Support - even all the way into the delivery room

Mr. Dingler, you have just welcomed an international guest at the Welcome Center for the 1000th time, a cause for celebration?

This is a good reason to briefly pause and look back at the Welcome Center since its founding in August 2008. Many things have happened since then. At the same time we're looking forward to the next 1,000 guests, and we already have a list of the next 80 scientists who we will welcome at the University of Konstanz in the near future.

What distinguishes the Konstanz Welcome Center in Germany?

My impression is that our "full service" concept distinguishes us from other universities. I believe that our objective of offering the widest possible range of services from one central base is a unique selling point, too. Full service means an intensive supervision of the scientists in all fields and throughout the entire period of their stay and beyond. This means up until after their departure when for example bills still must be paid or contracts terminated. In addition, our active case management is something special. We approach our guests before important meetings or deadlines, or when visas are about to expire or departures must be planned. In this manner, we save our guests time and trouble with expired deadlines and can take care of the necessary arrangements in a timely manner and without any rush.

So an all-inclusive worry-free package for Konstanz scientists?

I would not call it that, but that's basically our idea - and our concept. Of course, critics might say, we would offer a "babysitting service" and disenfranchise our guests, but we do not represent a pedagogical approach but a service approach. The international scientists should not be trained here, but should research and have a successful and a pleasant stay in Konstanz. They can decide freely for or against our service. It is also underestimated how much our support means to the international guests: Most of them would be helpless here when taking care of administrative issues with our authorities, because communicating in English with the German authorities is often problematic due to linguistic incompetence as well as cultural differences. Our company offers help, security and support.

Are there limits to the care the Welcome Center offers?

In principle, we see no limits unless we can clearly recognize that the request overwhelms us or that there are false expectations. We recently had an Indian scholar here, whose wife became pregnant in Germany and was accompanied by one of my colleagues to the gynecologist and also to visit the delivery room. Imagine this situation for yourself and how grateful you would be in such moments to have competent support from a native speaker. The requests placed with us are therefore all legitimate, which of course sometime leads to absurd one. Once we were asked for a dog babysitter, but had to turn the request down since the closest one was in Stuttgart.

How is the offer received by the guests?

Many of them do not expect such a service and are positively surprised and very grateful. Of course our concept encompasses building a close and trusting relationship with each guest, since we know about financial, health and all sorts of personal problems when we assist them with doctor visits, or accompany the opening of an account. But overall it is a highly rewarding profession because little is expected and therefore at first everything is accepted with enthusiasm. The demand we have on ourselves is of course higher.

According to your measures, when has a case been successfully supported?

It begins with finding an apartment, which is one of the first challenges in Constance and unfortunately also one of the most difficult ones. Apart from the fact that the scarce supply of housing in itself is difficult, we also must address the different budget desires or furnishing requests, which can vary greatly. But there are also very difficult cases that seem unsolvable and must be solved by us. Recently, we were expecting a couple from Iran. But the procurement of visas for the two of them took more than three months. In the next step it turned out that there was no way for them to transfer the advance deposit from Iran to Germany required for their accommodation, and we even solved that too. When they were finally here and we wanted to open an account for them, the banks were difficult and referred to regulations that preclude a bank account for Iranians in the first six months of residence. Ultimately, we were also successful in this case in opening an account. If we manage to solve all these hurdles together and at the same time convey to the scientists that they are welcome here in spite of these difficulties and that the University is looking forward to it - then we are successful!

What are your plans for the Welcome Center?

Our ideas to expand our services relate mostly to the integration of the guests in Germany. Our experience shows there is a very high demand for this. There are several areas where we want to begin. One is the field of social integration, where we already offer events such as an international meet-up on a regular basis, or a seminar on the German education and university system, but we can also imagine other measures such as a tandem and mentoring program or seminars on intercultural communication or on topics where we convey practical information about Germany. For example, German opening hours and holidays would be treated as a topic just as the political system would be. In addition, we also want to promote the range of cultural, regional and finally the academic integration with various activities and offers.

Dr. Johannes Dingler runs the Welcome Center at the University of Konstanz, which has now for almost four years been responsible for the care and support of international scholars who come to stay in Constance. Together with the Rector of the University, Prof. Dr. Dr. hc Ulrich Rüdiger, Johannes Dingler has just greeted an anniversary guest at the Welcome Center: the 1000th international guest has been welcomed in Constance. Currently, the Welcome Center takes care of approximately 300 guests a year, most of whom come to Lake Constance from China, Russia, India and the United States. Overall, scientists from 78 countries have previously received support from the Welcome Center at the University of Konstanz.