The international orientation interaction problem
An orientation week informs and entertains, introduces the new city and university and, ideally, helps students find orientation throughout a new aspect of their lives. People who become friends during this first week often stay friends for the rest of their studies or even for many years after graduation. But while friendships will most certainly develop, locals and internationals often don’t mix.
The integration of internationals has been a central topic throughout the past years at Radboud. With more English-language study programs being introduced, Nijmegen has become an attractive university city for students from other countries. And the orientation week is often the first encounter with the Netherlands.
‘I believe that getting to know Dutch people is the easiest way to integrate into the culture’, says Raquel Carro Andollo, a 23-year old student from Spain who is about to start her master in European law. However, establishing contact between Dutch and international students is not that easy.
Erasmus and international master and pre-master students are often put into separate groups during their orientation week instead of being mixed with the local first-years. That, in combination with the language barrier, often creates distance.
‘I would love to meet more Dutch people’
‘I would love to meet more Dutch people’, says Dorothea Tsounis, a 20-year old Erasmus student from Greece who is joining the faculty of science to study biology at Radboud. Yet, the only mingling with Dutch participants of the orientation so far was during the sports day while competing against them.
‘During the orientation week, you may be able to observe Dutch students from afar, but getting into closer contact with them is almost impossible’, says Tsounis, who is not the only one sharing this experience. According to fellow Erasmus student Adam Jenkins, some of the mentors might be Dutch, but getting into contact with fellow freshmen at Radboud is difficult. ‘It is obviously nice to meet a lot of internationals during your time abroad, but it would be even nicer to get to know the locals as well’, says the English literature student from Great Britain.
While many internationals agree that the organizers of the introduction week are taking an effort to bring locals and internationals together, the few shared activities are not enough. The lecture How to deal with the Dutch which is offered for international students and joint games during the sports day are a good start, but more activities could be the key to friendships between the future Dutch and non-Dutch students at Radboud.
There are many ideas about what to do in order to introduce people from the Netherlands to internationals and vice versa. Bringing a Dutch and a non-Dutch group together for a shared dinner. Organizing a meeting for language exchange, in which internationals can learn Dutch phrases and locals can learn some words in Spanish, Japanese or Russian. Mixing, overall, more than separating.
Those tendencies are already working throughout the study year, where Dutch and international student organizations are inviting to exactly those activities: shared dinners and language exchanges between locals and internationals. They, however, seem to fall short during the first – and probably most important – week of socializing.
The introduction week fulfills many functions and it does an exceptional job at doing so. It is, nevertheless, inevitable to bring an Erasmus student from Italy together with the regular bachelor student from Maastricht and a master student from Japan together with their colleague from Eindhoven. By doing so as early as possible, we assure inclusion of internationals into Dutch culture, while providing possibilities for Dutch students to learn about other countries in a way only a friend can teach you.