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Child and studies: As a young family at university – what is it actually like?

When a child comes into the world, there is always quite a lot to do: setting up the nursery, dealing with bureaucracy, organizing the christening, comparing baby carriage models and much more. This can be particularly challenging when students suddenly become parents and have to organize their family in addition to their studies and first career steps. Lukas Spotka and his wife Ruth Lugemba Mvula have experienced just that. As students on the Master’s degree course in International Project Management, they are a couple. Their daughter Imani was born in August 2022. A picture of the happy family now hangs in the gallery between the A and B buildings at the university – along with a quote to encourage other students with children. We met them..

University President Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Jürgen Lehmann together with mother Ruth Mvula, daughter Imani and father Lukas Spotka; photo: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

Dear Spotka family, you approached the university yourself to tell your story. Why?

Lukas: “Of course, we know that we are rather an exception among students and that many are certainly wondering how all this can work. But we believe that our story conveys a positive and beautiful message. We simply want to tell everyone that it is very possible to combine studying and having a child, so that parenthood doesn’t necessarily have to be postponed to an uncertain and unclear point in time or even solely based on your future career situation.”

This is certainly a good and positive statement. But what did it look like in practice? Were the special circumstances manageable?

Ruth: “Between nausea, vomiting, mood swings, lectures, gynecologist appointments and family life, it really wasn’t easy. Luckily Lukas was there and all I had to do was prepare for my exams.”

Lukas: “At the beginning of my studies, I was still working full-time as a social pedagogue at an elementary school in Berlin and was only at the Saalepark hall of residence at weekends. I had to bring twelve liters of milk and 24 liters of water from Netto to house 4 on the top floor every week. It was work, but I really enjoyed it. I was in the role of provider, organizer and planner, which suits me very well and was a lot of fun. The shopping, the search for a childminder and an apartment were quite challenging, but also allowed me to mature.”

Nevertheless, a lot changes! “Pregnant – and during my studies!” – What were your first thoughts?

Ruth: “The news came even earlier – I found out a week after I had been admitted to university. It was a shock, but at the same time a joy, because I had always dreamed of becoming a mother. I told my husband Lukas straight away.

Lukas: “So we had a double reason to celebrate – because of the pregnancy and also because we were accepted for a place at university in really beautiful Upper Franconia. I used to go on vacation here with my father as a child, which is probably where my enthusiasm for the region comes from.”

What were the reactions from your family and fellow students?

Ruth: “Of course, I had to make sure that I could manage my studies and the pregnancy and all its challenges at the same time. Lukas had promised me that he would always support me. He did and continues to do so. The rest of the family were happy for us and encouraged me. The reactions of my fellow students were also mostly positive. I would particularly like to mention our friend Jonas Othmann, who played an outstandingly supportive role during my pregnancy.”

This picture of the young family now adorns the gallery between the A and B buildings of the university. Next to it is the sentence: “With determination and love in your heart, there are no limits to achieving goals – even when you are pregnant or have a child. Thanks to the support of Hof University of Applied Sciences, it is still possible to study successfully.” ; Image: private;

And how did your lecturers react?

Ruth: “To be honest, I was actually ashamed of my pregnancy at first and tried to hide it. I didn’t want the professors to find out – but at some point, of course, it was impossible to hide it. All the professors were really supportive and some of them kept asking how I was doing. After Imani was born, I had immediate access to the breastfeeding and changing room. When the baby was sick, I could stay at home and follow the lectures via Zoom.

Everything was adapted so that I could continue studying under good conditions and in a pleasant environment. All in all, I can really say that Hof University of Applied Sciences is like a second home, like a family to me.”

Ruth Lugemba Mvula

Lukas: “We would like to emphasize that Hof University of Applied Sciences and our lecturers have always given us excellent support in this situation, so that my wife was able to continue her studies without interruption. We would like to thank them for that.”

You are now happy parents. How are your studies going now, how do you arrange childcare?

Lukas: “As we were lucky with the timing of the pregnancy, our daughter Imani was born during my wife’s first semester break at our home in Berlin/Kreuzberg. We were able to spend the first six weeks together at home without any stress. That was important and gave us a lot of strength for the rest of the journey. I had already found and furnished an apartment in Hof two months earlier, so we were able to move in seamlessly at the start of the semester. The city of Hof showed us how well this can work. With the support of the youth welfare office, we were able to find a childminder who could take care of Imani while we were at university.”

What would you say are the biggest challenges for you both?

Ruth: “My biggest challenge is finding the right balance between family life and my studies. As a foreigner, I always have to put in a lot of effort to be successful. Sometimes I come home late from university while Imani is already asleep, or I spend my weekends in the library instead of spending them with Lukas and Imani. This part is particularly difficult.”

Lukas: “For me, the organization is definitely the biggest challenge. At the beginning of the second semester, I realized that we couldn’t cope with the university’s projects and Imani’s growing needs and ended up taking a semester off. I had a total of one year of parental leave, from August 2022 to August 2023, which was the best decision of my life so far. The semester off with my daughter in Hof was just great. Seeing her enjoying nature and visiting the university when my wife is on break – I love it!”

That sounds really great. Is there anything else you would like to say in conclusion?

Ruth: “I can only say a big thank you to all my fellow students and our lecturers for accepting our daughter. Finally, a big thank you to Hof University of Applied Sciences, which supported me right to the end. Today I’m writing my final thesis and I’m a project manager at Deutsche Bahn in the superstructure department.”

Lukas: “In general, I can only say that we were warmly and kindly welcomed in Hof and at the university. In particular, I would like to thank the women from the cafeteria for their warmth. You are great and gave us a lot of love and strength. Thank you.”

Rainer Krauß

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