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A sparse mix with foreigners

“When I finished high school I wanted to study abroad to broaden my horizons and to get a better education”, says Feras Alhazmi (23), a third-year medicine student from Saudi Arabia. “At home you only acquire scientific knowledge; abroad you also learn about other cultures, see different perspectives, and meet other people. That’s better for your personal development and for your career. When I go home I’ll have an advantage because I’ve studied at a well-known university, and because of my English language skills. In our hospitals English is the first language amongst doctors. With the patients we speak Arabic of course.”

His first encounter with Maastricht was a bit of a disappointment. “The whole programme was in Dutch, not in English. Happily enough they managed to turn it into a complete English programme in a very short time: the international track.” But because he belonged to the first batch, the chances to mix with foreign students were and are sparse. “In most of my tutorial groups there are only Saudis. UM tried to persuade others – exchange students, Dutch students – to join our tutorial groups, but few of them ever came. But I sincerely and truly don’t blame the university, which really changed things as quickly as possible. When you see the first years now, they’re studying in groups with students from all over the world.”

Alhazmi now tries to mix with students from different cultures by going to Studium Generale activities. He joined the IFMSA, an international medical student association, as well as a committee that helps students who go abroad or come to the Netherlands. He’s also a member of the International Classroom Project, which is part of Maastricht University’s Leading in Learning project. “We want to change UM into a more international environment. I’m in the Mix and Mingle group. We organise things like the faculty fight and a summer picnic.” And of course he meets students from different countries at UM Sport: “I play soccer and go to the gym. It’s easy to meet different people on the sports field.”

And what about his Dutch language skills? The board expects every international student to learn Dutch. “Ik spreek een beetje Nederlands”, says Alhazmi with a big smile. “But I should study harder. I live here; I want to learn Dutch. My vision would get broader, my knowledge would be enriched if I could speak Arabic, English, Dutch and German, for example. It’s difficult to learn Dutch, but not impossible. I don’t have to speak it perfectly, if I can have a long conversation; that would be great.”

 

Riki Janssen

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