International Classroom at the UM
“I came here with the idea that I would acquire a large circle of German and Dutch friends,” says Dutch-German psychology student Lavinia Thelen. To immediately add: “That did not happen.” According to her, this has more to do with cultural differences than with the language barrier. “Of course it is easier to talk in your own language. I notice that myself. But there are some persistent stereotypes among the Dutch and the Germans. Look, if I were to go on holiday with a Dutch person to an Arab country, we would feel connected to each other, but here it is the differences that are noticeable.”
According to her, the stereotypical German spends a lot of time in the library “with a large bottle of sparkling mineral water and when it is empty, he goes home.” According to Germans, the typical Dutch student is “very lazy and only interested in parties and drinking beer.” Those ideas don’t just come out of the blue. “Germans are more focussed on the future. From second year onwards, they usually know what they want to do, where they want to work. They are older and because of that they are more achievement-orientated. Board or committee work alongside your study is not necessarily appreciated in Germany; what does count in your favour is extra traineeships. I grew up in Germany, but because of my mother I do know the Dutch culture: I am like a piggy in the middle.”
What would help, she thinks, is informing Germans better about the Inkom. “They regard it as something Dutch. What they hear about student associations, comes from German second-year students who say: ‘you shouldn’t do that, that is not for us’. At the same time, Germans who do participate in Inkom, find it great fun.”
Working towards a common goal promotes integration, says Thelen. “That's what I noticed at Aiesec, where I did make German and Dutch friends.”
She also suggests that Dutch students might give language courses. “First a one-hour lesson and then you go to the pub for an hour. That way, people come in contact with each other. I'm not sure if all Germans should learn Dutch, but I do feel that by doing one course you show that you're interested.”
And if all else fails, then “maybe there will have to be a limit to the number of German students. I have heard from friends at SBE who go to a tutorial group and find ten Germans, speaking German. For Dutch students, this makes them feel like outsiders in their own country. I believe that entry restrictions would be fair towards the Dutch.”
This is a series about the International Classroom project, a virtual concept that stands for a community in which students and staff feel at home, regardless of their background. Every week we ask a student for his or her opinion.