The party marking the end of the Refugees@campus project takes place in the new Education Lab of the Polak Building. Besides employees of the UAF and the Diversity & Inclusion Office of the EUR, participants of the project are also attending. After the speeches of Semiha Denktaş (Chief D&I Officer) and Rob Boom (UAF), the girls get to tell their story. “The match was made at the start of September”, says Business Administration student Senem. “We met at the Food Plaza straight away, and since then we get together regularly.”

“My interactions with Senem have massively improved my ability to speak Dutch and have helped me to get a better grasp of Dutch culture”, says Shabnam, who was born in Afghanistan, but grew up in Pakistan.

Two years ago, Shabnam came to the Netherlands as an asylum seeker. She has been taking the Erasmus Preparatory Year since September, and before then she studied Business Administration in Pakistan for two years. “Even though I know how a university operates, I still need a guide who can help me with all the little Dutch rules”, she says. She hopes to study Business Administration at the EUR next year.

At the end of the party, all those present gather together in front of the Tinbergen Building. A piece of light art of artist collective Blauwe Uur is shown. Writer Babah Tarawally reads out his column, after which the light art display brightens up the facade of the Tinbergen Building.

End of the project

Thanks to the financial support of the National Postcode Lottery, the three-year project Refugees@campus could be organised. The UAF started the student mentoring programme in 2016 in order to ease the transition of refugee students into Dutch society. “During this project, we connected a refugee student to a Dutch student, so that they could exchange experiences and learn from each other on an equal footing”, project leader Remko de Kok explains. “Especially at the start of their time here, refugee students really need a buddy to help them practise the Dutch language and to find their way at the educational institution.”

Over 1000 students took part in the project nationally: 500 refugee students and 500 voluntary student mentors. “We carefully looked for good matches and kept in mind where people live and study, what their discipline is and what their personal interests are”, says De Kok.

This worked really well for Senem and Shabnam. This 500th — and last — mentoring duo is a match made in heaven. “We don’t just meet up for mentoring, we’re also friends”, says Senem. “We talk a lot and about everything”, adds Shabnam. “It turns out that we have a lot in common, like our interest in Business Administration, our cultural background and our passion for food.”

‘She’s simply lovely’

For Senem, taking part in the project came naturally. “I saw that refugee students were having difficulty adjusting to the Dutch education system. If I can make a small contribution, why would I waste that opportunity?”

“My main task is to help Shabnam with the language, as well as with other things: from study preparation to taking care of bank matters and administrative tasks for her future study programme”, says Senem. Shabnam: “It’s true: Senem helps me with everything, she’s simply lovely.”

Senem also thinks the project is worthwhile. “Actually, I have also learned a lot from Shabnam. She is a silent force, someone who has had to achieve everything on her own. She has made a difference in my outlook on life.”

The mentoring track will only last for another two months, but the girls are sure that they’ll stay in touch afterwards. “Senem is not just a mentor; she’s my friend now”, says Shabnam.