The former seat of the Prussian Kings and Kaisers, Potsdam is famous for its ensemble of parks and palaces, which has made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. But Potsdam is also an international science hub, where international researchers spend anything from a month to several years at one of the city’s many research institutes. To learn more about these international guest scholars and their needs, a working group on “Internationales Wohnen und Begegnen” was formed within the City Administration in 2017. Angela Borowski from the IASS has contributed to its work.
IASS: Why did the City Administration approach you about the new working group?
Angela Borowski: I was asked to participate in the working group because of my work with international scholars and junior researchers from around the world in the context of the IASS Fellow Programme and the annual Potsdam Summer School. One of the things the working group did was to conduct a survey of visiting researchers in order to find out more about the difficulties they experience. The City of Potsdam is keen to improve their situation and make Potsdam even more attractive for international scholars.
How was the survey organised?
A. B.: In the period from 1 September to 30 November 2019, 431 international students and researchers from 75 different countries completed a survey on their experience of living and working in Potsdam. At the time, 82 per cent of the respondents were living in Potsdam, 13 per cent in Berlin, and 3 per cent in the wider Potsdam area. Of the total respondents, 40 per cent were students, almost 32 per cent were doctoral candidates, 19.2 per cent were post-docs, and almost 7 per cent were senior researchers. Almost 13 per cent of the respondents stated that they shared a household with children and teenagers.
What role did you play in the survey?
A. B.: Since my work makes me very familiar with the situation of international scholars at Potsdam’s research institutes, I helped to develop the questionnaire and also translated it into English. As it is for Potsdam’s permanent residents, finding affordable and conveniently located accommodation is a major challenge for our international guests. The problem is often compounded by the fact that they are here for a relatively short time, since many landlords may prefer longer-term leases. It’s also important that that there are opportunities for international scholars to meet the “natives” so that they don’t feel isolated. The City is currently looking into ways of facilitating those kinds of encounters.
What other issues emerged as important for international scholars in Potsdam?
A. B.: The respondents’ assessment of safety and crime prevention was very positive, as was their experience of childcare facilities and schools. They were, however, less impressed by Potsdam’s nightlife and cultural scene. Fast internet access was a must for over 80 per cent of respondents. Proximity to their respective research institutes was deemed less important, with good public transport links, having one’s own bathroom and kitchen, and having shops nearby all rated higher.