I thought it was a one-in-a-million case until last month, when I was faced with an article by Law student Eline Burgman. She claimed that Anglicisation at the university has overshot the mark and described that she doesn’t want to be served in English at the Erasmus Pavilion. To my horror, her article prompted multiple reactions and comments that fully supported her. Reading her reaction with the staff of the Erasmus Pavilion brought a chill down my spine as it was almost the same situation.

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‘Anglicisation at university has overshot the mark’

Law student Eline Burgman wants to curb the advance of English as a lingua franca at the…

A sentiment widely shared

It seems it was not a case that happens once in a blue moon, but a sentiment shared widely by the Dutch-speaking population and which had prompted public debate, made political groups unsuccessfully sue Dutch universities who declared English their official language and even brought forward the so-called Language and Accessibility Bill promoted by the actual Education Minister, Ingrid van Engelshoven, which proposed higher fees for non-EU students, cut the funding of Nuffic, and limited admission in English programmes. Of course this debate was in their native language, making us, English speakers, ignorant of its existence and unable to defend ourselves.

We live in the Netherlands and Dutch is the official language, so I totally understand the demand to speak Dutch. However, Erasmus University is a self-described international ambience where speaking English is accepted and multiculturalism is motivated. The university prides itself of its international focus and constantly mentions it through their official pages. Creating ‘world citizens’ is one of the ‘Erasmian Values’ that the university wants to achieve for the year 2024.

Through this international aspect, the university has placed itself high in international rankings. This attracts not only students but staff, too, and gives the opportunity to have high-quality staff working for the university. The same goes for multiple Dutch universities. However, international students are still a minority and it sounds a bit silly to say that this 20 percent are dominating the public spaces of the university.

cortege struiken rutger engels opening academisch jaar 2019 foto ronald van den heerik (46)

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The Dutch dream

So why should we accommodate to a minority? International students suffer discrimination in the housing market, pay 10 times more than the EU fee, have low employability chances and show high rates of depression and anxiety. Loneliness and exclusion are daily battles and a lot of time their support system consists solely of the friends they made in university. They can’t even get a hug from their mum if things get rough, as they are located literally at the other side of the world. University is a safe space where internationals won’t be judged by their nationality and language (or lack of). You might say it’s their own choice to go study abroad, but would it really be that difficult to speak two words of English to order your coffee at Eramus Pavilion? A minor act of empathy that helps others in immeasurable ways.

The ‘Dutch dream’ is something real for a lot of internationals who graduate and try to find a job in the Dutch market. But the competition is fierce and some of them have no other choice than to return to their home countries after their visa expires. It feels sometimes that international students (especially the ones who come from outside the EU) are the cash cows of the university and the strategy is to sell this idea of a paradisaical hyper-friendly country and make Rotterdam their home for 3 years. But the bubble bursts when students finish their studies and are thrown into a highly competitive market in which most don’t arise as successful competitors.

Second home

Erasmus University doesn’t give the necessary tools to internationals to enter the Dutch job market or even adapt to Dutch society. And of course knowing the Dutch language is a fundamental step to achieve this.  Universities such as Delft and Groningen offer the opportunity for students to attend Dutch classes for free; some of these classes form part of the curriculum and are mandatory for students to graduate. Erasmus University offers a discount to students who decide to attend the Erasmus Language Training Center. However, if you want to reach a working proficiency level (B1), you would have to invest more than 1500 euros in classes.

After all, do not get me wrong. I firmly believe that Dutch should not disappear as a language of instruction in universities. I am not advocating to make all programmes English and christen it as the official language of academia, but proposing an approach to education as a bilingual project. Let’s not fall into this narrative of ‘them vs us’: internationals are not here to erase your Dutch identity, invade your hallways, attack your economy and degrade the quality of your course. Completely the opposite! Most international students have made the Netherlands their second home and are desperately trying to enter society while paying excessive fees compared to Dutch citizens. They would love to learn Dutch.  In this age of increasing individualisation when it comes to Anglicisation, I believe that the defenders of the Dutch language should stop asking for the manager and causing a scene, and start approaching those international friends (or maybe try to make international friends) and offer them help to learn Dutch.

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