Language is the key

WU has been offering German courses for refugees since 2015. These courses are available to people who have already obtained academic qualifications in their home country and are interested in continuing their studies in Austria. The program is organized by Volunteering@WU – Lernen macht Schule and offered as part of WU’s MORE Program. The goal is to provide refugees with support for continuing their education and becoming integrated into Austrian society.

Hodoon Owdeh is currently attending one of these German courses. She is enrolled in the C1 course and is planning to begin studying business law at WU soon.

Volunteering@WU: You’ve lived in Austria for three years now. Which challenges have you faced as a Syrian woman in Austria?

Hodoon: The biggest challenge for me was trying to learn German as quickly as possible so that I could get started with all the things I love to do, because language is the key to everything. Learning the language was very difficult at first, though, because I had no direct contact to Austrians and was limited to trying to learn the language by watching videos. But step-by-step, I got to know many Austrians and now I am in constant contact with them.

Volunteering@WU : What made you decide to participate in the MORE Program at WU?

Hodoon: For me, the MORE Program is a great opportunity to improve my language skills and get them up to an academic level. The program is intended for people with a high level of education and with the motivation to pursue a university degree. That really motivated me to apply, because I wanted to learn together with them.

Volunteering@WU: How was the transition of the German courses to distance learning this semester for you? What was easy for you, what did you find challenging?

 Hodoon: Unfortunately, sometimes things just happen that change all your plans! This semester, it was distance learning. This was one of the greatest challenges for me personally. I experienced a similar situation in Damascus, when the war broke out and I had to continue working on my law degree from home. Not because of the coronavirus, but because of the war. I discovered that war has many faces and takes many forms. This is why I personally dislike distance learning, because I have so many negative associations with it and it brings up so many bad memories.

I do think, however, that during this difficult crisis we’re all going through, it’s a good way to make sure students don’t lose valuable time and can continue with their studies. The challenge for me was to adjust to this new situation with compassion and transparency rather than with fear.

Volunteering@WU: What differences do you notice between WU and your university in Syria?

Hodoon: The university I attended in Damascus was one of the best international universities, even though courses were only held in Arabic. All Syrian students dreamed of being able to study there. All schools required an entrance examination, but the one to get into that particular university took an enormous amount of preparation, skills, and intelligence to pass. Due to the current circumstances, however, it has had to lower its standards considerably, so now I can’t really compare my university to WU.

Volunteering@WU : What advice would you give other refugees interested in studying in Austria?

Hodoon: Unfortunately, my law degree was not recognized in Austria, and I know how hard it is for anyone to start all over again from the beginning, especially in in a new country with a language that is completely different from our own. But hope and ambition make it possible to conquer these difficulties and motivate us to achieve our dreams. It just takes a bit of patience!

My advice for refugees who want to pursue a university degree would be to stay motivated. Yes, it’s hard to study in a foreign language. But if you manage to obtain qualifications and complete higher education in a country that is not your own, you have done an extraordinary thing, and this is something you can be proud of and wear like a medal of honor.

Click here for more information about the MORE Program and the German courses for refugees. To find out how you can volunteer or contribute to the courses, please feel free to contact


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Language courses for refugees

Click here for more information about the MORE Program and the German courses for refugees. To find out how you can volunteer or contribute to the courses, please feel free to contact