While the university prides itself in having an intercultural campus, integration between internationals and Dutch students outside the classroom environment is not a given. Sure the international bachelors aim to mix the different nationalities in class, but do internationals and Dutch natives actually mingle in their ‘off duty’ life? The integration journey recounted by those who live it.
There are 23,000 students who study at Erasmus University, 5400 of these are internationals. A small, but present minority, the integration of those students in the overarching community of Dutch counterparts has become a fixed action point in the university’s agenda.
Half a dozen of students both of Dutch and non- Dutch nationality (British and Canadian/American) share their experiences on the matter of integration. Interviews were structured in order to gain a deeper inside into the student’s life, particularly focusing on their circle of friends and their friends-making processes within a campus which counts students from all over the world.
On an educational level, the university exhibits one of the most international rosters in the Netherlands, counting eleven international bachelor programs out of forty undergraduate programs. It is not a coincidence that the university’s integration plans start in the classroom, as Judith Hoogmoed, international office, confirms. “Intercultural classrooms are an important element in the integration process”, she affirms
Early international courses such as International Business Administration lead the way in this field. Adri Meijdam, IBA executive director, makes sure that IBA students, both internationals and Dutch, are open to mingle and work together in the classroom. “Workgroups composition is not casual. They make sure each workgroup presents a balanced amount of internationals and Dutch student affirms Meijdam. Nonetheless the university raises some concerns for what regards integration after class. “There has to be stimulation on a social level recognizes Judith Hoodmoed. “We are aware that integration outside the classrooms is an issue, but it is hard to tackle, as students are the one who should pick up on it.”
If the ‘on duty’ student life is dominated by lectures and workgroups, the ‘off duty’ student life is scattered by a multitude of associations, including disputes (fraternities and sororities), faculty associations and sport associations. Not only associations play a central role in the university’s social ecosystem, but also have the capabilities to influence integration in the after-hours.
At ESN (Exchange Student Network) Rotterdam, the integration of international students in Dutch society is their mission, does that mean at ESN internationals and Dutch students encouraged to mingle? “Our events are focused on meeting new people.” affirms Barten, Marketing Manager at ESN, “We keep our communication channels in English, in this way nobody is left out. Our events are attended by both Dutch and non-Dutch students. However, more or less 10 to 20 percent of the attendees to our parties/events is Dutch, the rest is made up by internationals.” Barten noticed that Dutch participants tend to have just come back from their exchange period abroad. Amongst their activities, ESN offers city tours or bike rides for internationals students to which Dutch students tend not to participate mostly for lack of interests in the city amenities due to the fact they already know them.
At the investment association B&R Beurs, internationals make up the 30 percent of the total amount of members (930). Robert Kaptein, secretary of the associations: ”We are a unique student society, we do not select our members based on their faculty, background or mother tongue”, explains Kaptein. “We don’t necessarily focus on integration, yet all our events and communications are in English. Our investment groups are mixed (Dutch and non-Dutch members), thus, to make sure everybody understands what is going on and can participate, the language spoken is English. Nonetheless, according to Kaptein, internationals still hesitate to take active part in the society because the majority of active members is Dutch.
In spite of the high degree of internationalization of Woudestein Campus (employees and personnel speak English, signs, menu card are all in English), language appears to be a consistent impediment for what concerns joining student societies. In order to join a student society of the kinds of RSC, Laurentius or S.S.R. –Rotterdam, one seems to have to speak Dutch. Although, this is not an explicit requirement, but more of an unwritten law. A brief look at Laurentius, RSG, RSC, and RVSV’s websites and one cannot fight the urge to grab the dictionary. These pages are written in Dutch with no possibility to switch to an English page.
When asked, RSG (Rotterdamsche Studenten Gezelschap) explained they indeed do not target internationals because Dutch is the spoken language within the association and their membership typically lasts longer than a year which usually doesn’t fit with internationals plans. S.S.R.-Rotterdam’s vice president Juliette Lutje Schipholt explains how it works in her association “Being able to speak Dutch does make it easier to be a member at S.S.R.-Rotterdam as our events are in fact promoted in Dutch and communications are held in Dutch too. Our members’ first language is Dutch. Consequently, I would say we do not focus on attracting internationals. However, many of our members do exhibit a multicultural background, for instance Belgian or Surinamese. We are open to all sort of students.” The vice president, further explains that using Dutch as their communication language is linked to the long lasting traditions, for instance songs or ballads, that characterize the association. Not only that but traditions seem to dictate the focus and the extent of the organization to the point that it is not plausible to expect a switch in language nor the influx of more internationals any time soon. While, RSG and S.S.R. – Rotterdam explained their positions, it was not possible to get Laurentius, RSC and RVSV’s opinion on the matter. Keeping in mind that students associations take up great part of their members’ time, this fact involuntarily represents a bump in the road towards integration.
Learning Dutch: a way to integrate
Employees, associations and students all pointed out to a common denominator: language. Mas van Hemert (20), a Dutch IBA student, asked about his opinion on the integration matter says: “Out of personal experience I can say that internationals do a good job in integrating, however they tend not to learn Dutch. I think this is because if they did speak it, Dutch people would pick up on the foreign accent and swap to English”,
The fact that internationals lack to speak the native language seems to be source of concern as measures taken by the university confirm.
Judith Hoogmoed from the International office says that one of the strategies to endorse integration is to push the study of the Dutch language among internationals. “We have been actively promoting learning Dutch among foreign students for about a year now.”
However, Tom Marshall (23), a British student of the Master of Management of Innovation who has been living here for four years, notices how only a few places offer Dutch language courses on campus, furthermore these courses seem to be on the pricy side. During his interview, Tom expresses how the university could introduce incentives for students to learn Dutch, “To boost integration I think the university should grant Ekes to students who take part in a language class, not only Dutch courses.” adds Tom
On the other hand, language cannot be held as the only factor influencing the ‘integration matter’. In fact, cultural differences and different life styles arose from the conducted interviews as possible reasons for a slow integration process outside the controlled classroom environment.
Tom Marshall: “Internationals and Dutch students inevitably have different schedules. The former ones tend to stick together as they go through the same experiences and they won’t be going back to their parents every other weekend. Dutch students are much invested in student societies which absorb the majority of their time.” Tom’s point seems to be funded, as Julie van Mils (23) a third year Law student provides a good example. She states: “I hang out more with Dutch students. Though I don’t spend much time with them (university friends). I think the reason behind this is that I was born in Rotterdam, hence I already have a close circle of friends here.”
‘How quickly they switch to Dutch is key to know how open they are’
Those who are most active in enforcing or holding back integration are certainly the students themselves. According to Oemar van der Woerd (23) a Dutch student of Surinamese roots who studies Health Sciences, being part of the integration process depends on several different factors, including personal motivation. “The university uses integration as a big marketing instrument. In daily practices, it depends on which study you are following and if you personally want to meet internationals. Personally, I tend to hang out more with my closer circle of friends which is solely Dutch. I do have international friends too, just not in my closer circle. Dutch student Romy de Wijs (20) studies History, she sees things in a similar light: “I think integration between internationals and Dutch students really depends on what kind of person you are. We all hear about groups from certain nationalities who mainly stick together. I guess people try to keep something that reminds them of home by sticking with people of their own nationality, and I think I would do the same at some points. However, I know a lot of international people and I observed that their attitude is not to hang out with people of the same nationally.
“Being outgoing has nothing to do with one’s nationality”
Ross Bradford (21) is Scottish/British, he has recently finished his nine months exchange here with Erasmus School of Law. “During my exchange period I found it easier to meet internationals, as most of the students on my course were not Dutch. However having said that, I have made very good Dutch friends.” Ross too overheard the rumor that certain nationalities, more specifically Dutch and Chinese, are known for “not socializing well with other nationalities”. Nonetheless, as Romy and Oemar, Ross thinks that ‘being outgoing’ has nothing to do with one’s nationality, rather that is a more personal trait and depending on the followed degree, that means if one is following a Dutch taught degree rather than an international one
Erin Chang (23) student of Arts and Culture is half Canadian and half American and has been living in the Netherlands for four years, “I tend to have more non-Dutch friends. Inside and outside the study I tend to hang out more with international students.” She thought this could be related to the fact that it is easier to speak your native language. Noticing that for internationals it might be more difficult to find students from the same nationality, hence pushing them to interact with other nationalities. Erin continues explaining her stance, “Most of the students I know are still closer to people of their own nationality. Again, I think it’s a language issue, it’s just easier for people to speak their native tongue.”