The first semester—a German-Syrian reports

By Michael Seifert
Editorial member Reem Al Sagheer has been studying mathematics and Islamic theology at the University of Tübingen since October 2021. She fled Damascus with her family and has been living in Germany for over seven years. Last year, she graduated from high school in Tübingen and is now a German citizen. For tünews INTERNATIONAL, she talks about her experiences in the first semester.
“My first and most important impression was that the level at university is completely different from that at school. I hadn’t imagined it to be so difficult. That’s not because of my German skills, but because of the subject matter,” Reem begins. In mathematics, she says, it is particularly difficult for her and for everyone: “I am learning a completely new mathematics, a completely different one than at school. And I always thought I was good at maths! Although I study every day, I don’t know if I will pass the exams that are coming up.”
She is critical of the lectures: “The professors really just read the lecture and don’t explain anything. That’s why I get so little. And it’s the same for the others.” Apart from the professor, no one says anything because there are over 100 students in the lectures, she says. “I have the feeling that no one dares to say anything,” says Reem.
It is quite different in Islamic theology, where a lot is explained: “There is always someone who asks something or adds something. Even if you disagree with the lecturer, you can still say something.” As a native speaker of Arabic, she also has no problems with the language, which is a great difficulty for the others. Reem is exempt from the Arabic courses because of an examination on her native language competence.
In the first semester, Reem and the 18 first-semester students, most of them women, take four subjects: scientific work, introduction to the study of Islamic theology, Islamic history and the life of the Prophet Mohammed. “I learn a lot of new things, sometimes I disagree with the professor because I think it’s wrong, but the professor insists on his opinion.”
The pandemic situation did not affect Reem much, all classes ran in attendance: “Because I am vaccinated, there are no problems for me. But in Islamic Theology, five of us are unvaccinated. I also know some in Maths. All of these were not allowed to come to university for a long time.” Reem is rather critical of this, but she knows there is no other choice. She knows a fellow student with a syringe phobia who was unable to get vaccinated because of it. Masks are compulsory in the university buildings and the vaccination certificates are checked daily.
Reem hasn’t really taken advantage of the social programmes offered alongside her studies. There are offers from higher semesters in a WhatsApp group, such as university tours, game evenings or pub visits, but she has never taken part in them. She also only meets up with people from her semester to study. “The semester is so stressful that the last thing I needed was social contacts and meeting people. But that might come after studying together for a longer time.” The fact that she wears a hijab didn’t bother anyone at the university, she says; there are many women who wear hijabs there.
Reem’s conclusion about her first semester is sceptical: “I’m no longer sure what really suits me. Right now, I’m considering changing if I don’t develop a real passion for the subjects. Maybe media studies would be an option.” In any case, she wants to talk to the people at the student advisory service again about what other options might be possible for her.
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Redaktionsmitglied Reem Al Sagheer studiert seit Oktober 2021 an der Universität Tübingen Mathematik und Islamische Theologie. Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL / Reem Al Sagheer.

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