Photo: Jan Bitter

Meet the Residence Tutors

Residence tutors work at studierendenWERKs halls of residence to support their housemates. But what is this job actually like?

by Celia Parbey

21 students work as residence tutors ("Wohnheimtutor*innen") for studierendenWERK BERLIN. I met Halil Gagam, tutor at Sewanstraße and Mariya Hristova (tutor at Coppistraße) to get some first-hand insight into their work.

How did you end up becoming a „Wohnheimtutor“?

Mariya: I am part of a project at my University, which is responsible for organizing intercultural workshops for international students. I worked as a mentor on a voluntary basis. My task was to support the new students, who, usually, have a lot of questions and difficulties when they first arrive. Not only with the University but also being new in Berlin. When I saw the announcement that they are looking for new „Wohnheimtutor*innen“, I thought, why not give it a shot.

Halil: I had been living in the dormitory for two years prior to that and I only really talked to my roommates. I wanted to connect more with the students around me and help others to do so as well.

What kind of events or services to you provide for the students?

Mariya: We are trying to organize smaller get-togethers. We want to get in contact with all the students who live in the dormitory, and create an open atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their problems or questions. This semester, we had a game evening in our office to meet the new students. We also organized a jam session and went to play volleyball and basketball. We are trying to offer a variety of events, so that everyone can find something for themselves.

Could you identify the main problems that students are usually contacting you for?

Halil: It depends on the time during the semester. At the beginning, most of them come to ask for help with their radio bill (the „Rundfunkgebühr”) as a lot of them are very confused if they have to pay it or not. Some need help registering at the „Bürgeramt“, and others want to open their own bank account in Berlin. There are students who need help set up an insurance and a lot of them also come to us to find out about job opportunities in the city. The beginning is mostly about German bureaucracy. Around the end of the semester, they just want to know how to close all these accounts and how to deregister from the „Bürgeramt“. During the semester, we usually do not have many complaints.

How do you help the students when they contact you because of a conflict with a housemate?

Mariya: The first thing I do is to advise them to just try to talk to the person. It’s always good to try and resolve conflicts directly. If that does not work out, we offer to talk to the flatmate in question. And if that does not work out either, the next step would be to contact the student administration of the dormitory. Before I became a „Wohnheimtutorin“ I had a very big conflict with a flatmate myself about the noise she was making. It was a tough situation. I contacted the student administration and they talked to her and solved the problem. Noise complaints are probably the most common reason for conflict between people. On the one hand, we have people who like to party and have fun and are a bit louder. And on the other hand, we have people, who are very studious and hardworking. There are also a lot of people from very different cultural backgrounds living under one roof together. This shouldn't be underestimated. We need to make sure that they all feel comfortable. The students need to be understanding and show patience for different habits and lifestyle.

What is the most important characteristic a „Wohnheimtutor“ has to bring to the job?

Halil: Definitely: be patient and open-minded. Coming to Berlin can be hard for the students: a new city, a new environment and new roommates. They might feel a little bit homesick; they might be a little depressed. There is a lot of pressure and I am speaking from personal experience. Sometimes even the slightest problem, the smallest thing, can make them really upset. You need to be patient and open-minded and understand that they are not doing this on purpose. They are just frustrated. You need to listen. Being interested in different languages can also be very helpful, as you are working with a lot of international people. 

Mariya Hristova, photo: Angel Georgiev

Halil Gagam, photo: Luiza Samarova


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