Students From Abroad Not Eager To Join Student Associations.

Internationals have little interest in joining student associations. The chances of being admitted are slim and in Groningen these clubs are not really international-friendly either. — by Esther Smolders.

How often have we heard it by now: more and more foreign students are moving to the north of the Netherlands to further their studies at one of the Groningen universities. But joining one of the among Dutch students rather popular student associations? No, thank you, say most of students from abroad. These clubs are not popular at all. How can that be?

She is an active member of another kind of club that many students join: the study association

Actually, there is no single answer to this question. It seems to be a combination of not feeling the need and unfamiliarity. ‘To be honest, I’m just not that interested in it’, says Indy Papenkort (23), who studies International Communication at Hanze University. Indy is half English and half German, and she grew up in Spain. You won’t easily meet someone more international than her. Indy is not a member of a student association. No, she enjoys being a so-called active member of another kind of club that many students in the Netherlands join: the study association, which are reserved for students of the same study programme. These associations focus on study-related activities. In Indy’s case the association is called KIC (Kien In Communicatie, in English: smart in communication).

‘I thought I had just signed up, but suddenly I was in the organisation. I found it so embarrassing that I just went all in’

That’s enough for her. At the study association, Indy finds everything she needs. She builds a network and learns people skills at KIC. In her first year, she immediately became a so-called active member. ‘By accident!’, she says. ‘I thought I had just signed up, but suddenly I was in the organisation. I found it so embarrassing that I just went all in.’

Diana Ionescu (20) is a Physics student at the University of Groningen. She is president of study association FMF, the Physics-Mathematics Faculty Association. ‘It never occurred to me to join a student association’, Diana states. In fact, in her first year, she didn’t even know such clubs existed. Only in her second year, when friends asked her to come along to a kick-off event, did she learn of the existence of such clubs. At that kick-off, she was introduced to student association Cleopatra. ‘It was clear that the club was predominantly Dutch’, Diana says, ‘but the members really tried to connect with us.’

Sports clubs do fairly well among internationals

Cleopatra, located on Kleine Pelsterstraat in the Groningen city centre, has some three hundred members. About fifteen of them are students from abroad, says External Affairs Commissioner Pepijn Huese. ‘We notice that in recent years we have welcomed more and more internationals, which is very nice, of course.’ At events, organisers explain everything in both Dutch and English, and all promotional material is provided with an English translation. ‘We do everything together’, says Pepijn.

Sports clubs do fairly well among internationals. Twenty per cent of the members of De Golfbreker (literally The Breakwater, a student swimming club) are students from abroad. Normally the language of communication at the club is Dutch, but they do organise two completely English-spoken events every year.

Cleopatra tries hard to offer internationals a warm home

At G.S.V.V. Kroton (student volleyball), a third of the members are international, but they tend to be members for a short time. ‘Dutch members stay for many years’, says Kroton president Amy den Hollander. ‘But we are very open to international students. In almost every committee you’ll find one or more international members. Our committees work in English, so that everyone can participate.’

Language works wonders. Student associations like Cleopatra try hard to offer internationals a warm home. Other student clubs are less good at this. English promotion or explanations at events are hard to find at rowing club A.G.S.R. Gyas, for example. And to find an English version of the websites of the two largest student associations in Groningen, Vindicat and Albertus, you have to be some sort of Sherlock Holmes.

The atmosphere at study associations is more open and friendly than that at an average student association

‘Study associations are more international-friendly’, concludes FMF president Diana Ionescu. According to Indy Papenkort of KIC, the atmosphere at her study association is more open and friendly than that at an average student association. Every now and then, Dutch KIC members do clump together, she says, but as soon as a foreign student joins, they switch to English right away. Indy: ‘And I don’t like these hazing sessions either. I don’t see the fun in that.’
So if internationals join some sort of student club, it’s more likely to be a sports club or a study association. Diana: ‘It quickly became a great support group for me. I love the FMF community and I can’t imagine my student life without FMF.’

Photo (fragment): Robin Matlener