Floor Verwijs - Internationalisation in Groningen
Internationalisation and Inclusion in Groningen
Whether you have been living in Groningen for only a couple of months, or for many years already, I am sure that you will agree that Groningen is an amazing city to live in. Welcomed by the activities during the KEI week, a lot of students join one of the many student organisations or associations that are present in the city. And also for those who are not part of an association, there is still so much to do in the city where the bars have no closing time.
Because student life is so vibrant, it is typical for Groninger students to be stuck in their bubble. There are various Dutch student bubbles in Groningen, but they all have in common that there are barely any international students present. This is very strange, considering that around 30% of the students in Groningen is non-Dutch.
My first three years of my studies in IEM, I was living in this Dutch student bubble myself when I realised that I wanted to pop this bubble. When I was 16, I did a high school exchange year to the US and I made memories I will never forget. I am still in touch with my American family and friends, and I am really thankful for them sharing their culture with me and giving me the feeling of being an American girl for a year (although I have to admit, I certainly prefer being Dutch). However, the highlight of my exchange year was a trip with a group of 40 students from all over the world who were doing the same high school exchange as I did. Although we were from very different cultures, we immediately understood each other because we shared the same experiences of being new to this large country where everyone ate hamburgers all day and was so patriotic. Through this experience, I learned that it is important it is to meet people from different countries, and that it is very valuable to meet people from different cultures and focus on similarities instead of differences.
I was truly missing this international experience, but unfortunately, IEM used to not allow exchange semester within the degree programme. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to have an international experience whilst staying in Groningen, and I joined ESN. ESN stands for the Erasmus Student Network and it is the largest international student organisation in Groningen with the motto: ‘’Students helping students’’. I was lucky enough to become part of the International Dinner committee. Every month, we organised three-course dinners for around 45 participants (it always sold out within three days!) together with students from a certain country. My favourite dinner was the Korean dinner, where I got to taste typical kimbap and kimchi, which the enthusiastic students had prepared days prior to the event.
After this, I realised that I wanted to experience the international student life in Groningen to the fullest and I applied for the Executive Board. The board year started in May, and it has been a roller coaster so far. However, I am very glad that I still have six months left to make it an unforgettable experience. As ESN, we organise two large Introduction Weeks per year. The concept is similar to KEI week, and we host over 2000 participants and volunteers (which is our maximum capacity!) in September. Next to this, we organise around 150 events together with our committees. Additionally, in collaboration with our General Board, we focus on long-term projects in improving the integration and inclusion of Dutch and international students in Groningen. For this, we are involved in the youth housing covenant and many internationalisation and inclusion platforms.
It is important that organisations like ESN exist to make international students feel at home in a different culture. This is supported by the universities. Over the past years, the University of Groningen and Hanze UAS have prioritised internationalisation in their strategic plans. Moreover, the good position of both universities in the worldwide rankings and the Nobel Prize won by chemist prof. dr. Ben Feringa accounted for the large growth of international students in the UG but our faculty in particular. Furthermore, international students are attracted by the good communication of the UG and Hanze UAS regarding their degree programmes, but also regarding social aspects such as what it is like to live as an international student in Groningen. For this, both universities rely on ESN to support international students from the ‘’student perspective’’.
Personally, by joining ESN, I learned that it is very important to make the most out of your time as a student. Join as many activities as you can, and talk to as many people from different countries as possible. Together we make Groningen this special city where students dominate and where everyone can be themselves.
Finally, I am very happy that the degree programme of IEM now allows students to go on an exchange semester. I would encourage everyone to take this step! It will be an unforgettable and fun time, and I hope that you will also realise what is beyond this Dutch student bubble and make the most out of your time abroad.