Foto: Daniël Rommens

‘You’ll have to cross a thick line to make Dutch friends’

Stella Vrijmoed,
27 februari 2019 - 11:43

This academic year, seven thousand international students are studying together with twenty-seven thousand Dutch students. Do they mingle socially? ‘Dutch people are never rude to me. But there’s a very thick line that you need to cross before you become friends.’

‘I’m glad that you bring this up, because I have been struggling in the beginning,’ says Karly Zaldívar (Communication Science) from Mexico. ‘Dutch students are not interested in making international friends, so you’ll have to make an effort. The responsibility is on your shoulders.’ Ed Holland (Music Studies) from England agrees. ‘You really have to make an effort to meet Dutch students. At some point I made a Facebook group where I posted events that I would attend. I asked everyone to join and just see who would show up. It worked out quite well, actually.’


In Karly’s Masters there were a few Dutch students, ‘but they were allowed to submit their assignments in Dutch as well, so they preferred to work together.’ On the other hand, international students are drawn to each other as well. ‘Making international student friends is easy, because everyone is in need of a friend. Maybe we appear too greedy, haha!’

Foto: Privéarchief
Karly Zaldívar

A few hours a week at university

According to Karly, the university environment is in any case not a good place to make friends if you only have class a few hours a week. ‘The Dutch friends that I do have, I know because I work at Heineken. I worked there fulltime during my premasters.’ During her masters, Karly was International Student Ambassador at the UvA. She helped international students get to know their way at the university. ‘We advised to learn Dutch, at least a little, to show that you make the effort. I’ve noticed it’s also an icebreaker if you ask Dutch people how to pronounce something in Dutch.’


Karly doesn’t think the university is responsible for this problem. They just have to provide good education, she says. ‘As an international student, you really just have to keep trying. Making all the effort and taking all the time is completely worth it. Once you’ve crossed that thick line and you are friends with a Dutch person, it’s very cool. So if you’re interested, do it!’


Work environment

Ed thinks the problem is the university. ‘The UvA is much more of a work environment. People show up at lectures and go home again to do their own stuff. In England it’s like a whole experience that you go through together, at least on my course. I studied in Southampton. You live on campus, and there is one area of the city where everything is together and where all events are student-focused. In Amsterdam there are way more places to go.’


The bad visibility of student associations in the Netherlands is a problem, says Nena Grob, Integration Coordinator at the International Student Network (ISN). ‘When you look at sport clubs, those are completely Dutch and it’s hard to get in as an international student. We are actually in some sort of a transitional phase. There is a process of restructuring going on in which more and more student organizations are starting to communicate in English as well.’

‘Here, people show up at lectures and go home again to do their own stuff. In England it’s like a whole experience that you go through together, at least on my course’

Improving the integration of international student is one of the goals of ISN, Nena says. ‘But it is still difficult, because Dutch students already have their own place and their own friends. It takes time and effort to invest in friendships with international students who will leave anyway, especially with exchange students.’ But also, full time bachelor students from abroad are in their own bubble, according to Nena. ‘Once you’ve met people to hang out with, then they’re usually international students, because they are in the same boat. That’s just the way it goes. It is only after a while that you realize that you’ve only had international friends. At least that’s my experience during my exchange in Toronto.’


In any case, the ISN tries to make international students feel comfortable and introduce them with Dutch culture by organizing an introductory week, a buddy program and Dutch movie nights with English subtitles.



But it’s still a bit of a struggle how to make these events appealing to Dutch students. ‘Most Dutch students who are involved with the ISN, studied abroad themselves, like me,’ Nena says. ‘Before my exchange, I had never heard of the ISN. It is because of this that we are thinking of ways to attract Dutch students, for instance by offering committees to organize things for the ISN.’


Even while being Integration Coordinator, Nena thinks ‘integration’ is not an accurate term. ‘Integrating is often seen as the job of an incoming person. But in my opinion it’s something where both parties need to invest in.’