DAAD Prize 2021: Student from Bulgaria receives award for social engagement

Bild der Pressemitteilung

The award will be presented by Vice President for Internationalization and Europe Cornelius König in an online event at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 13. 

“I want new international students to have good experiences in Saarbrücken that they can then take back to their home countries,” says Velik Velikov. Driven by this maxim, the 25-year-old student of bioinformatics has been tirelessly involved at Saar University for almost six years: among other things, as a tutor in the Center for International Students (ZiS) and as a dorm speaker in the Guckelsberg dormitory; he is also active in the senior citizens’ advisory board of the city of Saarbrücken.

Countless tasks and activities are associated with these positions and have to be managed in addition to his studies, but the young Bulgarian draws his motivation from his own good experiences as a newcomer at Saar University: At the beginning of his studies, he went to the Welcome Center almost every day with his questions, and they always helped him and referred him to the mentoring program, for example. He was particularly influenced by his time at the “International Study Center Saar” – the former “Studienkolleg” – where he learned German from 2015 and took the required language exam. “Not only did we have the best teachers imaginable, but I also met people from completely different cultures there for the first time; many are still good friends of mine today.” As a result, he says, the “fun” factor was not neglected in the learning process.

“Everything I learned, I wanted to pass on myself, because I was also very happy about it,” explains the young student. This is especially true of his involvement in “ZiS,” the “Center for International Students.” As a newcomer to Saarbrücken, he had received information about ZiS and immediately signed up for the next excursion. “That was the beginning, I then took part in as many ZiS excursions and meetings as possible. The following year, I became a tutor myself – I would never have dreamed of that in the beginning.”

As a tutor, Velik Velikov not only helps new international students clarify questions about their studies, but also assists them with organizational issues – whether it’s opening a bank account or questions about broadcasting fees – and accompanies them when they go to the authorities. He also gives campus and city tours and organizes the ZiS country evenings. “Usually around 200 students take part, but we’ve had more than 400 guests for large countries,” Velik Velikov reports. The task is to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about the respective country and to put together a cultural program, for example with music and dances, plus a traditional buffet. After many of these activities had to be canceled in 2021, the student became involved in a project of the Saarland Student Union and its French partner organization, the CROUS Lorraine, in the summer entitled “Tokyo21!? Games without Borders Digital.” Student teams from Saarbrücken in particular took part in the sporting “challenges” that Velik Velikov and his comrades-in-arms came up with; the project also included a two-day exchange with students from the University of Lorraine in Nancy last fall.

For the past four years, the young Bulgarian has also been the home speaker at the Guckelsberg dormitory in Dudweiler. Where there is already plenty to do in “normal” times, this task presented an additional challenge at the beginning of the pandemic: “In March 2020, when many new students arrived and had to spend 14 days in quarantine, I did the shopping for them and put the groceries outside the door,” the student reports. As if all this were not enough, since the end of 2020 the award winner has also been active with the senior citizens’ advisory board of the city of Saarbrücken: in a pilot project in cooperation with the Studentenwerk, he helps older people use tablets, laptops or smartphones so that they can stay in touch with others during the pandemic and not become lonely. “We started this cooperation project with Velik as an ‘experimental student’; thanks to his nice, open manner and his willingness to help, it became an immediate success and is now to be expanded,” reports Heike Savelkouls from the Student Union in Saarland, which had nominated Velik Velikov for the award. The young man’s engagement is a wonderful example of how the university can get involved in the middle of society and provide practical help.

Velik Velikov, born in 1996, came to Saarbrücken in 2015 after graduating from high school in Sofia. After language courses and exams at the “International Study Center Saar” (ISZ Saar), he first studied business informatics for one semester. In 2017, he switched to bioinformatics; here, he especially appreciates the practical work. At the beginning of the summer semester, he would like to hand in his bachelor’s thesis, and he is also currently preparing for his final exams. Velik Velikov has not yet made a final decision on whether he will continue with a master’s degree or apply for a job in his field to gain professional experience.

More info on the award:

Beate Meinck
Center for International Students of the International Office (ZiS)
Phone: 0681 302-71113