Research shows that international students find it difficult to connect with Dutch people, have problems finding accommodation and suffer from psychological stress. Can students at the UvA relate?
International students have a hard time finding their way in the Netherlands, according to a national survey conducted by the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO), the National Student Union (LSVb) and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). 1,002 students of which 660 are European and 342 are non-European completed the questionnaire.
The majority (68,5 per cent) of students are ‘satisfied’ to ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of teaching at Dutch universities. They are less positive about interaction with Dutch students. No less than 75,2 per cent said they would ‘like to have more contact’ with Dutch people. Social integration is also lacking, especially during lectures. A third of students reported difficulties finding accommodation, and 40 per cent of international students suffer from ‘moderate to extreme’ psychological problems during their stay in the Netherlands.
Three international students spoke with Folia about their own experiences with these issues. Are the Dutch really that hard to befriend and can they relate to this loneliness?
Georgiana Baciu (23, Communication Sciences) from Romania
‘Most of my friends are international. The only Dutch friends I have I know through the student association AIESEC. I know many other Dutch people through my studies, but we’re not friends. They stick together and speak Dutch so it’s difficult to interrupt them in English.
I have friends who are lonely, yes. And in the beginning I was lonely too. When I was studying in England, there were posters all over campus explaining how to get mental help. Student psychologists were free. The fact the issue is out in the open makes it easier to realise that perhaps you could benefit from this help. The approach is different in the Netherlands where you must actively seek help. I think the problem with this is that it requires you first to acknowledge that you’re lonely, and this is a step too far for most students.’
Lars Svensmark (27, Journalism, Media and Globalization) from Denmark
‘I wouldn’t have any Dutch friends without my student association. It’s really the best way to meet people. During lectures, everyone is busy with his own life which I understand: I was like that in Denmark. However, in Denmark, there are volleyball, rugby and rowing clubs. In Denmark, a student association is related to a particular study. There, I was member of a journalism association and so always with the same people. In the Netherlands there is no such thing.
I feel at home here. I think it’s difficult for many international students because upon moving they lose a group of friends they may have had all their lives. I moved a lot in my life, so I know what it’s like to start over again. I think I am just as happy here as I would be in Denmark.’
Jens Kleefeld (26, Data Science) from Germany
‘I think it’s fairly easy for me as a German to make contact with Dutch people, we have many characteristics in common. But what really helped me was joining a student association. I’m lucky to play in a volleyball club — and only because the training sessions were in August and I happened to be there on time. It would be useful if the UvA communicated these things things better. If you sign up in October for instance, it’s often too late.
It takes a while before you share personal stories with new people so yes, it can be lonely. I also had to get used to the difference between German and Dutch education. Here, I have a deadline every Sunday, which causes me a lot of stress. How do Dutch students still have free time?
I would recommend that students with mental problems seek out a counsellor. The UvA recently sent me an email about their mental health services. That’s a good start, but they should have sent it earlier, not eight months into the study year.’
Do you ever feel lonely on campus? Please share your experiences in the comment section below and join the discussion.