Column Emaury: I feel integrated!

Dear Emaury,

I have recently joined ETH as a foreign doctoral student. I beg to differ with you that ETH is not doing enough to promote integration. In fact, I feel already integrated despite the fact that I am not a German speaker; and this owes to the provision of English in almost all modes of interaction at campus (be it social, academic or professional).

Previously, I have attended two European universities in two different countries other than Switzerland (I wouldn't like to mention their names, but they are well reputed in their countries). I had a significant problem in managing myself there, as I didn't speak the local languages, and moreover, the locals didn't usually communicate with me in English. Contrarily, here at ETH, both the academic and non-academic staff personnel are eager to help me out by switching to English from German whenever they realize that I would fail to understand otherwise. Even the formal communication with the Human Resource and Recktorat has been in English. I simply couldn't expect more! At the same time, I'm very eager to learn German, and have already started learning it, and would probably take courses in fall this year or next spring.

In my opinion, quite a number of foreign students form an opinion that they wouldn't be able to integrate without being fluent at German. Here at ETH, I have already made a few Swiss friends whom I talk to in English, and at the same time they help me in learning German. Of course, a full integration in Swiss-German society, in general, entails a thorough understanding of German; but it cannot be ignored that it’s a requisite laid by the society and not directly by the university, and nothing can be done about this barrier expect crossing it over if one is serious about integration. Perhaps asking ETH to do more is ‘asking too much’! The foreign students need to put in some effort towards integration as well, and learn the language of communication among the locals.

Nonetheless, I do agree with you regarding the internal meetings/commission assemblies. A German-only discussion may deprive a foreigner from useful information. In that case, I would expect that there are some guidelines that if there are non-German participants, then the language of communication may be switched to English. In my case, I had to attend a meeting with a couple of representatives from industry, my supervisor and colleagues. I was the only participant inapt at German, but the other attendees were so nice that they immediately switched their conversation to English, just for me. I felt embarrassed at first, but motivated too that if the locals are so warm in extending the favor to me, I ought to return it by learning their language. And hopefully, I will, soon!

Muhammad Adnan Siddique - 31.07.13

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