MAASTRICHT. Exactly 31 senior-year students officially started working as buddies at the end of August. They each take one or more of the 120 non-EU newcomers under their wings. The first cups of coffee have already been downed.
From this year on, non-EU first-year students who arrived in August were given a ‘buddy’: a bachelor’s or master’s student who can help them to integrate in Maastricht and solve any practical problems they may face. The International Student Ambassador Programme (ISAP), part of the UM’s International Classroom project, has set up the project. ISAP tries 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.
At the moment, there are 31 buddies. It’s a diverse group, with representatives from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and other countries. Dutch master’s student of Corporate and Commercial Law, Lisa Maes, is one of them. She is helping five students from China, Albania, the United States, India and Mauritius to bridge the gap between the Netherlands and the international world. “Last year I did the master’s of Human Rights at the UM and I was part of a very international group. I find all those different perspectives fascinating and it provides interesting discussions. Then I did a traineeship in The Hague, with Justice and Peace, an organisation that provides human rights activists from countries such as Pakistan, Rwanda or Congo an opportunity to relax and recover in the Netherlands for a few months. It is a great eye-opener to see what these people come up against in the Netherlands. It starts with cooking: when do you eat a hot meal, what do you eat, we eat different things. Public transport is also a tricky point. How does it work? I see it again with these students.”
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. It was an intuitive choice to become a buddy, says Kilian Crone, a third-year bachelor’s student of Economics from Germany. He is responsible for six students (“it’s above the average”) from countries including India, Thailand, China and Turkey. “My start in Maastricht was a little bumpy. I didn’t know the city, didn’t know how I couId spend my free time. We’re not on a campus university, so you have a lot more possibilities. I want to transfer this information to them all.” Being a buddy is also a “challenge” for Crone. “Now I can experience how much it really matters the way you communicate in an international environment.”
Buddies are not being 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 educational institutes have little experience in the long-term use of buddies. Many faculties have them, but only for one or two weeks during the introduction.
On 30 October, there will be a National Buddy Day in Maastricht. One of the main topics is how to inspire Dutch students to become buddies. And how can buddy programmes bring more Dutch and international students together?