Germany Scholar Marion Thaler: helping through language
16 Mar 2023
Coming from a working-class family, Marion Thaler felt alienated initially at university. But since she switched to the study of languages, literatures, and cultures at LMU, she is like a different person. Now she helps people with a similar background.
When she was a teenager, Marion Thaler could not have imagined that she would study at university one day. Although she had the grades, “it was an alien world for me and my family,” she says. She did not even know anyone who had been to college.
So the native of the Bavarian town of Wolfratshausen went to the local vocational high school (Realschule). Her good grades there earned her a place at the upper secondary vocational school (Fachoberschule). When she not only obtained a general high-school diploma allowing for university entrance (allgemeine Fachhochschulreife), but also a special prize for best performance in social studies in Bavaria, she decided to go to college after all despite her initial doubts.
But the road was rocky. Although her parents supported her decision, “nobody could help me with finding the right course and what I had to do to secure it,” recalls Thaler. During her Communication Studies course at LMU, she hit another bump in the road. As somebody from a working-class family, she was not familiar with the procedures at a university. Whereas everything used to come easy to her, she increasingly struggled – and felt like an outsider among the many children from academic households.This was mentally draining for Thaler. During her first semester, she went to the clinic twice with symptoms of depression.
She decided to start over and switched to a course she would enjoy as opposed to seeking money or prestige. “When you’re feeling so down, you prioritize other things and listen to your heart,” she says. While still in the clinic getting psychiatric care, she filled out an application to change courses and started a bachelor’s degree in English studies. Meanwhile, she is also studying languages, literatures, and cultures, computational linguistics, and doing a master’s degree in English studies.
“My new course has given me a fresh lease of life,” reports Marion Thaler. Her mother says that she has been transformed. Of course, she still had to attend regular therapy sessions. “But not anymore and now I’m feeling better than I have at any time since I started university.” In addition, she feels better prepared for her studies in terms of practicalities and better integrated at LMU – for example, through her membership in the student council. Moreover, she no longer feels such an outsider as somebody from a working-class family. And if it does transpire that a teacher or a fellow student – consciously or unconsciously – makes a questionable remark, she pushes back. “I’d never have had the confidence to do that before.”
The Germany Scholarship at LMU helped Thaler with all these challenges. As she dealt with her mental health struggles, the scholarship alleviated her financial worries. This was all the more welcome as the young woman has to support herself. On top of her studies, she works 16 hours a week as a work placement student and tutor at the customer service department of the Bavarian public-service broadcaster ‘Bayerischer Rundfunk.’ If she was not living with her sister and getting money through the scholarship program, she would have to move back in with her parents, who live an hour from Munich. That would also mean giving up her volunteering work.
Marion Thaler supports people with similar backgrounds on their educational journeys – particularly by giving free tutoring to young people from immigrant families. “Helping through language” is her motto. The Germany Scholar’s foreign language skills come in handy here, as she speaks not only English and French, but also Italian, Swedish, and Farsi/Dari. The Turkish-Macedonian girl she tutored for her so-called qualifying junior high school degree (qualifizierender Mittelschulabschluss) scored the best results in her entire year. At LMU, Thaler is a mentor in the LMU Buddy Program for exchange students.
Although the 25-year-old wants to continue her tutoring in the future, including giving lessons to more advanced students, she has set her career sights primarily on computational linguistics. This field involves the computer-aided analysis of language for applications such as translation programs, voice assistants, and sentiment detection. She would like to work as a scientist one day or even to do a doctorate. But of course there are also interesting fields of work in the commercial sector, such as in publishing, she says. No matter what career path she embarks on: Marion Thaler will go her own way – and will not let anything deter her from it.