For Juliana Villegas Suarez the new year of study at Jacobs University began with a special event. The girl from Colombia received an award from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for her excellent performance in her studies and her social commitment.
Sometimes, says Juliana, she can’t believe that she is already in her third year of study at Jacobs University. The time passed so quickly. It is a good sign, because she enjoys her major “Global Economics and Management” very much. However, that she herself is now one of those students, that she looked up to at the start of her studies, is something she still can’t get used to: “It’s pretty strange,” says the 20-year-old. “Suddenly, there is no one here who was already here when I started.” Except for the professors, of course. And they praise her in the most glowing tones. “Her essays are among the most well founded and well thought-out that I ever read at this university,” wrote one of them when asked who should win this year’s DAAD prize and the associated sum of 1000 Euro. At the award ceremonies, the Dean, Professor Werner Nau, noted Juliana’s top grade average of 1.17 as well as her social involvement. It was the opening of the new academic year. Sitting in the audience were hundreds of first semester students. Juliana is probably now a role model for many of them.
In the neighboring refugee shelter, the “Blue Village,” she looks after children. She is active in fundraising activities for kindergarten children whose families do not have money for Christmas presents, she is involved in the Rotaract Club on the university campus, and she has also helped organize blood donor drives, along with the “Women’s International Leadership Conference” at Jacobs University. Advocating for social causes and working for her own academic success – for Juliana, these are not contradictions. Even as a schoolgirl in the Colombian metropolis of Cali, with its population of 2.4 million, she was already working for children from socially disadvantaged families. “Even back there, I already enjoyed playing with children and planning Christmas gift campaigns for them,” she recounts.
Of course, the social gaps in her home of Colombia are much greater than here in this country. “In the beginning, seeing how well organized everything is in Germany was both irritating and fascinating to me at the same time. I already knew about the problems in my home. But studying here in Germany has actually put that into even clearer focus.”
In Colombia, she heard the term Jacobs University for the first time, when two friends started studying in Bremen. “They infected me with their enthusiasm. During recruiting activities for Jacobs University at my school, I decided to apply.” Leaving behind her family and her familiar environment – that wasn’t easy at first, Juliana says. “But my fellow students experienced the same thing.” Three-fourths of the students at Jacobs University come from abroad; spontaneous visits to parents and siblings are not possible for most of them. So, from day one, Juliana met fellow students who, at the very same time, were in the same situation as she. “From the beginning, the atmosphere was very open and warm. I quickly got to know some wonderful people.” In getting used to living in Germany, she was helped by her host family, which had been located for her through the “Host Family Program” of Jacobs University. About 500 host families from Bremen and environs offer students from abroad a little bit of home away from home. Most of the students do live on campus, but they enjoy having a point of reference in the new environment. Juliana, for instance, meets up with her host parents and siblings every week, who live near the university. “We understand each other very well. My host parents have a daughter my age and a son the age of my brother.” In any case, Juliana loves her life in Bremen. The thought of moving away is hard for her. “It feels like a real privilege to be able to study at this university.”
With her Bachelor degree, she would like to apply for a graduate program. “Someday, however, I would like to move back to Colombia and, for example, work for a nongovernmental organization there,” she says. “I have had a lot of luck in my life so far. For that reason, I would like to help other young people in my home country have an opportunity for a better future as well.”