German-Polish success stories

31 July 2019

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has a long tradition of contact and exchange with Poland. For decades now there have been close connections with a number of Polish universities. Groundbreaking collaborations and the unique JGU Poland Fellowship are examples of the special relationship with this European neighbor. Adam Seredynski came to Mainz in 2006 as part of a double degree program between SGH Warsaw and JGU – and he ended up staying a bit longer than expected.

It was mainly the language that interested him at first. "I started the program to learn better German," says Dr. Adam Seredynski. "Professors from German universities came to us in Poland and offered block seminars on things like macroeconomics and business administration. What you need to know is that at the time, our system of study was somewhat different from the German one. Only 50 to 60 percent of classes were compulsory. The rest we were able to freely choose ourselves. So I took one of the German courses. You could get through a block program like that pretty quickly, and in the end we were able to take a written exam. If it all went wrong, it didn’t matter too much. After all, it wasn’t one of our mandatory courses. For most of us, the main motivation was to hear the language in real-life situations spoken by native Germans. For me, that was the only way to learn it properly."

In fact, Seredynski learned a great deal more than just the language. "The events were great and the guest professors were very enthusiastic. We even met together sometimes in the evenings for a beer. They wanted to know a lot about Poland and told us quite a bit about their work."

A draw for Polish students

Seredynski studied at the Szkoła Główna Handlowa (SGH) Warsaw, the leading school of economics in Poland. Since 1993, in cooperation with JGU, a German-Polish academic forum has been maintained there in the field of economics. In 2003 the two universities then set up a double degree program in economics and business studies. These block events were Seredynski's entry into the program, and his first step on his path to JGU. Nothing went wrong for him along the way either – on the contrary:

"The program required us to attend German guest lectures for three semesters. The best students then came to Mainz on a scholarship grant provided by the German Academic Exchange Service. There were two options; either complete a guest semester or stay for three semesters in Germany for the double degree."

Seredynski opted for the double degree and in 2006 he came with a group of 15 students to JGU. "I really liked it in Mainz right from the start. I come from Rzeszów, a city in southeastern Poland that is about the same size and has about the same number of students. I moved into a student residence in Gonsenheim, a former barracks, where the large kitchens offered great opportunities for interaction and parties. We met people from all over the world there. The atmosphere was very international."

He came to JGU at a time when Polish students made up the largest group of foreign students. Around 500 of them were studying at a wide range of different faculties. "Mainz University was a pioneer in terms of cooperation with Poland," points out Janina Tomala-Steinhauer, responsible for the Poland-Fellowship at JGU's International Office. "It was the first German university to establish that type of contact after the war, so it has a long tradition."

33 Erasmus partners in Poland

The Catholic theologians were the ones who got things started. They had contacted their colleagues in Krakow back in the 1970s. "It was still the middle of the Cold War," Tomala-Steinhauer recalls. In 1982, the Robert Bosch Foundation financed the Mainz visiting professorship Poland-Fellowship, which was subsequently sponsored by the State of Rhineland-Palatinate. "The Fellowship gave us a unique institution in Germany that enabled Polish academics to teach at JGU for one semester."

Further projects followed as well. "We currently have 33 Erasmus partners in Poland," adds Tomala-Steinhauer. These include both the SGH Warsaw and the eminent Jagiellonian University in Krakow. "Around 40 students from Mainz go to Poland every semester. That's a good number." Like Seredynski, they can complete a double degree to obtain a Master of Science in Management, or profit from one of the numerous other collaborative options. "For example, we also offer a tri-national course of study, the Master of European Studies, which is based in Opole (Poland), Dijon (France) and Mainz (Germany)."

JGU also has a unique institution, the so-called Mainz Polonicum. "Students from any faculty can learn Polish there. We’re very popular. The courses are regularly fully booked." The Polonicum brings a lot of young people to Mainz who are interested in the Polish language and culture.

Seredynski, on the other hand, became familiar with the German language and culture – not to mention economics – at JGU. In his course of study, he specialized in statistics, econometrics and business informatics. "As for the topic of my graduation thesis, I stumbled on it a little bit by chance. I found a piece of paper on a notice board. Lufthansa, in cooperation with JGU, was calling for applications from students to complete a practical Master's thesis. It was about predicting passenger transfer flows at the airports in Frankfurt and Munich."

From university, to a job, to a dissertation

Seredynski pulled it off. He had found his big topic – network planning for airlines. "I wrote the paper in German, although most of the technical literature is in English. It was a strange feeling then when I had to defend my thesis in Polish. It’s a bit awkward having to use all the English technical terms, but translating them would be pretty senseless," he says with a smile.

"While I was still working on the thesis, I got a job offer from Airconomy that was exactly in my field of research." The company later merged with the Amadeus IT Group, which primarily develops IT solutions for the travel industry and aviation. Seredynski still works there to this day. "We operate very internationally and my colleagues come from a variety of different countries."

Seredynski remained associated with JGU, even though he now lives in Darmstadt and works in Bad Homburg. He wrote his dissertation over the last few years, advised by his doctoral supervisor Prof. Franz Rothlauf. He recently defended his dissertation at JGU and passed summa cum laude, the highest distinction. "Well, to give you the short version; it’s about aviation again, about connectivity, competition and cooperation in network planning."

Seredynski sees his future in this field – but not in Germany. His wife, who also participated in the double degree program and comes from Rzeszów, has already returned to Poland, so he commutes between Darmstadt and his home country. "Our families live there and we would like our children to go to school there," he asserts. "We had planned from the very beginning to come only temporarily to Germany." But their stay lasted longer than expected in the end. "We liked Mainz so much that we thought at some point – if we continue living in this city now, we will never leave!"