First International Buddy Day
MAASTRICHT. Breaking the ‘international bubble’ and building bridges between Dutch and foreign students. This is the aim of the buddy system, - already existing in Maastricht – which was discussed last Thursday during the First International Buddy Day. The event was organised by Maastricht University, the office for internationalisation in higher education Nuffic, the Erasmus Student Network, the student union LSVb and Eindhoven University of Technology.
If international students stay in their international bubble they miss out on a lot, said Martin Paul, the president of Maastricht University, at the opening of the conference. They don’t get involved in Dutch culture or speak Dutch, thereby decreasing their chances on the Dutch labour market. And that’s a pity, said Jos van Erp, programme director of High Tech NL and one of the speakers, because international workers are not only needed in the Netherlands, but also appreciate the “unique selling points” of the country. “Firstly, the non-hierarchical working structure: you may disagree with your superiors without getting fired. Secondly, openness towards innovation and a multidisciplinary approach to projects.”
A Dutch buddy can help to bridge the gap, said Van Erp and Tom van Veen, dean of internationalisation in Maastricht. Thirty-one buddies were appointed in Maastricht for this academic year. They come not only from the Netherlands, but also Germany, the UK and other countries. Van Erp: “Adapting to another culture is never easy. A buddy can help you to understand typical Dutch customs, explain why you need a burgerservicenummer, show you the best bars in town and tell who Frans Bauer is. ” But what’s in it for the Dutch buddy? “You will have an experience you remember for the rest of your life, and develop a worldwide network of contacts and knowledge of different customs, cultures and languages.” Last but not least: “You contribute to the foreign student’s success, whether they stay in the Netherlands or leave after graduation. Then they will be excellent ambassadors.”
Further attention was paid to the question ‘what are the incentives for Dutch students to become a buddy?’ in a workshop organised by the University of Twente and the student union LSVb. “We give our buddies a whole programme, involving theory and practice, and award them with three ECTS credits”, said a participant from Eindhoven. “Aren’t you afraid of attracting people who do it just for the credits?” responded a participant from Twente. “Twente currently has 45 Dutch buddies for 76 international students. They’re all very motivated and they just get a free meal and a party.” Susanne Feiertag, the Nuffic programme manager of Make it in the Netherlands, a plan by the education minister to attract more foreign graduates to careers in the Netherlands, emphasised that recruiting buddies is the main goal. So let’s be realistic, she said: “If we need to use credits, why not use them? It can us give the final push.”
What about a buddy warmer for every buddy, joked one of participants; or, more seriously, a central point of contact for all people who are interested in the project? And last but not least: ask former buddies to be ambassadors.