“Plugging every gap with something useful”

November 23, 2023

Enlarge In addition to her studies, LMU student Ani Nersesyan is also a spokesperson for a hall of residence and the DaF Institute. Because, as spokesperson for a student hall of residence, Nersesyan supports other foreign students as they communicate with authorities, the Students’ Union or even the caretaker. Being spokesperson for the hall of residence is only one of the voluntary activities undertaken by the 22-year-old. Now, her dedication to duty has been rewarded with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Prize for Excellent Academic Performance and Social Commitment by Foreign Students. At one of the latter events, foreign students told Nersesyan that they mostly lack a command of everyday German.

In addition to her studies, LMU student Ani Nersesyan is also a spokesperson for a hall of residence and the DaF Institute. | © Nela Dorner

There are times when Ani Nersesyan has to “put her whole life on one side for a moment” to get a defective refrigerator sorted out. “Whenever residents have difficulty formulating an e-mail to the caretaker in good German, I have to step in and help.” Why her? Because, as spokesperson for a student hall of residence, Nersesyan supports other foreign students as they communicate with authorities, the Students’ Union or even the caretaker.

Being spokesperson for the hall of residence is only one of the voluntary activities undertaken by the 22-year-old. Now, her dedication to duty has been rewarded with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Prize for Excellent Academic Performance and Social Commitment by Foreign Students. She will be presented with the 1,000-euro prize at LMU’s International Office on 23 November, in part because she already speaks excellent German – and also helps others learn the language – after only three years in the country.

Her older sister was one of the reasons why the Armenian national left her native Yerevan to study in Germany after earning her higher education entrance qualification. At the time, her sister was studying for a master’s degree in business administration at LMU. “But I only had one year left between completing my exams in Armenia and the start of the semester in Germany, which I also spent studying journalism at a Russian-Armenian university,” Nersesyan recalls. “And I couldn’t speak a word of German. So it was a pretty tight schedule.” Accordingly, she spent every spare moment learning the language and attending courses at the Goethe Institute in Yerevan. She also experienced the worst time of her life.

Fellow students at war

The war with neighboring Azerbaijan broke out during her second semester. “Many Armenian soldiers were friends. They studied alongside us or had been to school with us.” As a member of the faculty, Nersesyan collected aid for the soldiers, putting together packages of food, clothing and hygiene products and sending them to the border. “Sadly, six of my friends lost their lives in this war,” she says. “That was a very, very, very hard time for me.

”This trauma was then exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, forcing her to delay her planned move to Germany. Four weeks later than scheduled, Nersesyan finally arrived in Munich in November 2020, between two lockdowns. Supported by her sister, she gradually found her feet and began studying for a bachelor’s degree in German as a foreign language at LMU. She got used to life at the student hall of residence and was soon organizing German courses for refugees studying at the Institute for German as a Foreign Language (DaF).

In this context, she was elected as one of three spokespersons for her hall of residence, which is run by the Students’ Union. The 20-person team itself serves as a point of contact between the Students’ Union and the residents. “Many of them are from abroad – from China, India or Pakistan, for example – and often have trouble communicating if the people they are talking to do not have a good command of English,” Nersesyan explains. “So, we help out with the bureaucracy. We translate inquiries, write e-mails, interpret or pass on complaints when the Internet is down or the refrigerator is not working.”

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Another important task is organizing guided tours for new arrivals, as well as arranging meetings and “barbecue events”. At one of the latter events, foreign students told Nersesyan that they mostly lack a command of everyday German. Without further ado, the Armenian student therefore initiated a laid-back German conversation course in one of the common rooms at her hall of residence. “We talk about different topics of my choosing: Oktoberfest, Barbie versus Oppenheimer, international recipes, Christmas traditions in different cultures…” The only rule is that everyone speaks German. “English is not accepted.”

Since her third semester, Ani Nersesyan has also been spokesperson for the DaF Institute. “We are a very small group of about 60 students and have a very good little team of six people, so the responsibility is manageable,” in Nersesyan’s view. That said, at the start and end of the semester, there are “small events to be organized for the newcomers” – a tour of the Philologicum library, for example, or booths advertising the faculty. During the semester, Nersesyan acts as a mediator between lecturers and students – in cases where the latter feel that grades are not fair, the workload is too heavy or virtual teaching materials are not accessible, for example. “We are the bridge between students and lecturers,” Nersesyan says. “Ultimately, it is a really good feeling when you have found a solution.”

To pay her way alongside all the voluntary work – and also to support her mother in Armenia – the 22-year-old works at an employment services agency. “I recruit staff for IT jobs,” she says, “and I talk on the phone to 60 different people a day who have questions about advertised vacancies. I am always talking!” That is very strenuous, she admits. “But I like working with people and giving them information. I find that interesting – and cool, in a way.” In the future, Nersesyan can imagine working in human resources, alongside her interest in journalism and German.

Short story about the war

In her free time, the Armenian student enjoys writing and painting. She has already been able to sell three of her abstract acrylic and oil paintings on Etsy. Her short story Die vielstimmige Stille Armeniens (The Polyphonic Silence of Armenia) recently won first prize among German entrants in the Energheia literature competition, which is rooted in Italy and sponsored by the German Embassy in Rome. In a story that is half fiction and half truth, she tells of the beauty, history and culture of her home country, but also of the impact of the military conflict with Azerbaijan. “The narrative surrounds a girl and a soldier who dies in the war,” she relates. “Writing it helped me deal with my trauma to some extent.” She says she is very proud that precisely this story won an award, because it helped her draw the attention of people in Germany and Italy to the situation in Armenia. “Many people know nothing of this war,” Nersesyan says.

Her friends in Munich keep asking her: How do you manage to do so much? “But what motivates me is probably that I constantly see the difference between the possibilities for me here and those in Armenia.” She does not want to waste the opportunity to do something worthwhile with her time. “I want to plug every gap with something useful.”