What is the SKB?

 

Translated literally, Sprach-und Kulturbörse means "Language and Culture Exchange". We are a student organization at the Technical University of Berlin that is made up of over 100 members from over 40 different countries. Our aim is to support the exchange of cultural and linguistic knowledge and experience in Berlin. We offer language and cultural events and courses for all students and employees of Berlin universities as well as alumni of the TU Berlin.

 

History

 

The Sprach- und Kulturbörse was created in 1989 through the initiative of Sociology students. The strike in the winter semester 1988/89 offered the opportunity to develop some activities which led to an introductory week at the beginning of each semester, more student representation, and autonomous seminars. The goal of these initiatives was to improve the general conditions for the students at the university and to increase the ability of students to take part in the decision-making process at the university. In addition, first-semester students and students from foreign countries were encouraged to contribute more to university life. Within the initiative, the lack of foreign students was notable, although they made up 17% of the total student body.

 

Such observations quickly led to an exchange of ideas: "... then came the idea that the foreign students were experts in their languages and cultures, and they should somehow be included", recounted Gaby Buschmann, one of the founders of the SKB.

 

At first, the different initiatives focused on language exchange. Some German students who wanted to learn a foreign language turned to the few foreign students involved in the initiatives. Thus the first small language exchanges of the SKB took place during the summer break.

 

"We distributed flyers saying where and when foreign and German students could meet. It was in a large seminar room. One student said: 'I am a Spaniard, and I would like to offer an intermediate level Spanish class.' Everyone who wanted to learn intermediate level Spanish then ran to him and tried to arrange when and how often they would meet and how much the teacher was paid and how much each student in the group paid for the class..."

 

As time went by, these learning groups took place with greater regularity, but organization and trying out new ideas took so much time that it couldn't be carried out by volunteers any longer.

 

"Hong, a Chinese student, knew Prof. Steinmüller, the Professor for Foreign Language Didactics. We thought he could help us, so we went to him and presented our project. After some hesitation, he took us seriously and sent us to the 'Kommission für Lehre und Studium' […]. We presented ourselves to them and were able to get four half-positions for tutors (student jobs paid by the university)."

 

Since then, the project has grown continually. Now the SKB has over 100 members from over 30 countries who offer about 25 languages. Nearly  6,000 students learn foreign languages in close to 600 courses per year. Every year about 15 students serve as interns at the SKB. The coordination is now conducted by five tutors. Even now (despite its size) the SKB is a grassroots democracy. All organizational and content-related work is performed by several work groups and the language groups and brought to the monthly meeting for discussion and, if necessary, voting.

 

Text: Valerie Froissart