April 20, 2017
Strange language, unfamiliar customs, and the cold weather: For many international students at Jacobs University, many things are new. They have to navigate an unfamiliar cultural and social environment, making the leap from high school to university along with fellow students from more than 100 different countries. Helping them is Florence Yu (42) from Hong Kong, a Psychological Counselor and Intercultural Education Officer at the English-speaking University in Bremen.
She knows what it is like to have to find your way in an unfamiliar culture; she lived through it herself. Ten years ago, Florence Yu followed her husband to Bremen. The two of them met in Hong Kong and had a long-distance relationship for a long time. “I was in Bremen often, but for me it was really hard to imagine staying here permanently. I didn’t like the weather at all and, in the beginning, I perceived the people as detached.”
Florence Yu studied Social Work at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, followed later by a Master in Clinical Social Work at the Chinese University Hong Kong (CUHK). In Germany, she completed another course of training in Systemic Family Counseling. She came to Jacobs University via an internship in 2010 – and stayed. “I thought right away: Wow, this is a great place. On campus I felt at home right away and not at all like a foreigner.” Currently she is completing her post-graduate training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to become a licensed Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist.
For six years, as College Coordinator of Krupp College, one of the four student residential colleges at Jacobs University, she looked after the welfare of “her family”, as she says, which comprise of around 200 students from all over the world. In August of last year, Florence Yu took up her new job as Psychological Counselor and Intercultural Education Officer.
Since then, she is serving not just one college, but the entire student body on campus. For example through individual psychological counseling on topics like homesickness, interpersonal problems, or managing academic stress. After all, the pressures are high. “Quite a lot of ambitious students involve themselves in many extra-curricular activities on top of their academic duties they have to take care of,” says Florence Yu. Nevertheless, over 90 percent of Jacobs students get their Bachelor degree in the prescribed three years, an extraordinarily high rate.
Another important component of her work is to train student volunteers to be intercultural trainers to carry out the mandatory ‘Dive into Diversity’ intercultural workshop that takes place at the start of orientation week in August every year. The workshop attempts, for example, to equip students with values like respect and tolerance. In the German culture, for example, it is considered respectful to greet people by shaking hands and looking one another in the eye. In other countries, that is sometimes different. And it’s about dealing with one another. On campus, students from every continent come together, with different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs. “Our students are very diverse; they profit greatly from their differences,” says Florence Yu. But that works only if people are open to one another. So she encourages the students to speak English on campus in order to not exclude anyone who cannot understand their native language. Shared festivals, such as Lunar New Year, Diwali -the festival of light, and African Heritage Day, also contribute to a better intercultural understanding.
She is especially proud of a training program for students called “J-Peers: Peer Counselling,” in which they learn listening skills and techniques for helping fellow students. “The students live under one roof and usually eat together. They also often have the same courses or engage in extra-curricular activities together,” says Florence Yu. “When they understand each other better, providing mutual help, living together could be a lot of fun. College life is a very valuable experience for them.” Often it doesn’t really take much. Sometimes it’s enough to just take the time to listen. How can one listen? – that, too, can be learned from her.
Thomas Joppig | Brand Management, Marketing & Communications
t.joppig [at] jacobs-university.de | Tel.: +49 421 200-4504