international soul of Braunschweig, the Gauss Friends have been showing the value of intercultural acquaintance for 13 years already and will continue to do so.