The social service period is a kind of voluntary internship that can take place in many different ways. In general, young people use the service period to gain new skills and improve their CV. They can receive a certificate for it, for example. For university students, taking this service period is less usual. The service period mainly entails that the student is a status holder’s buddy1 or the buddy of another migrant who took up residence in the Netherlands in one of the past few years. Students can opt for a more extensive service period, for which they can be awarded credits too.

To the market

In the windowless room of the Workshop Foundation, the students are attending a lecture this Wednesday by EUC lecturer Gera Noordzij about how migrants can feel more connected with the land they currently live in (answer: not through family ties or colleagues, but through friends). They are also meeting, like they do every week, their buddies, most of them status holders from the Middle East. They have a walk together, go to the market or try to learn each other’s language.

Although the EUC students are used to operating in an international setting, the contact with their buddies feels very different, Penelope Kierans and Benjamin Harm say. For most students it is their first acquaintance with a status holder ever. Penelope does not mince her words: “The average EUC student is the kind of alternative upper-class chick who lived in several countries with her parents. These status holders have been considerably less privileged in their lives.”

EUC students Nuria Penelope and Benjamin. Image credit: Elmer Smaling

App in the night

Penelope’s buddy is Hoessein. He is attending class in the room next door and can therefore not be at the interview. Together they went on outings to China Town, the Park and the Market Hall. According to Penelope, the Egyptian Hoessein is ‘a very pleasant, extroverted boy’. They communicate in Dutch. It is going quite well; they help each other.

“Thanks to him, I am learning Arabic now.” She already knows a few words: Salam (hello), kaif halak (how are you?), jayid (fine!). During the lecture, Penelope learned that status holders will feel more at home if they have Dutch friends. Are Hoessein and she becoming friends, little by little? “I think so. I had my birthday last Sunday, and at two minutes past midnight he sent me an app. ‘Hi. Congratulations. I am super grateful that we got to know each other,’” she says with a beaming smile.

Benjamin’s contact with his buddy was not all that smooth, initially. “The first time, I was ill. As a result, we haven’t been able to do many things together. We really do want to do this, though – going out together, for instance. We also had an iftar together.”
Benjamin does notice some cultural differences. One led to a small misunderstanding between him and his buddy. “He sent me an app that he wanted to go out with me and ‘arrange for girls’. As I didn’t know that much about him yet, I told it to others when they asked me how we were getting along. Later on, I found out that he didn’t like the fact that I had talked about it. I had told them because it struck me. Most EUC students would not say a thing like that, I think.”

Cultural differences

A bit further away, Wafa Mousa and Milou are sitting closely together. It looks as if they have really found one another. Wafa came from Syria, four years ago, and is only 17 years old. Milou, three years older, helped her with a school assignment on Paris, Wafa says enthusiastically. “I hope we can speak Dutch a lot and that she helps with school, like arithmetic.” Milou says she is very happy with her buddy. “It was very pleasant between the two of us, right from the start. We chattered for an hour.” Wafa: “She is really very sweet.”

The question of whether they have noticed anything strange in the other, initially sounds hilarious to them. “Nothing! Nothing at all,” Wafa says with a laugh. Milou, jokingly: “Well, I have a whole list here!” Milou gives it some thought and then says: “What is different for me is that my mother works and that your mother is at home. Women of my generation are encouraged to work, whereas you say you would rather your mother stays at home.” Wafa: “Yes, my brother and father think so too, and so do I. That my mother has to stay at home: taking worries away, preparing meals!” Milou: “But you don’t want to stay at home in the future. Do you?” Wafa: “Yes, I do!” Milou: “That’s certainly a difference!”


Abdoe en Emma EUC diensttijd foto Elmer Smaling
Buddies Abdulsatar and Emma. Image credit: Elmer Smaling

Despite the fact that Abdulsatar and Emma Preuß are in a room that reminds me of a police interrogation cell, they are having a good time with each other. The Syrian status holder and the German EUC student have been in the Netherlands for only one and a half years now, and yet their Dutch during the interview is remarkably fluent. Until now, they walked and studied together. “She is going to teach me English. She is perfect at it,” Abdulsatar says. Besides their knack of languages, they have something else in common: they both work in fast food. He at KFC and Emma at Five Guys. “On 30 May I get my diploma,” he proudly says. He will get his ICT diploma at MBO (upper secondary vocational education) level 3. They have regular contact too, via WhatsApp, but they also went out to have pizza and falafel. “I have a lot of respect for her. She is a kind girl, very polite. And a fighter.” Emma: “We both work very hard.”

King’s Day

Lecturer Gera Noordzij enjoys the meetings, she says after her lecture has ended. “Ever since the start of the Erasmus University College, it has been my opinion that we should go out more with our students, into town, take them out of their bubble. But this is not always easy.” Here, at Zuidplein, the students see a direct relationship between theory – immigrants feel more at home, in particular because of local friends, they have just learned – and practice.

The students have much freedom to have contact with their buddies in the way they want. Noordzij: “I think this is important. It is awfully nice to see how they go about it.” When the meeting was cancelled because of King’s Day, the pairs decided to explore King’s Day together. Her colleague Frieda Franke, coordinator of the programme from Erasmus X, agrees with her. “These students have a strong intrinsic motivation. This is logical, since we had little time for our recruitment for this programme; only students who were very keen on doing this registered.”

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