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Foto: Wessel Wierda

Welcome for Caribbean students: “Being on time is very important in the Netherlands”

Wessel Wierda,
30 augustus 2023 - 10:50
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The municipality of Amsterdam held a welcome meeting for new students from the Caribbean on Thursday afternoon. What is it like for them to study here? “You lose the sense of community of the island, but you get independence in return.”

Compare it to this, says prospective UvA student Jheirhen-Armani France (Communication Studies, 21), “In Sint Maarten you are a big fish in a small pond, and in Amsterdam you are a small fish in a big pond.” A fundamental difference. “You lose the sense of community of the island, but you get independence in return,” adds the Sint Maarten native.

“In the beginning, I still had a bit of culture shock”

The transition from the familiar and convivial life on one of the Caribbean islands to the (often) unfamiliar Netherlands could probably not be expressed more aptly. “In the beginning, I still had a bit of culture shock,” says Jheirhen-Armani, who has now lived in the Netherlands for one year. “But it's all part of growing up.” 


And then there is the Dutch weather... “Also an experience in itself,” laughs Jheirhen-Armani. He had never experienced such a “freezing winter” as here. On St Maarten, the mercury rarely falls below 20°C during the entire year. More often, it is 30°C or warmer, just like in Aruba and Curaçao.  


With all this in mind, the city center organized an annual welcome meeting in the (political) heart of Amsterdam on Thursday afternoon, hoping to ease the entry of arriving UvA, VU and HvA students from the Caribbean somewhat. In the solemn conference room of the Amsterdam City Council, newcomers, under the inspiring leadership of moderator Tanja Fraai, were able to get to know each other better and get tips from Antilleans who have come to live, study, or work in the Netherlands before.

“If, for example, you have to catch the tram at noon, and you arrive one minute early, things go wrong!”

Brain drain

A remarkably frequently mentioned piece of advice is to “arrive on time.” Among others, Jheirhen-Armani pitches it in the plenary session, as does Aruba's minister plenipotentiary, Juan Edberto Thijsen. “Being on time is very important in the Netherlands, both as a student and at work,” says Thijsen. “If, for example, you have to catch the tram at noon, and you arrive one minute early, things go wrong!”

The afternoon also focuses a lot on the brain drain the Caribbean islands are facing. The plenipotentiary ministers of Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curaçao would all like the students who will soon be studying in Amsterdam to give something back to the societies they are leaving behind, their input in the council chamber shows.


“Or in the Netherlands for that matter,” Curaçao's minister plenipotentiary Carlson Manuel quickly adds. “Let me set that straight, because here you can also do something for your country,” he says,  reemphasizing: “Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curaçao need you.”


No language barrier

Incidentally, the transition to the Netherlands was not difficult for everyone, it turned out earlier in the afternoon. For prospective UvA student Alexandra (Economics and Business Economics, 19), the transition from Aruba, where she grew up, to Amsterdam was not so big at all, she told Folia. She does not suffer from a language barrier. In conversations with passers-by, she switches effortlessly from fluent Dutch to English to Papiamentu, depending on what suits the listener best.

She also has a lot of family and friends living in the Netherlands, such as her sister in Groningen, with whom she is now temporarily living. But she knows by now that that city is not just down the road: “Groningen is very far away from Amsterdam.” Fortunately, just before starting her studies, she will be able to move into a container house in Amsterdam-East, relatively close to the UvA Faculty of Economics building.

“Practically everyone knows each other on Sint Maarten”

Why did she choose Amsterdam? “I wanted to move to a big city, with more people, more opportunities, and more cultures. Aruba is just a small country.” She is open to what the future will bring her. She did not know yesterday that she would be at this welcome meeting today, but yes, she thought this morning, “Let's check it out. I'm new here in Amsterdam, so why not?”



What particularly lingers afterwards is the fellowship among the attendees, which clearly runs through all generations and ranks. Sint Maarten's minister plenipotentiary, Rene Violenus, jokes and laughs a bit with Jheirhen-Armani. He invariably calls him “Armani.”


They see each other regularly, they say, like recently at a barbecue in The Hague. Minister Violenus comments: “Practically everyone knows each other on Sint Maarten, and if not, they know their parents or other family members. Many activities are also organized for Sint Maarten residents here in the Netherlands. So it turns out that the sense of community of the Caribbean islands is not entirely lost when crossing the Atlantic.