The academic year has started, and Groningen University is welcoming thousands of international students who have mixed feelings towards blending into Dutch society and integrating with their fellow students.
A debate was sparked last year from the publication of the UKrant article “When Dutch ‘directness’ hurts” by Megan Embry, in which she discussed discrimination received by internationals from local students. The article highlighted the divided views of students regarding the relationship between the two groups.
Interviewing Dutch and internationals at the RUG campus regarding the topic of discrimination and how they feel about their relationship with their classmates, different opinions came out.
Sitting outside the library, speaking Spanish among themselves, bachelor students Xenia Ramos and Carla Heterington said that, not only do they not feel welcomed, they feel highly excluded by the Dutch students.
“I think it is difficult if you are international student here in your first week because Dutch people are very close to each other and they don’t welcome other people. She is my friend and I am glad I know her because, if not, you really have to find another international student,” said Carla, who has just arrived and is in her first year of her bachelor.
Xenia and Carla also addressed the issue of discrimination, saying they did receive comments about their identity as Spanish which made them feel uncomfortable among their fellow Dutch students.
When confronted with the topic, a few Dutch students highlighted the tendency of Dutch and internationals to stay among their respective groups, resulting in a strong division.
Dutch student M.M.* studying international law, said: “There is a huge gap between a Dutch student here and internationals. We experience it ourselves, because in the first year and second year for our bachelor we were put in a class with international students and there was a huge gap, because all the international students knew each other, and we [Dutch students] were there thinking ‘what to do?’; and you kind of isolate yourself then.”
Similarly, Dutch student Lianne Pit, studying for a Masters in German Education, said she believes the interaction is limited as knowing the Dutch people in her class leads her to stick with them.
Most of the students indicated language as the main cause of the divide.
Tjitske Kommerie, a Dutch student studying with Lianne, said “it can be hard, especially when your English isn’t that good or when you are nervous about speaking in English because you think it’s not good enough to make yourself understandable.”
Wouter Baas, a Dutch student from the same course, is also bothered by the necessity of using English with internationals as they do not learn Dutch. “My opinion is that, when you come here to study you also have to show some interest in the country you are moving to. Not a lot of international students do this, learning the language and not stay in their international bubble and not expecting everybody to speak in English,” he said.
Arno Hegedus, a Hungarian student of International Law, hopes to be able to create long lasting friendships with Dutch students and to connect with their culture.
However, on this matter Wouter Baas replied, “These kind of relations can only exist if you can master the language very well. We talk now in a very formal way […] but if you talk about personal feelings and so on, it’s very difficult, for me at least, to do this in English.”
Arno Hegedus and Ife Bolaji, a fellow classmate from Nigeria, believe this division could be reduced if international students were given more chances to learn Dutch. “Language is the way to someone’s heart,” concluded Bolaji.
*Chooses to remain anonymous