Porträt von Marina Hodapp, im Hintergrund ist ein Teil des Schlosses und ein blühender Busch zu sehen

“I want to help people to better cope with their lives”

Marina Hodapp is half Italian and half French. She comes from Nice. After studying German in Lyon, she completed a Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) in Germany. During this time, she met her current husband and decided to stay. She started studying Psychology at the University of Mannheim. Today, she is in her 8th semester and about to graduate with a bachelor's degree. In her myUniMA story, the 29-year-old tells us what a typical day in university life looks like and what tips she has for other international students.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I was born in Nice. When I was six, we moved to Grasse and I went to school there. I graduated in 2012. Afterwards, I attended a post-secondary school – which is quite usual in France. After the two years, I completed a bachelor's and a master's degree in German Studies at the University of Lyon. That really helped me to improve my German language skills. After that, however, the question arose of what to do next. I didn't want to go into research nor to work as an interpreter or teacher.

You then decided to do a Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) in Germany. How did you come to this decision and what experiences did you gain during this time?

A friend of mine also completed some kind of voluntary community service. So I thought: Oh, I could do that, too. And then I found out that you can also do it abroad. It was an opportunity for me to go to Germany and get to know German life. I completed my Voluntary Ecological Year at the Regierungspräsidium Karlsruhe in the nature conservation and landscape management department.  There, we had a so-called Ökomobil, a truck that had been converted into a classroom, with which we toured around the city. Our aim was to work with school classes to explore and get to know the local natural environment. During that time, I learned a lot about ecology, the German language, and culture. I think that was one of the best years of my life!

How did it come about that you then took up a degree program in Psychology in Mannheim?

After the FÖJ, I decided to stay in Germany because I met my husband here. I then tried to work as a freelance teacher for two or three years. But I didn't want to do that on a permanent basis. So I thought about what I wanted to do. When I was younger, I wanted to work in the field of psychology. My father worked in psychiatry for a very long time. He kept telling me about it and I found it very exciting. So I applied for a study place at the University of Mannheim and in Heidelberg to study Psychology. I had a better feeling about Mannheim and when I was admitted, I said yes straight away.

What do you like about the University of Mannheim?

What I particularly like about the university is how well organized it is. All the people I've spoken to so far when I've had a problem have always been very friendly, responded quickly or referred me to the right contact person straight away. And everything has also worked really well with all the online events and classes during the pandemic. I also like the events and courses. The only thing that's not always so easy is the language. Although I do speak German well and have long since completed the C2 level, I still realize that the language is sometimes a hurdle.

Is there anything that you miss from your home country?

Above all, I miss my family, my best friend, and the Italian food of my mother and my Italian family. For me, Italian food is the taste of my childhood. I don't miss much else. I could also live in a country other than Germany. For me, it's more the people – my husband and our families – who make up my home.

What does a typical day in your student life look like?

I usually get up between six and eight in the morning. When I'm not working at the International Office at the University of Mannheim, I study in the mornings because I can concentrate better. In the afternoon, I work on my bachelor's thesis. In my free time, I like to meet friends and go out to eat or have a coffee with them. I also enjoy cooking. I like good food and enjoy sharing it with others. At the weekends, I spend time with my husband.

Is there anything you can pass on to other international students?

You should not hesitate to ask for help when you are in trouble: Whether you have problems with administrative issues, studying or learning. If you have German friends, they can help you or you can contact the International Office, where I work as a student assistant. For example, we offer the FIT for Career program, where you can get assistance with applications and taxes. It's free of charge. We also have the International Stammtisch, a regular meeting, and organize the International Alumni Night. This is a great opportunity to build relationships, make contacts, and talk to us in person and not just by e-mail. The team at the International Office also helps with everyday concerns. And if you have any questions about studying, you can always turn to other students, look for a study group or ask the teachers.

What are your goals for the future?

First, I would like to pursue a master's degree and then aim to become licensed. My goal is definitely to go into psychotherapy. There are so many people who need someone to listen to them and accompany them on their journey. I think that's what therapy is good for. As a psychotherapist, you also learn to listen – without judging what people think or do – and how to help them progress. I want to help people to better cope with their lives and show them how they can perhaps even feel better.

Interview: Tamara Gminsky /April 2024