Internationals and student associations: a rocky marriage

17-01-2017, 12:48

Phocas' stand at the orientation market. Photo: Dick van Aalst

Student associations could do more to make international students feel at home at Radboud University. At least, according to Gerard Meijer, who made this claim in an interview last week. But is this true? The associations see some difficulties.

The recently resigned chairman of the Executive Board, Gerard Meijer, said in a farewell interview that he thinks not all segments of the Nijmegen academic community are on the same level of internationalisation. ‘Look at student associations for example. It should be possible to join Phocas for three months. I think that a traditional association like Carolus has an exemplary role to play here. We have to make sure that international students don’t become isolated.’

‘A three-month-membership will not work’

Is that true? Are associations too inactive? ‘International students are more than welcome here’, says Jelle Zwart, Phocas chairman. ‘I have competed in rowing tournaments with a French guy for one year. We just trained in English, that was never a problem.’ However, not many international students apply, he says. Just a handful of them want to join. A three-month-membership, as Meijers suggests, will not work, according to Zwart. ‘The competition season lasts from spring to summer. If you are only a member for three months, you can either only train without competing in a race, or race without training. That does not work.’

The Carolus Magnus board also says that their association is open to international students. ‘We communicate this during our open orientation. But there is no seperate form of membership for this group. We communicate in Dutch. I think it is good for international students to become a Carolus member, since it is a way to learn the language and integrate.’

Some study associations have a special program for people from other countries. SPiN, the psychology association, even calls it one of its ‘one of the most pressing policy issues’. The education institute asked SPiN to make an effort to help international students integrate. ‘All our communication is bilingual or English, we have a special committee for students from abroad, and in thirteen committees, a spot is taken by a foreign student’, says board member Michelle Geurts. The enthusiasm under the students fluctuates, she says. ‘We notice that for many students, the threshold to join us is too high.’

At study association ESV (economics and business economics), the board has a similar experience. ‘We have a separate committee that organises events for international students’, says Yvette Harmsen. ‘In our study programs, international students follow separate classes. Because of that, internationals form a seperate group. It is important to convince some of them to become a member, so that the others follow. It varies from year to year whether that works.’ Activities for international students are apart from the ‘normal’ offer. ‘During the formal activities, we have not other option’, says Harmsen. ‘When we visit an accounting firm, the company wants Dutch students who are informed about Dutch the Dutch rules.’


  1. Samarpan Rai wrote on 18 januari 2017 at 20:04

    I joined Phocas during the first year orientation and after having a month of fellowship with another student, I started to notice a pattern during the social interaction — A dutch student feels more comfortable speaking in the native language than in English when you are in a party. I think it is perfectly normal for them to do them but as an international student, I feel as an outsider in this association. I don’t speak Dutch and I can’t easily jump into their conversation. I don’t understand the internal dynamics of their group. And dutch people, even though they are open minded, they are only friendly till a certain threshold and then you are on your own. IF you can make friends then hey you are in luck or else, “oh well,” and they go back to doing what they were doing. I do think it’s a pressing issue and Radboud should do something to integrate the international students well in these type of situation. My suggestion is phocas needs to go international. By international I mean, they need to compete in other countries and bring more group of people together instead of just transfer students who are visiting here for short period.

  2. Anonymous wrote on 24 januari 2017 at 14:44

    This is a real problem for long-term international students such as myself (a masters student here for 2 years), who are interested in becoming integrated into Dutch culture and making Dutch friends. As a member of a sports club here at a Radboud, I feel language as a major social barrier. Despite the friendliness of my Dutch acquaintances and their willingness to speak English to me, I still feel at a loss that I can’t participate in Dutch conversation. Some faculties, like the faculty of Social Science, attempt to improve this by offering free Dutch classes to their international students. I think that this is a courtesy that should be extended to all (at least long term) international students in an effort to allow integration with the local students, and cultivate a truly international atmosphere, not just academically but also culturally and intellectually, to benefits students both foreign and local.

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