Image gallery and interview: 10 years of the FAU Welcome Centre

The FAU Welcome Centre turned 10 in June 2018. (Image: FAU Welcome Centre)
The FAU Welcome Centre turned 10 in June 2018. (Image: FAU Welcome Centre)

Comprehensive support for international researchers

The FAU Welcome Centre celebrated its 10th anniversary in June 2018. The team at the centre has been providing support to international guests at FAU since 2008.

Kerstin Sommer has been part of the team since the very beginning and, in our interview, she gives an insight into her work, explains the origins of the centre and shares the centre’s plans for the future.

Ms. Sommer, where did the idea for setting up the Welcome Centre come from?

It was a continuously evolving process. In 2008, FAU advertised a position for someone to support visiting international researchers with finding accommodation. I took on this position. Even back then, I worked with another member of staff who was responsible for supporting international doctoral candidates at FAU and who was beginning to set up orientation courses for this target group.

A change in the law in 2009 meant that particular attention had to be paid to supporting highly-qualified researchers. A new position for this was also created, allowing the Welcome Centre to offer additional services. A year later, the Welcome Centre took part in a competition run by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and received a prize, making FAU’s Welcome Centre an award-winning institution.

In 2011, the FAU Welcome Centre and its service concept were established in their current form. By working with the FAU Family Service, the FAU Graduate Centre and other service providers within the University, we now provide support to guests not only with finding accommodation, but above all with all bureaucratic formalities and, for families in particular, with finding childcare.

The FAU Welcome Centre is now one of the largest centres of its kind in Germany.

How has the work carried out by the Welcome Centre changed over the last 10 years?

Even in the early stages, we realised that finding accommodation is only one of several challenges that international guest researchers face when they come to FAU. Others include very simple issues relating to day-to-day life such as shop opening times or how to use public transport.

In addition, career opportunities for guest researchers’ partners have become increasingly important during the last few years. Fortunately, FAU has the Dual Career Service, an excellent institution that helps partners of guest researchers to get established on the German job market.

This shift from support to referral to the Dual Career Service has been confirmed by several of my colleagues during the Welcome Centre networking meetings that take place twice a year.

Which services offered by the Welcome Centre are used particularly often?

The excursions in the region offered by the FAU Welcome Centre on Saturdays are very popular with our guests, as well as the Christmas party and our Easter celebrations.

Our bags of toys that can be borrowed for a certain period of time are also extremely popular. There are bags that contain toys suitable for two to five year olds and bags with toys suitable for children between the ages of six and eight. They contain toys suitable for the age group such as colouring books or little toy animals. We have discovered that it’s a huge relief for guests to know that their children are happy and that they have something to keep them busy. Most families are only allowed to bring two suitcases with them to Erlangen, which means toys are often left behind.

By the way, the FAU Welcome Centre is the only welcome centre to offer these bags of toys.

Can you describe the Centre’s plans for the future?

We have been carrying out quality assurance at the Welcome Centre for five years now. We conduct a survey with our guests every two years asking them for their opinion and about their experiences here and I must say we are always very happy with the results. The survey shows that around 95 percent of our guest researchers are very happy with the services provided by the Welcome Centre, above all with the support they receive in finding accommodation. They also appreciate the personal contact with staff at the Welcome Centre, which is very important to us as well. Bearing this in mind, we are determined to keep up this very high standard in the future.

In addition, the Bavarian State Ministry of Education, Science and Research would like to broaden the minimum standard for welcome centres in Bavaria that has been in place for six years. The experiences of the FAU Welcome Centre have been included in the planning of this project. We are in close contact with other existing welcome centres in Bavaria to exchange ideas, helping us all further improve what we offer.

Thank you for taking part in the interview, Ms Sommer.

Impressions from the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the FAU Welcome Center:

Addition information