“We found it hard to think of anything that would be fun given that you’ve got to sit at your table all evening. We ended up with a lot of drinking games”, explains ESN board member Hanneke van der Meer (21, Econometrics). She is delighted with the turnout. “I am really happy that there is a queue. We will be trying to do a lot of offline events in September. The nice thing about ESN is that everyone is always welcome, and besides, where else would you go on a Tuesday? Here people can have a drink in a safe way. Luckily the security staff is very strict.”

Making friends

ESN is something between a study and a student association and falls under the auspices of the International Office. “We are primarily there for international students, but in practice plenty of Dutch students come to our events as well”, says ESN president Rolland Masebu (24, Public Administration).

Three years ago, Rolland also turned up at exactly the same start-of-the-academic year ESN drinks night. “It was literally my first day at university too. I had looked on the internet to find out what to do and came here by myself that evening. I immediately made friends in the queue. I can’t quite recall if it was a fun night, but I think it was. I wouldn’t have come back otherwise.”

Rolland Masebu president ESN 2020
ESN president Rolland Masebu Image credit: Tara Lewis

Getting to meet new people was also the most important incentive for him to join the association. “ESN makes that easier. I came to the Netherlands from Tanzania when I was 13 years old. It wasn’t easy making friends. International students all come here on their own and don’t know how to do that at first. So, we help them make friends. When we see someone coming in alone, we talk to them right away and seat them at a table.”

Game of whispers

Around him, this seems to be working just fine. Various groups sidle up to each other because everyone must remain seated, in line with the corona rules. They mainly play cards and have a few drinks. “People are happy; they’re drinking. Drinks are cheaper here than anywhere else in the city.” By ten o’clock, the queue in front of the door stretches as far as the pedestrian crossing. Talk Dirty by Jason Derulo booms through the speakers. Behind Rolland, a board member just knocked down a Jenga tower. “Now you’ve got to take a swig Tamara!”

Laminated A4’s are lying around on the tables. They feature suggestions for games, like whispering into someone’s ear a question about the company they find themselves in. The answer is always the name of someone else at the table. If that person wants to hear the question, they have to take another swig of their drink. “It has to be a bit of a bold question because, after all, we are all students. Except that we recommend that you type a question on your phone instead of whispering because of corona”, Rolland stresses. There is no dancing either for that very same reason. “No, no dancing, otherwise people will start touching each other. Or at least try not to grab hold of each other. But it is difficult to keep your distance.”

ESN Tuesdays Malvika Liza Hansi
International students Malvika, Liza and Hansi Image credit: Tara Lewis

Meanwhile, it is full inside as well. Hansi (21, Economy, Sri Lanka) is sitting at a table with two of her girlfriends. “I am not a fan of going out like this. But given the circumstances, this is the best we can do. I came mainly out of curiosity, not because I expected it would turn out to be fun.” Fellow student Liza (22, Russia) doesn’t even like ESN Tuesdays. “It’s not really my vibe. All of them are students who get drunk, which could be fun in itself, but all they do here is spill their drinks on you.” Malvika (21, India): “I came here almost every week in my second year, but hardly ever anymore nowadays. For me, ESN Tuesdays is about getting drunk and not remembering anything the next day.”

Other kinds of conversations

One table away, a group of Dutch students has just arrived. Luc (21, International Business Administration) thinks it’s ‘one of the best nights out in times of corona’. He says: “If I hazard a guess about what this evening might have been like on a regular ESN Tuesday, then I think it’s my loss that I’ve never been before.” He actually does not miss dancing. “I miss standing and socializing with other people more.” People? “My girlfriend appreciates it when I say ‘people’ instead of ‘girls’.”

His table companion Alex (22, Econometrics) has been here before. “You soon end up having other kinds of conversations with international students anyway. Because your English vocabulary is not as good as your Dutch, you tend to talk about all sorts of things pretty quickly. And they have a completely different background story than mine.”

The game of whispers is played at the initiative of a passing board member. Who is the biggest Tinder flirt? “Luc – careful, she’s writing that down!” Who can twerk the best? “Wouter – should we request a song for you?”

As it happens, Wouter (21, Business Administration) is rather disappointed in the evening. “I expected it to be a proper club. That you really were allowed to stand and stuff like that.” Gijs (21, Business Administration): “This evening is basically kind of like investing. Your expectations shouldn’t be too high.”

ESN Tuesdays vol terras
The outdoor terrace is almost full during the first edition of ESN Tuesdays Image credit: Tara Lewis