A place for Indonesian students to feel like home

By Oscar Cheng-Kai Wu and Yujia Yang

The chill brought by the drizzle and the wind squeezes through every layer of fabric. The weather shows no mercy for those who came to join the annual Indonesian culture festival called “Indonesian Day” that takes place at the Zernike campus. Despite the freezing temperatures, the atmosphere inside is filled with joy and warmth.

“Indonesian Day” is one of the most important events of the Indonesian student association in Groningen. It is held between March and May every year, aiming to create a place that feels like home for Indonesian people in Groningen, and to promote their culture to international people.

“We want to showcase the Indonesian culture that we are proud of, through a varied spectrum of culinary aspects and cultural performances, and to experience some traditional activities like wearing traditional clothes,” says Shania Aurrelle, the chief organizer of the event.

“Indonesia is a huge country with people representing diverse cultures. We try to accommodate as much talent as possible in this event,” she adds.

Discovering the undiscovered culture is the underlying goal of this event. The bazaar and the dinner that come afterwards connect newcomers and entrench family ties and friendships. Shania adds: “Families and Indonesian students from other cities in the Netherlands and from all over Europe come to Groningen to participate.”

“Not only we wish for Indonesian students and residents in Groningen to connect with each other, but we also want to reach out to international friends,” says Shania, who also organized the same event last year. “We are more influential now. Last year, there were not many international people. But this year, I am surprised to have so many international people joining.”

More money, more connections

Another important event that bonds the Indonesian diaspora together is the athletic “Groenscup”, scheduled to take place on April 20th and 21st. The competition accommodates many kinds of sports, such as badminton, football, and table tennis, as well as Esports.

“We can say that ‘Groenscup’ is the biggest sport event for Indonesian students in Europe. Last year, 18 Indonesian student associations across Europe came to Groningen to participate in the games. They even flew in from London and Manchester,” says Risyad Zafran Alghifari, chairman of the Indonesian student association.   

Risyad continues: “We have established ties with other Indonesian associations across Europe through these special events. It is our goal to expand and reach out to more people outside the group.” 

Groningen’s Indonesian student association has grown rapidly in the past few years. It now has around 300 members. “However, we still encounter difficulties, such as conflicting schedules inside our organization and lack of sponsorships,” explains Risyad. “We still manage to pull through it. We hope our university can allocate more funding that will help us expand and connect with more people.”

Risyad thinks that besides the two biggest events every year, there are other smaller activities and events that could benefit from extra funding. “For example, there are other Indonesian organizations in Groningen, not just student associations. So, we want them to cooperate. For example, religious groups could connect with each other by holding a religious festival.”

“All we want is to make Indonesians feel like home in Groningen.”

Introducing The Stand Off: The Stand’s First Live Broadcast!

Welcome!

We came back from our hiatus with a brand new journalistic endeavour: radio. The last few weeks we, the 18 journalists in training at the University of Groningen, have worked very hard to put together our first ever live radio production. 

We, critical journalism students, have broadcasted an hour long show with the aim to challenge your perspectives during this festive period.

We discussed big topics such as the power of investigative journalists who were just coined the TIME’s person of the year, the future of journalism, and media representation. To lighten the mood we also presented stories on love, Christmas, and the everlasting banter between our two pairs of hosts. 

It aired on Thursday the 20th of December at 2pm CET!

This show has been fully written and produced by students. The Stand Off had a team of 18 young students working around the clock. This show was created, curated and edited by William MacMaster and Hannah van der Wurff, the editors of the show. The first dynamic presenter duo consists of Valerie Scholtz and Benjie Beer and the second duo of Frank Verschuren and Anne de Vries. The two ladies running the studio are Annewil Schippers (studio producer) and Dimi Karapanagiotou (studio director). The fantastic foursome that put together the segments specifically produced for the show are Sophie Pizzimenti, Gabriele Cruciata, Natalie Lange and Rebekah Daunt. Out on the streets with a microphone and a million questions were Edward Szekeres, Clemence Waller, Juliane Glahn and Tadhg O’Sullivan, the live reporters. Without our social media team, consisting of Oscar Cheng-Kai, Wu and Yujia Yang, all of you, our listeners, would not have known the show was even happening. 

Enjoy!


Teachers’ Working Conditions are Students’ Learning Conditions

By Natalie Lange

In Groningen, the quality of higher education is at stake. University professors are challenged by the rising number of students every year: the classes grow like weed and the workload goes
through the roof.

Juggling their time between research and education, university teachers struggle to find enough time to properly prepare their lectures. In their fight against time, they recycle lecture material from years ago by simply reusing them. “It would be better for the students and myself to dive into something new, but the problem is that you get less time for the same tasks”, says Thijs Lijster (36), an assistant professor in Philosophy of Art and Culture.

The overwhelming workload of university teachers not only threatens to affect the quality of education offered to students, overcrowded lecture and seminar halls also contribute their fair share. The rising number of students in classes makes it impossible for teachers to properly give feedback to each student individually. The World University Rankings estimates twenty-four students per member of staff at the RUG, while it is half of the students per staff at the University of Amsterdam.

Overcrowded lectures are on the daily agenda for psychology teachers and students. This year’s
number of new bachelor students went through the roof, counting 800 new international psychology students compared to 400 students in 2015.

The movement WOinActie (Higher Education in Action) creates awareness about the increased
workload and lack of investment in university education throughout the country. Attached to the
clothes by a safety pin, a red square of fabric functions as a sign in public space.

However, Barend van Heusden (61), director of Humanities at the University College Groningen,
thinks that at the RUG not many professors or students know about the red square and its meaning due to the lack of information. At the opening ceremony of the academic year, professors were offered to wear the red square. But, as many did not know the symbolic meaning behind the piece of fabric, “the protest failed miserably”, says Barend van Heusden.

Back in September only four to five professors actively tried to raise awareness about overcrowded lectures, increasing workload for teachers, and the lack of funding. Barend van Heusden believes that other professors would also endorse the ongoing protest if they knew about it and weren’t swamped with work.

Only a few weeks later, things changed for the better when RUG professors participated in the
national action week of WOinActie, running from the 24th till the 28th of September, holding open-air lectures to draw attention to the breaking point of higher education.

Sitting in the same boat, more professors and students in Groningen started to wear the red square in hope to change the devastating working and studying conditions at the RUG.


 

Severe Flooding Hits Capital of Taiwan

By Oscar Cheng-Kai, Wu

 

A storm has caused flash flooding in the Taiwanese capital. According to local media and several sources, no casualties have been reported, but the flooding is disrupting daily life. The Stand spoke to a professor who specializes in urban planning to understand the issue.

Charles Lee, a sociology student from the National Taiwan University, said that “It is dangerous to ride my motorbike on those flooding sections because it either risks the whole bike to shut down due to water cooling, or me falling down on the slippery ground and thus injuring myself. So I decided to take a walk, though it takes about one hour instead of 15 minutes on normal days.”

It is estimated that more than 4 inches of water poured into the city. Some regions in the city had been choked by 2 inches of muddy water.

Flash flooding had spilled over the surface and almost reached the entrance of underground tunnels. Many entrances and exits of the system had been closed by the Metro Rapid Transit, Taipei’s subway system beforehand.

Some of the city’s areas reported extreme traffic congestion. In other flooded regions, people were trapped on isle-like high grounds, waiting for the water that surrounded them to draw away.

Vun Kong-Ti, a NTU student who majors in politics said: “Luckily, I avoided the flooding by staying on high ground that night.”

Kong-Ti later told the Stand about what should be done in order to free the city from the curse of occasional flooding, “The city needs a revolutionary renovation that does focus on reducing the impact of the inevitable future flooding on people’s daily life.”

Professor Liao Kuei-Hsien, who specializes in urban planning and water management, offers her assessment of the cause: “The infrastructure is outdated and only serves the purpose of guiding the water out as rapidly as possible. But it no longer works in times of extreme downpouring like this.”

“We spend a lot of budget on transforming the river in order to guide the current. By removing obstacles along the river, we actually make things worse because it will result in the flash flooding in the downstream which is exactly the problem that our capital has” she said.

She suggested there should be a shift of perception for both policymakers and ordinary people: “The authority should review the spatial planning and people’s perceptions need to change.” she also suggested. “People need to accept flooding is actually inevitable during times like this and adjust their lifestyle to a more flooding-resilient fashion.”


 

Divide Between Dutch and International Students?

By Sophie Pizzimenti

 

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.

Lianne Pit, Wouter Baas, Tjitske Kommerie and Niklas Kingman

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

No House or Bad House?

By Benjie Beer

 

While debate rages over the lack of student housing in Groningen this year, the question is: is all the housing on offer worth it?

In a large, dark, musky room, Max Müller, 19, a Bachelors student from Germany, points to a set of pipes that jut intrusively from the wall. With no overhead lighting present, he then scans the torch from his phone over the ceiling, finding several holes where polystyrene boards once covered the filth-encrusted wires and rusty piping. On the sill of a window with no latch lie several mouse droppings, and in the corner is an enormous hole that falls through to the floor below. Overlooking the pained scene are the words written large on the wall: ‘VIP Area’.

‘This is what they gave us,’ says Müller with a dejected sigh. ‘And we all hate it’.

Müller and his nine housemates were among many new students who thought they had struck it lucky by signing for a house in Groningen only to find the reality that awaited was anything but fortunate. Their ‘flat’ is a disused nightclub, stripped of its bars and most of its furniture; the air is dusty, damp and cold, and the surfaces are decorated with an endless assortment of chemical stains. Whatever aspirations these students may have had for healthy living are now as trampled as the dirt that lines the floorboards – where, indeed, there are floorboards at all.

‘There is mould everywhere,’ says Isi Dimitriadis, 24, a Masters student from Greece. ‘We don’t have heaters or proper internet. We even found a dead bat when we moved in… They just don’t care about us.’

When it comes to student housing, the debate in Groningen this year has centred almost entirely around the lack of it. What has gone largely undiscussed is the terrible state of some of the housing students do have.

The Groningen Municipality Council will meet tonight to discuss new measures to tackle rogue landlords, in particular a proposed law that would issue landlords licenses that can be revoked if they misbehave. The immediate problem, however, is that, were a license to be revoked, the tenants would have to leave the property.

‘While I think this is a good idea,’ says Müller, ‘there should be some sort of support for the students if they are ejected.’

‘It is really appalling, no matter what,’ argues Dimitriadis. ‘If I had known it would be like this, I would never have come.’


 

Folkingestraat Unsafe Space for Everyone

By Annewil Schippers

 

With its combination of wandering tourists, commuters hurrying to the central station, strolling window-shoppers and ruthless university students on bikes, Groningen’s Folkingestraat is notorious for its poor accessibility. Add confusing traffic rules and it’s the perfect recipe for the most dangerous street in the city. 

In the Folkingestraat chaos, Clemence Waller, a French student at RUG, was run over by a cyclist last week. “I was seriously injured. This street is way too dangerous and I don’t understand how it works.” 

Another group of young tourists, Muna Osman (Germany), Redha Benseddik (France) and David Grössl (The Netherlands) explain that they find the traffic situation confusing. “Why the hell are there cyclists here?” says David. 

It is not just tourists and international visitors who are skeptical of the traffic situation, but also locals. 

Stadjer Geertruida Noorman has had a front row view on Folkingestraat for years, because she is a regular customer at Huis de Beurs at the end of street. “There should be way more regulation. The current situation is not clear enough.” Noorman has witnessed many accidents over the past year. 

Folkingestraat
Noorman was in an accident herself at a similar situation in the narrow and busy Poelestraat recently, where she collided with a cyclist and sprained her wrist.

Locals Pelle van Vliet and Henk van Dam agree with Noorman and mention that they witnessed a serious collision between two cyclists several days ago. 

Folkingestraat
Pelle van Vliet (left) and Henk van Dam (third left) spend many hours of the week watching the traffic in Folkingestraat.

The busy shopping street, which consists of a brick cycling lane and narrow sidewalks at the same level, has long been a troublesome area and therefore Gemeente Groningen has made efforts to improve it by means of a “shared space” in one section of the street in April 2017.

The idea, inspired by the shared space zones in Leeuwarden, entails a spatial experiment that removes any traffic regulations and forces both cyclists and pedestrians to use the same lane. The accompanying report explains that the two main ideas behind the experiment are that its chaotic nature forces road users to be more careful and encourages cyclists to choose an alternative route.

Whether the idea has been successful remains disputed. “I guess the danger lies in the fact that the regulation is inconsistent. I would argue for a complete implementation of shared space or no implementation at all,” says Van Dam.

The Gemeente Groningen Spatial Planning department did not respond to attempts to reach them for a comment.


Student City Groningen a Curse or Blessing?

By Valerie Scholz

 

Each year a wave of new students floods into Groningen, which is currently already home to about 60,000 students. Groningen’s locals or “Stadjers” have to share their city and brace their nerves.

Groningen; Oosterstraat; 2 AM: the air is buzzing with sounds. Slurred shouts and ringing laughter echo off the facades, mixing with the sharp noise of cavalry horse hoofbeats on the pavement. A vomiting girl is crouching in the shadow of a narrow alleyway.

The sidewalk resembles a maze, carelessly parked or fallen-over bicycles creating dangerous tripping hazards for pedestrians. A state of madness? No, just an ordinary weekend night in the student city of Groningen.

Daniel Stok works at the fast-food kiosk ‘Big Snack Hoek‘ on the corner of Oosterstraat and remarks that students become a plague, “when they go out at night, drink a lot of alcohol and use drugs.” Stok witnesses police interventions and conflicts “almost every week.”

Not only their ceaseless party-spirit can make students a nuisance to Stadjers, their poor performance on the busy bike lanes drive residents mad. Stadjer Meeke Breemhaan is astonished that “especially the students from abroad just can’t ride a bike!”

Stadjer Ralph Lindeman worries “young people don’t care as much to keep the city clean.” Although the police charges penalties as high as €140 for littering, empty beer cans and wine bottles can be spotted in entryways of houses or next to overflowing trash cans.

Psychology student Raima Harding is aware of students’ impact on the city of Groningen. She understands the frequent discontent due to disturbances in the locals’ daily routines. Nevertheless, she remains confident that “students from different cultures are bringing liveliness and something new, exciting to the city.”

Lastly, most of Groningen’s Stadjers also see the potential for their city deriving from the many young minds. And in spite of regular indifferences, they stay positive. Big Snack Hoek‘ employee Daniel Stok sees an advantage, as “students are very good for the business.”

The Hotel Schimmelpenninck Front Office Manager* receives guest complaints concerning noise almost every day, but she remains serene: “people shouldn’t come here for a restful holiday,” she says, “we even inform about the noise on our website.”

Master student Raima lastly suggests that international students should “embrace Dutch culture and language,” as this can lead to better mutual understanding and respect between Stadjers and students.


* Chooses to remain anonymous

Pepernoten

The Cookie that Divides the Nation

By Frank Verschuren

 

It is the end of summer, which means Dutch people are soaking up the last rays of sun embroiled in an annual divisive debate: is it moral to sell pepernoten already?

Excited customers scour De Pepernotenfabriek in droves, sampling pepernoten in a wide range of flavours – from ‘Bailey’s’ to ‘Tajine’ – as though it were the very first time a shop like this ever opened in Groningen.

That is the perk of a seasonal store: every year brings a new grand opening – a sense of novel yet familiar festive tingles for customers with a nostalgic bone.

One spicy, gingerbread-like whiff of a fresh batch of pepernoten and any Dutchman, old or new, hears the Sinterklaas songs swell from memories of winter’s past – along with visions of  snow gracing the windows of warm, cozy rooms filled with family and friends.

A pepernoot is so much more than a simple cookie.

“When I eat my first pepernoot of the year, I feel like I’m 10 years old again, snuggled by the fireplace with my Sinterklaas gifts,” says Janiev Azulai (26), as he reaches for a bag of chocolate-covered pepernoten, “It’s like winter in a bag.”

While many customers of the Pepernotenfabriek would agree with this sentiment, one look outside the store is enough to break the nostalgic spell cast by even the most fragrant pepernoot.

It is a blazing September day. People wear shorts and sunglasses, and shirtless students cycle to the nearby lake – beach towels tucked under their arms.

Should pepernoten be sold this early?

While some, like Janiev Azulai, could eat pepernoten all year round, others believe that companies selling pepernoten in the summer are eroding a Dutch tradition by stretching the window for seasonal products far beyond their moment, all in the name of profit.

“I’ll wait until December to eat my first pepernoot,” says Niels Boon (21), regarding the bustle at the Pepernotenfabriek with a look of disgust.

Can an outside perspective help to breach the stalemate?

Yunji Sun, an international student from China, can relate to the woes of the pepernoot-traditionalists.

In China, she explains, a popular snack called mooncake is eaten only during the annual mid-autumn festival.

“You could eat mooncake outside of the festivities,” she says, “But it would simply feel wrong.”

After trying her first pepernoot, however, she does not get what all the fuss is about anyway.

“They taste rather plain to me.”