MAASTRICHT. Non-EU first-year students who arrive in August will be given a ‘buddy’ for one year: a bachelor’s or master’s student who can help them to integrate in Maastricht and solve practical problems they may face.
The International Student Ambassador Programme (ISAP), part of UM’s International Classroom project, is already recruiting students who are willing to become buddies. They can be Dutch or foreign, explains Jan Hoffmann, who will soon graduate from Law and is one of the people involved in ISAP. “It would be nice to have Dutch buddies because they know the culture and the language. It would improve integration and could break through the international bubble most foreign students live in.” But international buddies would be good too: they know what it’s like to be a foreigner in the Netherlands.
ISAP aims to match students from the same faculty, so that buddies can also help with study-related questions: how to register for an exam, how to plan courses and so on. “The student ambassador must know Maastricht. You must have been here for at least one year and of course you need to be open to intercultural exchange”, says Hoffmann. Buddies can expect to dedicate at least four to five hours per week to their partner: meeting for a coffee, replying to emails, going to the movies and meeting up with friends. In addition, there will be a mix and mingle event on a regular basis for all people involved in the programme. A buddy can be paired with a maximum of three first-year students.
The buddies will not be paid, but will benefit from two workshops (Intercultural Awareness and Leadership Training), free drinks at the mix and mingle events, coffee vouchers and a certificate signed by the rector and the dean of internationalisation.
These kinds of programmes are common in the United Kingdom. By contrast, Dutch education institutes have little experience in the long-term use of buddies. Many faculties do use them, but only for one or two weeks during the introduction. To promote genuine integration longer term programmes are needed, as the student union LSVb pointed out during the recent Buddy Coordinator Day in Eindhoven.
The choice has been made to begin with first-year, non-EU bachelor’s students, as these hundred or so students tend to be young and encounter the biggest culture shock when arriving in Maastricht. In the future, ISAP hopes to expand the programme to other groups of newcomers.