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Fresh Ideas for Mannheim’s Neckarstadt District

As a student, how often do you get a chance to do something that really makes a difference? To make a genuine contribution and help people directly? In November 2022, student Mathilde Bouzigues took part in the ENGAGE.EU Expedition Week, where she worked with students from all over Europe on real-world projects in Mannheim’s Neckarstadt-West district.

Neckarstadt-West has the highest proportion of first and second-generation immigrants anywhere in Mannheim. It’s a vibrant and diverse place with many different cultures and languages, but that also poses certain challenges for local authorities and services. That was why ENGAGE.EU chose to focus on this dynamic district for their second Expedition Week, “Quarters of Diversity.” Students from the seven European partner universities came together in Mannheim to work in small groups on key social issues around integration, multilingualism, and educational opportunities. Local organizations set real-world challenges for them to solve. 

One of the participants was Mathilde Bouzigues from France, who is currently studying for a master’s in international and comparative law at Toulouse Capitole University, an ENGAGE.EU partner institution. She heard about the ENGAGE.EU Expedition Week via her university’s Instagram account. “I’d just come back from an ERASMUS semester in Scotland and was still fired up with the ERASMUS spirit. I really wanted to be part of an international group. Since my master’s is very focused on European issues, the program had an immediate appeal for me.” 

Her group was made up of five students studying a variety of subjects. They were set a project to work on by the Kaisergarten in Campus Neckarstadt-West. The Kaisergarten is a center for children and young people that offers after-school activities, help with homework, and language courses. It aims to improve integration by giving children more opportunities for education and participation. 

“We had to come up with a proposal for expanding the Kaisergarten’s German courses,” explained Bouzigues. “The main task to begin with was to motivate children to learn German. We wanted to enlist some German locals to help, but unfortunately the Kaisergarten only has a limited budget to hire teachers. So we had the idea of involving students enrolled on teacher training programs. In return, they’d receive credits toward their degree or a training certificate that would show they’d had some initial practical experience of teaching.” 

Another idea the group came up with to actively involve the children in their learning was to have the children teach the students some of their own language. “Of course, we don’t expect a five-year-old to teach a class. The idea was to make the children feel like they were involved in their learning and that it was a two-way process.” 

The Kaisergarten and City of Mannheim were very impressed by this proposal, and so Bouzigues and her team were declared the winners at the end of the Expedition Week. “My team was great. We gelled really well right from the start and had an amazing vision. It’s not often that students get to work on real-world problems. I got a real sense of fulfilment from doing something that actually has an impact. You learn so much about yourself, discover things you had no idea you were capable of. It wasn’t just a great addition to my resumé, but an amazing experience,” was how Bouzigues summed up the Expedition Week.

Text: Moritz Klenk/May 2023

Dates for the next ENGAGE.EU expeditions/student opportunities: www.engageuniversity.eu