Building digital bridges: KU scientists at University of Mariupol conference

[Translate to Englisch:] Andrea Steinbach (links) und Bianca Höppner
© Christian Klenk

Like many places in Ukraine, Mariupol has endured enormous suffering and destruction caused by the Russian attack. Although the city, located in the far east of the country, was occupied by the Russians and largely destroyed, the State Technical University there has not ceased operations to this day. It continues to operate – albeit only online as a virtual university whose members have fled. Andrea Steinbach and Bianca Höppner, researchers at the Chair of Didactics of English Language and Literature at the KU, have now taken part in an international academic conference organized by Mariupol University and report on their experience.

How did it come about – two Eichstätt foreign-language didactics experts taking part in a conference at a Ukrainian university?

Andrea Steinbach: In the past, I have already had several professional encounters with the Ukrainian professor and trauma specialist Ludmila Ponomaryova in connection with lectures and training events for teachers. She forwarded me an invitation to a conference on current topics in modern translation studies, the teaching of German and Slavic languages as well as on literature in educational institutions. Scientists from Ukraine, but also from other countries, were invited. The organizers deliberately wanted to orient their university more towards the West and explicitly invited researchers in Western Europe.

Bianca Höppner: My colleague forwarded the invitation to me. I found the topic of the conference exciting. And so we decided to make a contribution in the form of a paper and a presentation. Our topic was: "Spotlight on language instruction in Germany: The journey from Translation to Mediation". It is about which role literal translation of texts on the one hand and the analogous translation of content on the other hand play in foreign language teaching. Mediation has a completely different status in Ukraine than it does here – if it is taught at all. The focus there is on classical translation.

So how did the conference go?

Steinbach: The conference was held as an online event. The university buildings in Mariupol have been destroyed and the teaching staff and students are scattered across many countries. But teaching and research continue despite the circumstances. I had a conversation with Ludmila Ponomaryova where she said: 'We have no choice. Either the university lives or it is closed down. And we love it, so we are fighting to preserve it.’ It was really impressive to see how committed our colleagues are trying to maintain normal scientific operations despite the most adverse circumstances.

Höppner: Technical implementation of the conference was difficult at times. Due to drone attacks, participants repeatedly experienced power cuts. This meant that not all speakers were able to join in at all times and the organizers had to improvise and change the program again and again. They asked: Who is here now? Who has a stable connection? It was surprisingly uncomplicated and pragmatic. Our contribution also became a keynote at short notice. It was fascinating to see how the professional exchange and cooperation were organized despite these difficult conditions. Some participants were connected from the front line in Ukraine.

Steinbach: The participants included Ukrainian scientists as well as Polish, Czech and German scientists. The conference was planned to be multilingual. A lot of things were then held in Ukrainian, though. That was a challenge, of course. Fortunately, I have spent some time in Ukraine and understand a lot. And I speak Russian, which most Ukrainians also do. It was initially planned that everything would be translated simultaneously, but due to the difficult circumstances, the interpreter who had been announced was not present. As our topic was mediation, I had the opportunity to demonstrate mediation live by translating my colleague's part, which was presented in English, into Russian.

How was your contribution received?

Steinbach: The contribution was very well received. There were many questions after the presentation. We were delighted that this was even covered in the news on the university's website. There you can recognize our names written in German in the Ukrainian text at first glance...

Is there still an exchange after the conference?

Höppner: We would like to maintain contact and stay in touch. There have already been inquiries about training student teachers with a foreign language, particularly on the subject of translation and mediation.

Steinbach: In Ukraine, there are no separate training programs for English studies, translators and student teachers. Accordingly, colleagues are fascinated by our system, where interpreters learn at different training institutions than student teachers. We learn about each other's systems and look for intersections where we can ideally enrich each other.

(Questions by Christian Klenk)