The Language and Training Centre of the Erasmus University has already received 194 notifications of mostly students and a few staff members to become a ‘language buddy’. The centre will link them to some fifty refugees following an accelerated Dutch language course.
“We are delighted with so many applications”, exults Marjon Menten, organizer of the event. She explains: “We need this buddy system. The refugees say they need somebody to practice the language with. In their own environment, they don’t speak Dutch very often, so it’s good if someone does so an hour per week.”
How they do this, is up to the buddies and refugees themselves. The buddies will be following a workshop by a language teacher and will receive a list of topics covered in the courses, as a guide for the informal talks.
Lunch as a launch for the new batch
In October, the Language and Training Centre has started the course, designed for highly educated refugees who want to study or are about to enter the labor market. On Friday, the second batch of the course began with a lunch for all participants and volunteers.
Menten gleams with pride as one of the refugee students kicks off the lunch at the sports bar with a speech in flawless Dutch. “And we didn’t even help him write it!” The speaker has just had three months of Dutch lessons and starts with a follow-up course today.
The audience consists of fifty refugees, mostly men and a quarter of the language buddies, mostly women.
'Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht is quiet, which is something to get used to.'
At one of the tables sits Mohammed Rahmeh (25). He insists on speaking Dutch, which he has already mastered quite well. Especially for someone who did not follow a course. He laughs: the food is ‘heerlijk’ and the people are ‘gezellig’. Occasionally, he switches to English as he doesn’t understand something. Rahmeh has been in the Netherlands for a year. “My trip here took four years: From Damascus via Lebanon to Turkey to Greece via Germany, to finally arrive in the Netherlands.”
On his wrist he wears a band with the Palestinian flag. “Officially, I am stateless, but I feel Palestinian, even though Damascus is officially in Syria.” He smiles: “It’s complicated.”
With his mother and sister, he lives in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht. Quite a contrast to his past. “Damascus was chaos, Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht is quiet. It takes some getting used to. But I wanted to go to the Netherlands, because my mother was here already. ”
Rahmeh is dressed in a skaters blouse and has his hair shaved, according to all the latest trends. In Damascus he designed interiors: from offices to hotels to homes. Here, he envisions a study in architecture after the language course is completed. Does he have any wishes about his future buddy? “No. But I love football and chess, in Damascus I was quite good! Although I’m a bit out of practice after four years. “
‘They started reading from the back'
“The student refugees really have to start from scratch. To give an example: during the exam, there was an instruction, and they started to read from the back to the front”, a smiling Menten said.
The pace is high, so students can quickly move on to further education or a job. “We select at the gate, because we want to have refugees who have a high learning rate. The previous batch went from zero to A2 (the ability to understand and communicate in simple, everyday topics, MH) in three months. “
"I like to do something for someone else."
Judith Baker and Aisis Bergman, both 19 years old, are sitting at the same table as Rahmeh. Judith had heard about the language buddy program through an email from her student association NSR. She convinced Aisis to also get involved.
And now they’re in the Erasmus Sport canteen. Judith: “I like to do something for someone else.” The lunch is already coming to an end. “We’ve had great conversations with some refugees. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m definitely excited”, Aisis said.
Exactly how they’re going to do the meetings with the refugees, they don’t know yet. “We could have some nice coffee somewhere, or actually do something together,” says Judith. “Go to the Markthal, for example,” Aisis adds. “Or show Rotterdam.” To which Judith dryly comments: “Or the other way around: the refugee shows us. He might know Rotterdam better, we don’t even live here.”