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Rubrik: Mittwochs-Kolumnen

To be or not to be - a welcome expatriate at ETH

Published: 22.11.2000 06:00
Modified: 19.12.2000 21:51
An der ETH sind ein Viertel der Nachdiplomstudierenden, fast die Halfte der Doktoranden und zwischen 40 und 50 Prozent der Professoren auslandischer Herkunft. Unsere Kolumnistin Katharina von Salis hat also allen Grund, sich gleich zum Auftakt an sie zu wenden - in Englisch naturlich, das sich als Idiom der Scientific Community der ETH immer mehr durchsetzt.

Von Katharina von Salis

ETH is proud to count many foreigners amongst its professors, postdocs and PhD students. We recognise that diversity in a team fosters creativity and, maybe, new solutions to old problems, new insights and great research results. But what does ETH do to make all these expatriates welcome? How does it involve them in the planning of new scientific endeavours, in the decisions about new curricula, in the running of the school?

The easy answer is that ETH wants everybody - according to his or her place in the hierarchy - to participate in the relevant governing body, working group, commission, conference etc. The more realistic answer is that if somebody is not fluent in german, he or she has little chance to participate in such a democratic institution. And this not only because of the impossibility to understand what the others say, but also because most information about what is going on at ETH is only provided in german.

Of course one can argue that ETH is a university in a german speaking town and that everybody working here has to learn german. But then, the town of Zurich is home to some 30% foreigners. So, like ETH, it is not a german speaking monolith but a community of many tongues.

So while I also feel that one should learn the language of ones place of residence, my own experience of life as an expatriate tells me that there can be limits to the motivation to do so. Knowing that you will be here only 1,2 or a maximum of 6 years and have to publish your papers in english, it is more logical to improve the knowledge of that language rather than learn perfect german. Especially if your mother tongue happens to be french or spanish, your partner speaks russian and your future job may take you to Sweden.

So here we go - I will write this column in far from perfect english for those of you who otherwise may not even occasionally check with ETH Life. Of course I hope that you feel inclined to request from ETH to be more responsive to the needs of its members with a non-german mothertongue.

PS. In his speech at the just past "dies academicus", ETH president O. Kubler suggested that the future Master courses should be tought in english. Great! But why not translate all decisions of the "Schulleitung" into english as a first step, so that more members of ETH get interested in them?


Auch eine deutsche Übersetzung dieses Artikels ist erhältlich.

Zur Person

Katharina von Salis, geboren 1940 von Soglio/GR, ist Titularprofessorin in der Gruppe Mikropalaontologie am Geologischen Institut. Ihr Forschungsgebiet umfasst verschiedene Aspekte der kalkigen Nannofossilien. Frau von Salis ist Beraterin der Stelle fur Chancengleichheit von Mann und Frau an der ETH Zurich.

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