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German University Builds Bridge to Eastern Europe

On an autumn night, 25 people stood around a square in Slubice, a small Polish town across the Oder River from Germany, practicing their Polish. After rehearsing how to introduce themselves by name, they went around in the circle, the men practicing to say “Jestem Niemcem” while the women of the group learned “Jestem Niemka,” which means “I am German.”

The unusual language course was organized by a student club associated with the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, a border town in the former East Germany. Many of the participants — who would then go to a British pub to learn to order drinks in Polish — study at the university, which has one of the highest rates of foreign students in Germany.

The Viadrina, as it is known, was founded in 1991, just a year after German reunification and long before Poland became part of the European Union.

“It was founded with a clear mission to build a bridge between East and West,” said Annette Bauer, a university spokeswoman.

The stated goal is to attract a third of the student body from abroad. Because of German laws against admission quotas, the actual number of foreigners studying at the university, an hour east of Berlin by train, is about 23 percent, but slowly growing, Ms. Bauer said.

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