“This is great man, what a party! I am a little overwhelmed. Can I give six stars?” Professor Piet Eichholtz looks at his dessert with pleasure: a large brownie filled with (warm) raspberries, vanilla ice cream and a glass of Licor 43 Cuarenta, a Spanish liqueur. He was not only bowled over by the cooking skills of the board members of the International Student Network, but also listened with increasing amazement to the stories of their international student life. “My goodness, I'm learning a lot this evening. I had such a naive view of the student world.”
The three Pauls - Laurie Paul, Paulien Korsten and Paula Houben - grin at so much ignorance. It all started with the observation that “80 per cent of the 50 exchange students we have asked sniff cocaine in their first week here. They try out everything.” How do they get the stuff, Eichholtz wants to know. Dealers are everywhere, they say, on the street, in drugs houses and in the nightlife. Tip: “Look for the neck pouches.”
This is followed by Korsten’s account of her weekend in Berlin, where ESN's general international meeting was held in April (every local ESN department welcomes foreign students and organises trips, drinks and parties). “We were with approximately eight hundred people in a luxury hotel, where the next day, Angela Merkel met with Queen Máxima and Ivanka Trump to discuss economic opportunities for women.” At events like this, many ESN board members (“normally we are very good and very responsible”) briefly turn into exchange students. Which means lots of booze, kissing and making out. Nobody takes a second glance. What else could you expect when the parties abroad carry names like 'Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know.' But when the German host of the conference asked if ‘the Italians would refrain from covering each other in Nutella paste, only to fall asleep on the sofa,’ the Dutch delegation was quite surprised. “Keep it real, come on.” It became even worse when the head of the organisation spoke again on Sunday evening: ‘I never thought I would have to say this, but could you stop having sex in the corridors. There are cameras.’
“In the corridor?” is Eichholtz reaction. “Wow, this is hairy. It is only about sex, drugs and rock & roll.” “This is exchange,” the three Pauls react in unison. Korsten: “And this is about ten of the eight hundred participants, because we do get down to serious work too. The Dutch delegation always asks questions about financial issues, which makes the southern countries regard us as moaners. This year, it was about raising the contribution from 60 to 120 euro. The matter was discussed for two hours. We agreed, the amount had not been raised in ten years. The southern countries had a problem with the decision.”
Are you not too different, Eichholtz wonders (“call me Piet” and “no, student associations were not my kind of thing, I preferred to find my own way in Amsterdam”). Korsten: “No. At gatherings like that, I feel like a European. Every country walks around Berlin in their own national colours, we dress in orange. It is so nice to see those forty countries, then you think: this is Europe!” The discussion turns to the usefulness of exchange schemes. Paul, who wants to go and study in Stockholm (“I have fallen in love with the city”) and who dreams of becoming vice president of the European Union, just like Frans Timmermans: “You won't easily find racists among people who have studied in another country. You acquire a broader view and more understanding for other cultures. You don't achieve that with a week's holiday.” Exactly, agrees Houben, who argues why there should be an Erasmus programme for students in intermediate vocational education.
The rain has been ticking with big fat drops on the attic window of Laurie Paul’s room on the President Rooseveltlaan for some time when the professor, who has only just recovered from the Berlin story, nearly chokes on his second helping (“just too delicious”) of brownie with vanilla ice cream. The girls, who - together with one man - form the ISN board, which has been thinned out due to illness or other problems, have just explained that they welcome about 1,200 Erasmus students every year, and arrange city trips, tours to the Keukenhof and parties for them. The monthly cantus is “a classic” and always sold out within twenty minutes. “The board gives the drinking orders from the stage. A ‘kangaroo’ is jumping with a full mug of beer between your teeth. If we shout ‘lama’, you need to quickly drink all your beer and then spit it out over your neighbour.” The two hundred participants polish off a total of sixteen beers each, “because we have sixteen songs, a lot of music from the nineteen-nineties. Everyone kisses each other, anyone who takes it further is kicked out,” the three roar with laughter when they see their professor looking dazed. You can see him thinking, but all that beer. In the end, it's not that bad, the girls reassure him, because more and more water is added to the golden liquid (for the last quarter of the evening, the ratio is half beer, half water). Besides, a lot ends up on the floor. “But they do get drunk, they really let go in an effort to get over the shock that they have to work so hard in Maastricht,” Houben knows. She is the only one who doesn't drink and together with her companions she keeps a watch on everything. “Everyone has to keep their clothes on. Australians often take their shirt off after half an hour, we don't understand why. They also love to drink beer from their shoes.” That's allowed, as a sort of punishment.
Drinking beforehand is not allowed. “We check that with a breathalyser test at the entrance of Den Hiemel. You are not allowed in if your blood alcohol level is anything more than 0.2,” they say with sternness. Standing on tables is also forbidden. Has anything ever happened, Eichholtz asks. Yes, someone once fell into the Jeker river, but was quickly fished out again by someone from ISN. And then there was an American girl who may have taken something, became unwell, but once she was in the ambulance she didn’t dare tell the police what she had taken. “The police only wanted to help.” Or those two lads, they were American too, who climbed onto the stage naked, after which they couldn't find their clothes anymore.
Oh, and they also always start off with the Dutch national anthem. “By King's day everyone was able to sing along.” Then proudly: “That is how you build a reputation for yourself. They go home and pass it on, our cantus is world-famous.”