When Dutch student Bart Swinkels started translating some Covid news to English, he never imagined that a year later, his audience had grown to thousands of people. In the beginning, it was just for his international peers in Groningen University College, but now the short summary of travel-related information and regularnews update in WhatsApp groups ‘proudly serves some 4000 international students and professionals throughout the country’.  His news updates have found their way to the international community in Rotterdam and are now wildly popular here as well.

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He didn’t start to translate news for his international peers because they asked for help. “I was watching the press conferences about corona by the prime minister and I thought, hey, I can understand this, but I don’t know about my international friends. I care about them. I feel that we are one group. And when I care about someone, I care about them a lot. I really started this for a bunch of friends and people close to me. I genuinely could’ve never imagined it becoming what it is now.”

What students really need

When his corona news updates started to reach a wider audience, watching the press conferences onTuesdays, taking notes, and then translating them into English became one of his weekly tasks. “I got people asking me about traveling with a PCR test probably hundreds of times, so I built the website Dutchcovidnews.nl.” Oftentimes,  updates about travel advice are not commonly shared on national news outlets or big news websites, and English versions are usually available only several weeks later. “But international students really need it now”, he added.

Swinkels just enjoys helping out. When a student asked for help, because her boyfriend was in a South American country and couldn’t come to the Netherlands because of the travel ban, he couldn’t think of a way to help at that time. But when the travel restrictions eased up several weeks later, he forwarded the government website page to the girl to see if it would help, “She was so amazed that I really followed up and approached her”, Bart said.

Not available on Tuesday night

Bart doesn’t always feel like updating his news outlet. “There were times when there was a press conference coming, and I felt like, ugh, I have to do this again.” But that only happened two times in the past year, and both incidents happened recently. “It’s a responsibility”, he said. “When people send direct messages to say thank me,  everything is worth it.” During the interview, he got distracted and typed on his laptop for a short while. “I’m replying to my girlfriend’s message,” he said, “that’s also a responsibility”, Bart laughed, “I got into a relationship with her after I started this, so it’s very clear to her: every Tuesday evening during a press conference, I’m not available.”

Direct messages

In his WhatsApp groups, only he can send messages, but he does reply to every and each one of covid-related direct messages. For example, he had German students asking about when can they get back to the Netherlands, “I think I’ve got the question ‘hey, can I take the local bus between Leer(a city near German-Netherlands border) and Groningen without a PCR test?’ for like, four hundred times now. Replying to these kinds of questions is something you can do on your way to the groceries.” People also send direct messages to thank him for what he’s done for them. “That’s weird every time”, he said and laughed, “but in a very, very good way, of course.”

He’s not in it for the money, but he did put up donation links on the website and received roughly three hundred euros from his audience. “I only used it for groceries so far. I’m a student living on a tiny budget!” he laughed.

In the future, Bart might turn the WhatsApp groups into a news channel that delivers translations ofgeneral Dutch news, but he’s not entirely sure about the details of the plan yet. “How to select news would be a question”, Bart is thinking out loud.