December 7, 2021
In December, the Christmas trees in Bremen-Vegesack and on the campus of Jacobs University Bremen are once again decorated with lovingly designed wish lists. The fact that the wishes of more than 300 kindergarten children in Bremen will be fulfilled this year is also thanks to Andrés Matallana. Make a Wish is the name of the charity project of Jacobs University, the parents' association EPSYMO e.V. and Vegesack Marketing, which the 35-year-old Colombian coordinates for the university. "This project brings people together and brightens up Christmas for many families in Bremen. We are very happy about that," he said.
Andrés Matallana is a community coordinator, one of three at the English-speaking Jacobs University. His job is to help students get their events, activities, concerts or shows off the ground. The students at Jacobs University organize their own events and more than 50 clubs. These are an important part of university life, a hallmark of the vibrant community. They bring students together and have an impact beyond the boundaries of the university. Andrés acts more in the background, supporting the students in administrative, financial, and logistical matters.
Bringing people together, forming a community: Andrés had already carried out a very similar task in Colombia, at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, one of the oldest universities in South America with almost 30,000 students. He came from Bogotá to Bremen for love. He met Agnes, his wife, at a school in Paris, where they both worked as assistant teachers. The couple first lived in Bogotá for a few years, then moved to Bremen, where Agnes works as a teacher at the Gymnasium Vegesack, a local high school.
Andrés was taking care of his daughter Luisa on parental leave back then. But when he saw the job opening at Jacobs University, he didn't hesitate for long: "I always wanted to work in an international environment. Jacobs University is a perfect fit," said Andrés, who speaks five languages, has a bachelor's degree in modern languages and a master's degree in international relations.
In August 2019, he started working on the campus in Bremen North. There was a spirit of optimism, it was the start of the academic year, and the freshmen were getting acquainted with their new surroundings. "Witnessing so many young people from so many countries coming to one place to study impressed me," he recalled. He helped organize the first events, took over the management of The Other Side, the student bar on campus, it too an important place to bring people from over 110 nations together. In addition to an offering excellent education, Jacobs University wants to enable its students to develop interpersonal and intercultural skills. In a networked, globalized world, these skills are becoming increasingly important.
But then came Corona, the lockdown and completely new tasks. Very soon, the question arose: How can you develop a sense of community under the conditions of the pandemic? How can you live community without face-to-face encounters? "Sitting together, eating, drinking, laughing, celebrating, it's all part of being a student at a university," Andrés pointed out. "Face-to-face encounters are hugely important. A sense of belonging only comes from direct contact with other people." Andrés and his colleagues switched to online formats. They made the best of the situation. Concerts, art exhibitions, shows were streamed, even Make a Wish partially migrated to the web. "The students didn't give up, they were super committed."
Now it's time for the “Make a Wish” campaign again. Andrés is looking forward to Christmas; he has now also become the father of a son. In Bremen, he says, Christmas is more reflective than in Bogotá with 20 degrees Celsius and plastic trees. It's fair to say that Andrés has settled in in Bremen. One of his hobbies also bears witness to this. For some time now, the family has maintained an allotment garden, whose old apple trees have given them 60 liters of apple juice. "The garden is also great because the kids learn right away that strawberries don't grow in the supermarket, but in the ground." And apple juice also makes a great Christmas punch for the kids.
About Make a Wish
You can participate in Make a Wish until December 10, 2021. The wish list trees are located at Ellipsen-Platz in the Vegesack pedestrian zone as well as in the foyer of Reimar Lüst Hall and the IRC on the campus of Jacobs University.
Anyone who would like to fulfill a heart's desire can do so quite easily:
Take a wish list from the tree and choose one of the wishes noted on it, worth a maximum of 20 euros. The wish list is attached to the Christmas-wrapped gift. This should be delivered to Schuhhaus Meineke, Gerhard-Rohlfs-Str. 71 or EPSYMO, Lüssumer Heide 6, by December 10, 2021 at the latest. Another acceptance point has been set up at the gatekeepers of Jacobs University.
This text is part of the series “Faces of Jacobs,” in which Jacobs University introduces students, alumni, professors, and staff. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/faces.