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“I was panicking: would I still have the chance to make friends?”

“I was panicking: would I still have the chance to make friends?”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Jonathan Vos, archive ISAP

Maastricht buddies and their freshmen

MAASTRICHT. Julia Schneider, a first-year student of European Studies (ES), fell sick last September with a throat infection. “I had to go and see a doctor, but I didn’t know: should I make an appointment, would he or she would speak English, would I have to pay? Luckily I was able to call Hannah, and she gave me the name of her own doctor.” Hannah is Hannah Patterson, one of the 31 ‘buddies’ who help non-EU first-year students to integrate in Maastricht and solve any practical problems they may face. Today, Thursday 30 October, there will be a conference - The first National Buddy Day - about this topic in Maastricht.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in October. Julia Schneider is drinking coffee in the Student Services Centre with Vanessa Ntinu, a first-year European Studies student from Kenya, and their buddy Hannah Patterson, a second-year European Studies student from Britain.

The two freshmen experienced a huge culture shock when they arrived in Maastricht this autumn. “It’s so liberal here”, sighs Ntinu. “I’ve never seen so many people smoking in the open. If people smoke in Kenya they do it secretly.” And the fact that you have to pay for ketchup in McDonald’s, for the bathroom in the Alla and Feesfabrik, and even for tap water in restaurants; the two newcomers had never seen that before. Fortunately, Patterson guided them through their first weeks in Maastricht. “Before I came I was nervous. My visa took so long that I couldn’t make the Inkom. I was panicking: would I still have the chance to make friends?”, explains Ntinu. “Hannah reassured me that everything would be okay. And she was right.” Although Schneider was born and raised in the West, she too had her worries. “Will I like it? Will it be different? Will I make friends? I come from so far away and it’s so different here. The Dutch have a different outlook on life; they’re direct, straightforward, more realistic. Canadians are not direct, we behave more like the Brits, we’re more positive.” 

At home in Canada, Schneider has driven a car since she was sixteen. Maastricht is too small for a car. But how do you get to a party in the Brusselsepoort, for example? By bus? Then how do you get back home late at night, when the buses have stopped running? A bike would be better, the three argue. But Ntinu and Patterson have never been on a bike. Schneider is learning, but needs “more confidence”. A cycling course would definitely be helpful.

Dinner party

Two weeks later, around 8.30 pm on a Monday evening, late October. The front door of a student house at the Tongerseweg is wide open. Buddy Kilian Crone, a third-year Economics student from Germany, is organising a dinner party for students from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Belgium, China and India. Daisy Luo, a first-year Economics student from China, is standing over the stove making something that smells delicious. Crone contacts her every week. “He always asks me how I’m going. I like that, it feels like someone is taking care of me. He’s helped me to find useful websites, a study strategy, etc.” Then, looking around: “This feels like an international family. I made some Chinese friends, but here I have the chance to broaden my horizons and meet people from elsewhere.”

Crone offers drinks while his guests talk about their favourite activity, organised by the International Student Ambassador Programme (ISAP): the cave tour near Sint Pieter. “I didn’t know Maastricht had an underground city. During the Second World War people actually lived there.” Tendai Sibanda, a first-year student of the Science Programme from Zimbabwe, shows some of the pictures he took. His Belgian buddy Laurens Schroyens, a second-year student of the Science Programme, is sitting next to him. He loves the international community, meeting people and showing them around. That’s why he became a buddy. “Last year I was able to help out so many fellow students because I speak Dutch.” Sibanda thinks it’s an advantage that they are doing the same programme. “We can talk about the assignments; he knows what we need to do and gives us feedback.” Will they become friends in the end? Sibanda: “He is a friend. This buddy is a buddy”, he laughs. “It’s mutual”, Schroyens responds.

By 9.30 pm the German–Chinese dinner – Crone has made beef goulash, potatoes and red cabbage – is almost ready. Rajarshi Chakraborty, an Indian national who was born and raised in Ukraine but spent the last two years in Dubai, is hungry. This first-year student of International Business heard he would have a buddy two weeks before he travelled to Maastricht. “It gave me a lot of confidence to know I would have someone to direct my questions to.” But after the international night at UM he made so many friends that he feels a buddy – although still nice – is no longer a necessity.  

Mother tongue

Crone hopes the buddy system will support the International Classroom at UM:, that it will we be the next step to a real international environment. “The Science Programme is really international, but at the School of Business and Economics it isn’t working like it should.” Kettie Sambu, a Kenyan student who has been studying economics and business since August, knows exactly what Crone means. “I have quite a lot of friends. But at SBE it’s hard to communicate with Germans, Dutch and Belgians. They all speak in their mother tongue when they’re together.”

Sambu will definitely sign up to be a buddy next year. “I know how hard it is to start out in a foreign country. I have a friend in Kenya who wants to come to Maastricht. I’m helping her with her application right now.” She isn’t the only one. Julia Schneider and Vanessa Ntinu also want to become buddies. And no, says Schneider – you don’t only need Dutch students as buddies. “It’s good to have non-Europeans. Every problem a freshman has, we had it.”  





What is a buddy?

Starting this year, non-EU first-year students who arrived in August 2014 were given a ‘buddy’: a bachelor’s or master’s student who can help them to integrate in Maastricht and solve any practical problem they may face. The project is organised by the International Student Ambassador Programme (ISAP), part of UM’s International Classroom 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.

Buddies can expect to dedicate at least four to five hours per week to their partner: meeting for coffee, replying to emails, going to the movies and meeting up with friends. They are not paid, but 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. 

Today, 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? Time: 10.30. Location: School of Business and Economics, Tongersestraat 53



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