In the last ten years, The German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD for short) awarded students who come to Germany to study and who show a special engagement in the community. This year’s winner at RWTH is Sharmishta Chakravorty from India.
Sharmishta is working on her Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Information Technology, and Computer Engineering. During her Bachelor’s at FH Aachen in Jülich, she was already active in several student communities like INCAS and KSG, and she continues her work in Aachen in AISA and as a buddy in the BeBuddy programme. “I remember how lost I felt when I first came to Germany,” she explains. “I want to help people to find their way around here faster.” She is convinced that the BeBuddy program helps new exchange students settle in faster: “You mostly help with small things, like: how do you make an appointment with the doctor? How do you open a bank account? How do you find a flat? But sometimes it’s also about which classes to take or where to shop for the best Indian food.”
From her experience working with exchange students, and being one herself, she says that one of the most difficult things for exchange students is to find proper housing in Aachen. There are too few flats, and finding a flat in a foreign country with a new culture is an incredibly stressful start in Germany. “I think more exchange students should members of the different housing communities in the student houses,” she says. “That way they can help to improve the living situation for the next generation of foreign students.”
Sharmishta went to School in Delhi, India, where she also learned to speak German. She wanted to study engineering and already knew a bit about Germany, so she decided to come to here after finishing school. India and Germany have close academic contacts: there are entrance exams that students in India can take to be admitted to a German university for undergraduate studies. Once Sharmishta passed this exam, she moved here to begin her studies in Jülich.
Sharmishta is not only interested in learning more about other cultures, she also enjoys learning languages, and she speaks six different ones. Besides English and German, she also speaks Hindi, Bengali, Spanish and Japanese. This helps her to connect faster with exchange students she helps in the buddy programme.
Receiving the award was a nice surprise for Sharmishta, even though she admits feeling a bit more pressure now: “I thought, ‘okay, now I really have to represent every exchange student who does volunteer work.’”
One last recommendation she would give to students who want to do volunteer work next to their studies: “Just do it!” She knows that many people are worried that they might not have enough time, or that they can’t be as active during their thesis or during exam period. “But we’re all students—we all know these problems.” In her experience, someone is always willing to help out those who are stuck in the middle of a frustrating exam period or who have to prepare their Master’s proposal.