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Competitive sports and university studies

World-class competitor

Reem Khamis is a two-time European karate champion and a mechanical engineering student at HAW Hamburg. In the fall she'll compete at the world championships. We talked with her about how she manages to combine her challenging degree course with competitive sports.

Reem Khamis competing at karate

Reem Khamis (left) in action. The two-time European karate champion studies mechanical engineering at HAW Hamburg.

Roughly 10 years ago, Reem Khamis and her family fled Egypt and the Mubarak regime. They started a new life in Hamburg. Karate was an important anchor for Reem, helping her get a foothold in northern Germany and settle into German society. Her family has never found the sport problematic. 'I grew up in a setting where there was no differentiation between men and women,' she says. 'This meant I was supported fully because I had found something I loved to do.'

In 2017 she won the title of German champion for the first time. Competing internationally was her dream, but one which remained unfulfilled for a long time. Because she didn't have German citizenship, she wasn't permitted to compete in tournaments abroad. 'That was a difficult time for me,' she says. 'To give everything I had and keep training, and then not be allowed to develop further. I was close to quitting.' Then, in 2021, everything moved more quickly than expected: Reem was granted German citizenship within a period of a few weeks. Since then her career has taken off.

Her path? Straight to the top
She is now training with Jonathan Horne, the top coach of the German national karate team. He is preparing her and the team for the European Games, which will be held in Poland at the end of June. 'It's a very stressful time right now,' Reem says. 'The training is very intensive and of course I also have to study.' She is happy that most professors are understanding when it comes to balancing her studies and her sport.

Reem studies mechanical engineering at HAW Hamburg and has at times had to rely on the tolerance of her instructors because she does need to miss the odd lecture from time to time. 'A lot of the professors here are willing to give me the course materials so that I can work on them during the periods when I don't have to train,' Reem says. Even the practical sessions in the labs can't collide with her training plan. This flexibility is important to her and was one of the reasons she switched to HAW Hamburg. 

University studies and competitive sports at the same time – is it really possible? 
Of course, her workload is heavy, and balancing everything isn't easy. The pressure is immense; the training physically and mentally exhausting. How does she manage it? 'I don't study full time, for one thing. That wouldn't work,' Reem explains. 'Especially in the first year of my degree, I didn't manage well. Things work better now because I've internalised the structures. I now take fewer modules and focus on understanding the foundations, then gradually integrating other subjects.'

Since becoming a citizen two years ago, Reem has been able to move her career forward. 'That was kind of like a new beginning for me in competitive sports,' she says. She has been advancing quickly. She describes her fascination with the sport like this: 'In a way, karate is a reflection of life: without discipline, stamina and ambition, it's hard to do something great. These values accompany me on a daily basis and I really try to integrate them into every area of my life.' In the fall, once the European Games are behind her, she wants to go to the world championships in Budapest. So how does she manage it all? She makes it sound simple: 'Karate is just my passion.'

Text: Tiziana Hiller