Suppose you were born and bred in India, China, Mexico or Germany, and you choose to study at Maastricht University. You find yourself suddenly dealing with a different culture, language and study environment. The culture shock is often quite intense. The language centre has developed a Survival Skills for the PBL classroom and beyond course, especially for this group of new Bachelor's and Master's students.
The culture shock awaiting the many non-European students upon their arrival in the Netherlands, is often tremendous, says Language Centre manager, Ellen Krijnen. She previously worked for the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration and for the department of communication. In both positions, she had a great deal to do with foreign students. “Their integration is not always easy.” To do something about this, Deborah Nováková and Lesley Menzies – both working at the Language Centre and native speakers of English – developed an intensive course. This course not only brushes up on the newcomers’ English but also teaches them how to communicate in the PBL study groups (“this is often very difficult for many of the students from other cultures”), shows them how to work together with others and get used to deadlines, gives them tips about study strategies, and slowly brings the students in contact with their own disciplines – through specific assignments. “It gives them an advantage over the rest; they can start upon their studies with more confidence.”
The two-week course is scheduled for the beginning of August, just before the Inkom. “In those two weeks, the groups of up to fourteen people each, receive forty hours of lessons and are expected to do twenty hours of homework”, Nováková and Menzies explain. “The social aspect is very important. Newcomers meet new people even before the Inkom.”
But do students actually want to come to Maastricht that much earlier? Nováková: “We have been doing this for twelve years now, but until now courses were not as intensive and mostly focussed on language. Students now also learn about intercultural communication, which will be an asset for them for the rest of their studies and their careers.”
Menzies and Nováková emphasise that Dutch students are also very welcome. “By all means, in two weeks you can take your first steps from secondary-school English to university English.”
This is a pilot which will be continued in February 2010 – when a batch of Master's students will start. The students will need to pay themselves: 400 euros for 40 hours of lessons. “That is a mere ten euros per hour”, Ellen Krijnen calculates. She hopes, now that the briefings and brochures have been sent and the website is online, that the Maastricht faculties will also make some contribution. “And maybe the foreign universities, where the students come from, will pay for the course from their Erasmus funds.”