An initiative for tolerance and hospitality in Erfurt

The project "Strangers become Friends", a joint project of the University of Erfurt, the University of Applied Sciences of Erfurt, the City Council of Erfurt, and the Thüringer Institut für Akademische Weiterbildung e.V., was initiated in December 2002. Both institutions of higher education are visited by approximately 150 new foreign students each year. While they typically become quickly integrated into the university setting, they often lack contact to institutions and people outside of the university. Assuming that it is only possible to become familiar with one's host country through direct contact with its citizens, we decided to create a partnership program in the city of Erfurt.

In the context of the project "Strangers become Friends", international students are paired up with "godparents", or host families, from Erfurt. Citizens of all ages and social classes take part as hosts: they can be individuals or families, employed and unemployed people, retirees or young people, and members of various parties and organizations.

The project began in December 2002 with 44 partnerships. We now have approximately 210 partnerships between students from more than 40 countries and host families from Erfurt. Each semester, a reception is organized for the international students and local hosts to meet each other. A highlight for all involved in the program is a joint excursion each semester, which serves to strengthen the contact between the international students and their local partners and to allow all participants to get to know each other better. The host families and students plan the rest of their activities on their own according to their common interests. The "International Stammtisch" is a monthly get-together at a local restaurant.

One future focus in the concept of the project is the extension of the idea of "Strangers become Friends" to the business sector. Thuringian companies should be able to take advantage of the potential that international students have for developing business relations with foreign companies.

In May 2006 and 2007, the project "Strangers become Friends" was awarded in the competition "Active for Democracy and Tolerance" for creative and effective civil commitment. In 2010, German Federal Foreign Office awarded Stranger become Friends the best prize for foreign students support.