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The intercultural DaCaDu project at h_da aims to improve the German language skills of EUt+ students – and overcomes many prejudices about Germany in the process

Published on January 30, 2024 Updated on January 31, 2024
Dates

on the January 30, 2024

Behind the EUt+ alliance is the idea of an integrated European university that empowers technology. Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and eight partner universities want to utilise Europe’s potential, multiculturality and plurilingualism to achieve this. DaCaDu, which was initiated by h_da’s Language Centre together with colleagues from Ireland and Spain and entered a second round in 2023 with students from France and Cyprus, is a project that enables participants to experience this EUt+ idea in practice. The aim is for language learners to upgrade their German language skills and intercultural competence. During the on-site visits in Darmstadt, the one or other prejudice about Germany in general and the city in particular are also put right.

At first, Paul Paillart, 21, was indeed a little sceptical about “Grie Soß” and “Sauer Gespritztes”. “Apfelwein tastes slightly unusual when you first take a sip, but then it’s delicious,” he laughs. The sour-tasting drink is a bit like French cidre. By contrast, he took an immediate liking to schnitzel with green sauce. An experience he will no doubt repeat, as Paul, who hails from France, is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Lille and currently spending a semester at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences as an exchange student. He wants to use the time to familiarise himself with the culture of his neighbouring country and hone his German language skills. “So far,” he says, reporting on conversations with stallholders at the weekly market, for example, “I can understand what it’s basically about, but not everything – even if people speak slowly and in simple terms when they realise I’m a foreign student.”

Jorgos Xidias, 20, was also pleasantly surprised. He had imagined the city quite differently. “Darmstadt is much bigger and nicer than I expected,” he says. He is studying computer science and computer engineering at the University of Technology in Limassol, Cyprus. His home city is by the sea, but Darmstadt “is greener and has several large parks, which we unfortunately don’t have,” he says. Jorgos Xidias was among the 19 guests from Cyprus and France who visited Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences for a week in October. Both he and Paul are taking part in the DaCaDu project, which was designed in 2022 by the three partner universities in Darmstadt, Cartagena and Dublin for German language learners. The initiative is a success, and over 30 students and teachers have come to Darmstadt in the meantime.
 

First time in Germany for many students

Oriane Titalem, 20, who also hails from France, is one of them. She is enrolled on the Industrial Engineering programme at the University of Technology of Troyes (UTT). Part of the philosophy of the EUt+ universities is plurilingualism, and students must choose two foreign languages during their studies. Oriane studied German for two years while at school and is now continuing with it at her university’s language centre. That was where she learnt about the intercultural project and signed up. “I wanted to get to know the German language and the everyday lives of people in Darmstadt better,” she says. And what better way to do it than while out shopping or when eating out in the city? “But I must say that the Hessian dialect is more difficult to understand than the German our teacher speaks,” says Oriane. “Of course, the local people also speak much faster.” But she somehow manages to communicate: “One of the stallholders at the market wrote the words we didn’t understand on her phone,” she explains.

Dr Stefanie Morgret from the Language Centre at h_da is keen to emphasise that transcultural and intercultural understanding were just as important from the very outset as upgrading students’ German language skills. Along with colleagues from the universities of Dublin and Cartagena, she is one of the project’s initiators. DaCaDu is an acronym for the three cities behind the project. To enhance its intercultural approach, the lecturers, who teach German as a foreign language at their respective universities, wanted to “include practical work in the lessons”. This was how the idea for a weekly blog came about, where language students deal with everyday life, language and culture in Germany, but also in their home countries, alongside their German course.



20 students from Darmstadt, Cartagena and Dublin took the lead. With technical help from an assistant at h_da’s Faculty of Media, they first exchanged short films, videos and texts just among themselves, but the DaCaDu blog is now accessible for everyone. “The blog tells you a lot about the EUt+ partners from a student perspective,” says Stefanie Morgret. Students are awarded credit points for their inputs, and are also able, with the support of the Faculty of Media, to further develop their multimedia skills.
 

Online sessions and an on-site visit

“During this first online phase, it was suggested that we meet in person as well,” reports Sabine Kasten, a teacher assigned to special tasks at h_da’s Language Centre. She and Stefanie Morgret are coordinating the project, and one of their tasks is to prepare the on-site programme for their visitors. The DaCaDu project comprises eight weeks of online courses, a blog in the spring and a one-week visit to Darmstadt in the autumn. During the on-site visit, the students practise their German language skills in the classroom and apply them in real-life situations. They take part in intercultural workshops and get to know the university, the city as well as daily life, for example during visits to the weekly market. h_da is responsible for organisation and technical support.

Due to differences in the academic calendars and semester times among the European universities, it is not always easy to agree on topics and dates. Nonetheless, the first 20 language learners from Spain, Ireland and Darmstadt came together in 2022. Since then, interest has grown. In 2023, the number of participants rose to 35, and the circle was expanded to include the EUt+ universities in Troyes (France) and Limassol (Cyprus). The project team has also grown and meanwhile comprises ten lecturers across Europe, among them Kristine Brousset, who teaches German at UTT in France. For the lecturer from Troyes, DaCaDu is “a complete success,” both for the students and for herself. “Exchanging ideas and working together with my new colleagues from Darmstadt, Limassol and Cartagena was very interesting. I learnt a lot, and it was my first opportunity to experience the EUt+ world in practice. I also gained a lot from discussing with the students from the other countries,” she says.

The main goal of the project is to improve the students’ German language skills, but a merry multicultural babble of voices sometimes prevails in the blog and when they meet up. “Everyone is allowed to speak whatever language they like, and these are also included in the inputs, some of which are available in up to four languages. We want to promote this plurilingualism and have made it a further element of the project,” says Sabine Kasten.
 

Blended mobility

There is also a strategic aspect. Online lessons and face-to-face learning – this new teaching approach is referred to as “blended mobility”. “We want to combine the best of both teaching formats,” says Sabine Kasten. At the same time, DaCaDu is a low-threshold programme that also aims to motivate students to spend time abroad who have never previously left their home university or country. According to Kristine Brousset, seven of the nine French students from UTT were in Germany for the very first time. The language students like taking part in an exchange week together as a group. Oriane Titalem enjoyed her first visit to Darmstadt. “It was great to experience things at first hand,” she says, adding that this also enabled her to improve her language skills.

Jorgos Xidias had it a little easier. His mother is originally from Germany; he speaks fluent German. “It’s my second language,” says the young Cypriot. He had been to Germany before, but never to Darmstadt. “The city is very international. I was amazed.” Like for Oriane, it was the first time that Jorgos had participated in a student exchange programme within Europe. “It was exciting, and we finally got to know the students in person who we had previously only met online.” Paul Paillart also says that the opportunity to meet international students, which has led to him making one or two new friends, was one of the things that motivated him to take part in the DaCaDu project.
 

Reality and prejudice

Almost all the students realised that there is often a big difference between expectations and reality. Oriane was surprised by Luisenplatz, the main square in the heart of Darmstadt. “The tramlines run across the pedestrian zone.” She liked the architecture of the artists’ colony on Mathildenhöhe – “I hadn’t expected that.” Nor had she expected the helpfulness and kindness shown towards her on campus and in the city. “People are sometimes prejudiced and say that Germans tend to be curt and austere, but the exact opposite was the case,” she says. For example, when they asked a young woman how to get to Herrngarten, the big park in the middle of Darmstadt, she took the time to show them the way.

Jorgos was so impressed by the standard of the university and its buildings and equipment “that I’m now considering an exchange semester,” he reports. Kristine Brousset has received the same feedback from her students. “Many of them would like to come back and could imagine studying in Darmstadt for a semester.”

A welcome side effect. Stefanie Morgret would be delighted if the visit to Darmstadt and the DaCaDu project were to change students’ opinion of the city and Germany. “It’s great when impressions change and students then feel more confident about mobility.” Perhaps this will encourage other EUt+ universities to participate in the future. In any case, Kristine Brousset says that it was a “very good and motivating experience that makes me want to collaborate and exchange ideas with other universities and countries as well.” For Stefanie Morgret, one thing is sure: “Linking plurilingualism and interculturalism is very enriching.”

From the outset, the project was also monitored and evaluated scientifically. This has resulted in several conference papers, publications and a Bachelor’s thesis at the Technical University of Cartagena. “We are also delighted with the international collaboration with our colleagues, which has led to our ideas and experiences already being published in several languages in an international context,” adds Stefanie Morgret. The aim now is to put the project – and above all the complex on-site phase – on a permanent financial footing.
 

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Christina Janssen
Science Editor
University Communication
Tel.: +49.6151.533-60112
Email: christina.janssen@h-da.de