During the month of November, the iPRAKTIKUM team spent some time getting to know a little better the over 450 amazing students taking German at the U of T. Of course, we already had a pretty good idea about who our specialists and majors are academically. But what about our nearly 150 minors and the many other students learning German alongside courses of study in a dizzying array of humanities and STEM fields – from art history and architecture to environmental sciences and molecular biology? By finding out what our students are doing when they aren’t conjugating German verbs, we hoped to get a better idea of how we can help them find the most rewarding experiential learning opportunities with a connection to German-speaking contexts. We were also eager to identify specific fields in which to concentrate our internship development efforts. It was incredible to hear about all of the things our students are engaging with at the U of T and how excited they are about the possibility of applying the skills they have acquired in the classroom in work-related contexts – both in the GTA and abroad.
Over the course of three focus group sessions, we asked students why they were interested in internships and what they hoped to gain, how much time they were willing to invest, what could potentially prevent them from engaging in experiential learning locally and abroad, how important it is for them to get academic credit for internships, and many other questions – not the least of which was “Why Germany or another German-speaking country?” We were very pleased – although perhaps not all that surprised – to hear that students are keenly aware of Germany’s importance economically, politically, culturally, and in terms of research and innovation. But we what we heard just as frequently were very positive attitudes about Germany as a welcoming and diverse place to live and visit. In fact among those students who had been to Germany, their previous experience abroad was a major motivation to seek out an international internship.
One of the most important take-aways for us was confirmation of the sense that students are highly conscious of the value of acquiring global fluency and willing to devote time and energy to internships designed to provide the contexts for this kind of learning. We also learned that one of the primary obstacles to participation in internships was the fear of being unprepared and – in the case of placements abroad – having to navigate bureaucracy and find accommodations. This is one of the reasons why we are developing pre-internship boot camps and other support and forming partnerships with local organizations to make sure that students can hit the ground running.
The valuable insights we gained with the focus groups will flow into the development of iPRAKTIKUM over the coming months. We look forward to continuing the conversation!
Helena Juenger and Stefan Soldovieri, Project Leads