LMU: Research draws people to Munich from afar

“So many forms!” Dr. Francesca Mezzenzana recalls. The anthropologist, who is originally from Italy, moved to LMU from Canterbury University in the summer. She shares the feeling of being overwhelmed by the bureaucracy involved with many other international researchers who come to Germany. But she also shares with them the relief of not being left alone at LMU: Mezzenzana received welcome support from LMU Gateway. “The staff put together the necessary documents from England and Italy with me, helped me check my tax status and apply for child benefit. They even offered help in finding a job for my husband.”

LMU Gateway helps international postdoctoral researchers such as Mezzenzana – but also doctoral researchers, professors and visiting fellows arriving at LMU – with every aspect of their relocation: from immigration formalities and tax issues to dual career opportunities, childcare and even looking for somewhere to live. Its services break down into four thematic phases: preparing for the move, first steps on arrival in Munich, living in Munich, but also – at the end of one’s postdoctoral studies, for example – leaving Munich again. To gain access to these services, anyone who is interested simply has to fill in a short online form outlining their individual needs.

Qian Zhao, who also came to Munich from Beijing in the summer, was supported by LMU Gateway with regard to enrollment at the university and signing in at the Munich registration office, for example. “The staff were always very patient and efficient,” Zhao says, “and replied quickly and in detail to my e-mails.” The doctoral candidate was thus able to concentrate on her doctorate at the Faculty of Languages and Literatures. Her focus is on special word groups in English translations of a Buddhist text – binomials such as “good” and “bad” or “safe” and “sound”, for example.

Meeting like-minded people
After her arrival, the Chinese doctoral student attended an online welcome event and a language course organized by LMU Gateway. In addition to these ‘German survival courses’ for newcomers, the service also offers a monthly conversation course for advanced learners, as well as intercultural workshops. It also organizes city tours and excursions in the surrounding area. “Not only did I learn some first German sentences,” Zhao recalls of her three-day language course, “but I also got to know other international researchers who were new at LMU.” Since then she has settled in well in Munich, even though there is one thing she really misses: “The food in my home country – even though I have found very good Chinese restaurants in Munich in the meantime.”

Astrophysicist Professor Kevin Heng has lots of experience with moving: After studying physics in his native Singapore, Heng moved to Colorado, USA, to do his doctoral thesis before a brief postdoctoral stay in Munich. Later, he and his future wife moved back to the USA, this time to Princeton, from where they finally went to Zurich and eventually Berne. Here, he now leads the Center for Space and Habitability, conducts research into exoplanets (planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system) – and is preparing for his next move to Munich: At LMU, Heng will hold the newly founded Chair of Theoretical Astrophysics of Extrasolar Planets.

The fact that he now has two small children does not exactly make planning this move any easier. So despite his experience of moving around the globe, he is happy to use LMU Gateway’s support.

Seeing the big picture
Heng has already been to Munich twice to prepare for the impending move: to look for an apartment, but also to visit the LMU Gateway office on Leopoldstrasse. “The employee was top-notch helpful,” he affirms. “She gave us a lot of advice: about insurance, the move itself, my wife’s job search.” He particularly liked the way they viewed the move from everyone’s perspective, “including that of my children and my wife”. And the biggest challenge in his move? “Finding a house in Munich,” Heng says. “The real estate market here is out of control.” That said, he has now found a new home for his family on the Amersee lake, near the S-Bahn (mass transit line) and close to schools and kindergartens. “We’re now on the right track,” the astrophysicist says. Heng perceives the LMU Gateway service, but also the university itself, as “refreshingly unbureaucratic – and driven by an enthusiasm for research”.

Anthropologist Francesca Mezzenzana has already referred some other new colleagues to LMU Gateway. For her, the move to Munich was worth it, despite all the stress of moving. At the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, she is now researching how young children understand nature, animals and plants. “The Rachel Carson Center has a very good reputation internationally,” she notes. “And it allows me to do research in my field of human/non-human relationships together with like-minded colleagues. Intellectually, that really is very inspiring.”

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