Week of the International Student

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Last week was all about the International Student. For asap, the inclusion of international students is an important spearhead. Listen here to or read an interview with our group chair Marie-Sophie Simon, a Computing Science student from Germany. She gives her view on the situation of international students.

I’d like to ask you to please introduce yourself.

I’m Marie. I’m 22 years old. I’m in my fourth year of computer science now and I’m currently in the USC for asap. Last year I did a board year at Thalia, so I’ve  been very active within my association and I’m originally from Germany.

Why did you decide to come to the Netherlands?

I decided to come to the Netherlands, mostly because I wanted to study in English and that’s not that easy in Germany or it’s not affordable or it’s not good quality. After that I had a couple of options, namely Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. However, I have to say it was kind of a last minute decision of mine, which means a couple of those countries fell already because I just missed the deadline for applying. In the end, it was like Sweden and the Netherlands left. I’m not fully sure anymore, and I decided for the Netherlands so that I could still stay close to my siblings.

Don’t you miss going home during the weekend?

No, I actually don’t. In the beginning, I kind of did a bit because I had a bit of trouble finding connections within my studies or with other people. The weekends were especially hard because all the Dutch people still go home to their families. But for me, I could not go home every weekend. But eventually you find connections and then now I have basically my family here. I have really close friends with whom I spend every waking minute, basically. And now this is my home, and I don’t miss going to my family too much.

Does the international week mean or do anything for you?

I think the sentiment is nice. I think it’s also nice that it’s a national thing, so every university in the Netherlands does it now. I have to admit I would have kind of liked to see a bit more about it from Radboud University, maybe see a bit more initiatives. I do also get that it’s difficult with corona, so I’m not going to blame anyone right now. However, I have not seen anything about it actually. Like, I’ve seen some things on social media, but that’s about it. And I actually think you could have used this really well to raise awareness about the problem of internationals being lonely, internationals not finding connections or internationals not finding housing. There are a bunch of problems that occur and that you could have used this week to raise awareness which didn’t happen. That’s a bit sad.

How does it feel to be the first elected international in the USC?

It feels for me personally like a lot of responsibility. I really enjoy it because I really feel like I can maybe achieve something, change something for future internationals. But that also puts a lot of responsibility on me. I do want to change something, but I have to say it’s very difficult because all the big meetings with the board are in Dutch and I’m lucky enough to understand that by now, but I’m not comfortable enough to speak it in those very formal meetings. So it’s very difficult. It’s a challenge and every time you say something, it’s very, very nerve wracking. Sometimes it feels like I didn’t really understand it correctly, like I might be missing out on the point completely. This can be a bit frustrating because I’m at the moment kind of trying to get a grip on how to achieve something, and it seems like you keep running into walls. You don’t really know where to start because there are so many problems and you don’t know how to begin with them.

What is the main problem you’ve experienced as an international coming to the Netherlands?

I think living in an international bubble, as some people confuse inclusion and integration. Many people think and assume: ‘’internationals are lonely, so let’s create this place for them where they can meet.’’ However, that doesn’t integrate them yet because then they maybe know each other, but they still don’t know the Dutch people, so it doesn’t like it fixes the symptom of them being lonely. It doesn’t really fix the problem of why they are lonely. I feel like that’s a very common problem that people kind of forget that integrating is much more powerful than anything else. 

Of course, we as internationals should learn a bit of the Dutch culture and we want to do that. We chose to come to the Netherlands also because we’re interested in the culture. We are happy to learn about it. But it does also mean that at times it would be nice if the Dutch people were to show interest in our culture or they would be willing to switch to English more easily. Not everybody does that, especially the older generations.

How do you see the future of international student integration?

I hope that we can work together in a university where the internationals feel at home, where the Dutch people also know that we don’t want to take away the Dutch culture or the Dutch language. That we all can study together, learn from each other, grow together and make this really an international, multicultural university in which we all feel like we have our place.