30 September 2016
His way to work is short. Since this summer, Robert Rennie has been living on the campus of Jacobs University with his wife and three children. As “Resident Mentor” at the international university in Bremen, he looks after the welfare of the 240 students in College 3.
When he got the offer from the university, he did not need much time to consider. “After all, I have always been very enthusiastic about the university,” says Robert Rennie. And that for a total of nine years now. That is how long the 38-year-old has already worked on campus, most recently as Coordinator of the four student residence halls, the Colleges.
So he vacated his apartment 20 kilometers away in Osterholz-Scharmbeck and moved into the top floor of College 3 – with his wife and three boys, five, eight, and nine years old. They were an important reason for his decision. “For the children, growing up in such an environment is priceless. Here they have a lot of contact to people from a wide variety of countries. That is just great.” His job is to make sure that the students feel well, that they find a home away from their own home. As Resident Mentor the Englishman accompanies them through their studies, creating a familial atmosphere. He is caretaker and counselor, someone who cares, and old friend all in one. “In all things outside the academic realm, I provide support to the students,” says Robert, who himself studied pedagogy.
If students lose their wallet on the train, he helps to find it. If the WLAN in an apartment doesn’t work, he fixes it. If one of the students is regularly too loud, he arranges a discussion to clear things up. If one of his charges has difficulty living in the new culture, he is there with advice and assistance. But it’s about more than resolving everyday problems. It is about creating a homelike atmosphere, a feeling of belonging. Robert organizes celebrations, barbecues, games. About 60 countries live in his college; more than 100 in the university as a whole. Together they celebrate national or religious festivals, such as the end of Ramadan, Chinese New Year, or Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. “We all live together peacefully; close friendships develop regardless of country or religion. It is nice to experience,” says Robert, to whom it is important to be proactive. He is attentive, listens, asks questions, until everything is OK. “A small problem,” he says, “should be kept from becoming a big one if possible.” He also deserves credit for the fact that 90 per cent of all the students at Jacobs University get their degree in the prescribed time period.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness near the Lake District, Robert Rennie came to Bremen to study at the end of the 1990s – and returned to Bremen in 2007 after stops in England and Northern Ireland. He admires Germany not just because “everything here runs so wonderfully on schedule,” but above all because of the club culture. “It strengthens neighborliness and brings very different people together. In England, school is much more dominant.” At Jacobs University he was particularly taken by its internationality. “Every student has a different background, has a different story to tell. That is exciting and instructive.”
Not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the students and Jacobs University. Off campus he again and again encounters skepticism about the private university. Just recently, that was the case at parents night for one of his sons. But he knows that encounters help against prejudice. For instance, the planned class party will now take place on campus. “Then everyone can see how great it is here, and especially get to know our super students. They also want to be part of Bremen, and they are very involved, for instance in helping refugees or in projects in the neighborhood.”
In one area, however, which has fascinated him for about 30 years, Rennie thinks the young people can get even better: soccer. The happy owner of a season ticket at Werder Bremen has taken it upon himself to change that. He wants to take advantage of the fact that he is now living on campus to support both the men’s and the newly formed women’s soccer team as Club Advisor. As provisional coach, until they have one of their own again, in his time off. After all, he doesn’t have far to go.