King’s Day is coming up. On the 27th of April, the Dutch celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s birthday by selling their old belongings on flea markets, going to festivals set up in all big cities, drinking beer and of course dressing in orange. Do international students in Maastricht celebrate their heritage? And do they take pride in whatever nationality they may be? Law student Amira Eid (half Swiss, half Jordanian) tried to find out.
Let’s face it: not a lot of people look good in orange. This harsh reality does not keep hundreds of thousands of people from bedazzling themselves in everything orange annually on King’s Day though, an exercise through which they express their Dutch pride (and probably justify their gathering Dutch Courage to help them pull off wacky get-ups). But King’s Day draws costume enthusiasts from beyond Dutch borders, and sees international students go oranje mad just as well.
Though the degree to which this particular event reflects cultural appreciation is debatable, it is worth addressing the cultural aspect when considering UM’s diverse student body. Do students consciously celebrate multiculturalism? How do they express their own heritage in daily life, and is that emphasized by their being abroad?
To start out, valuing traditions and being proud of one’s nationality are two quite different phenomena. One may be nostalgic about norms he/she grew up with, which may or may not indicate their ethnicity or nationality, but that does not necessarily reflect pride in the message a passport sends. FASOS student Etienne Bertin remains unsure as to the extent to which he takes pride in being French; “I just do not know. I mean, I would not die for my country.” Nonetheless, the Frenchman finds it necessary to scorn at any Dutch attempt at baking croissants, or restaurant menus that offer, what he calls, “disgraceful Frinch Brickfaast.”
Others have reached more concrete conclusions. Brazilian Alexandre Vissoky puts it quite simple: “I see nationality as an artificial social construct and a mere random happening; I haven’t done anything to achieve my nationality.” Vissoky hence defines pride in terms of personal achievement. Sceptical of the idea, law student Oliver Urbanowicz says; “I’m not proud of America as it is, but I’m proud of America as I grew up believing it to be, and I’m proud of what I know it can become.” He indicates how the perception and relative importance of nationality is a subjective as well as a personal matter.
But does the multicultural student reality of Maastricht create a bubble, a blob of intercultural appreciation bred and fostered by students, or will the curious mind discover other cultures while ascertaining the inviolability of its own? “It’s kind of like having a sibling. They’re hard to appreciate when you’re around, but still, no one gets to talk crap about them,” says Irish law student Alechia Dawson. “I think you grow to be more protective of what you consider to be a product of your own culture when you’re away. Take St. Patrick’s Day in Maastricht. Because there isn’t much going on, at first you might forget it. But once you do remember it, you make a point of wearing green and pointing it out to other people. Oh, and no, it’s not called ‘St.Paddy’s’!”
May one then derive that, though they might not be attached to an abstract concept such as nationality, norms associated with it play a significant role in breeding an inherent connection? Bertin has implied as much in relation to food. The element of conversation, be it about food or festivals, cannot be understated either. Fellow law student Lovro Nobilo, for instance, attributes his “always talking about Croatia all the time” to growing up largely outside his home country. “I will always find a connection to Croatia that I can mention in conversation. I think that is definitely because I’m away- you can only stop me from that habit when I’m actually in Croatia for a change!”
Food forms an easy means through which cultural differences can be explored. Frequently held intercultural dinners at venues such as the InnBetween also indicate the general fascination with this act of sharing experiences. Brazilian Vissoky: “My relationship with ‘maté’, the South American tea, has changed; I used to drink it occasionally with my father, but now it has become my personal tradition.” Similarly, any student with a Middle Eastern background will frown upon “white people paste” that claims to be hummus; the chickpea dip does not contain curry. Or avocado (how could you?!).
European Studies student Claudia Ungarelli furthers this image, as well as that of Maastricht as a culture hub. “When you put together a Saudi Arabian, a bunch of Italians, Germans, a Palestinian and a Swede, that’s when dinner is served.”
Perhaps the importance of food in this process stems from the feeling of home it transmits to students; coming home to eat dinner with the family is a tradition in its own right. Also likely is the aforementioned idea of “sharing”; it is through discussion that we further expound upon our differences, and thus simultaneously demonstrate an appreciation for our own cultural heritage and express and inherent connection to it that may or may not be rooted in nationality- and like so, we learn.