Why you dont have to be lonely this Christmas in Groningen

Christmas 2020. Dozens, no, hundreds of students from abroad might have to spend the holidays in Groningen on their own. Fortunately, up comes a saving Christmas angel. David Kraandijk (21) of the Erasmus Student Network Groningen.

‘A while ago we were talking about Christmas. You know: how will you spend the most wonderful time of the year? Many students go to their families. Soon the question arose of what we could do for international students. French and Germans may be able to go to their parents, but many other students will be forced to stay here. Stuck in Groningen. We felt we should do something. But what can we offer them?’

For the record: we, that is the board of ESN Groningen?
‘Yes, there’s six of us. We organize events for international students, about 150 activities a year, from pub quizzes to excursions. Despite everything, we were able to host quite a few events this year. There are no really big meetings during this period, but we are creative. Our Friday afternoon socials at OB18, for example, welcomes a maximum of seventy students each week. Yes, that’s a lot of people, but it really is a completely corona-proof event.’

Okay, what did you come up with for the international students?
‘A big Christmas activity is no option. In the Netherlands groups of four are allowed, according to the latest rules. When students join our ESN Christmas Group Programme, we will create whatsapp groups. We ask the students a few simple questions about their interests, their hobbies and food habits. This is useful for classifying, vegans with vegans, athletes with athletes, and so on. When someone from such a group makes a proposal, they have a greater chance of receiving a positive response than when you form random groups.’

That’s smart. You could do that for Dutch students as well.
Be my guest. No, really, Dutch students can also register. You do not have to be or become an ESN card holder. By the way, one in five ESN cardholders is Dutch. Our target group is international students, especially exchange students. But we also focus on Dutch students who are interested in people from other cultures and countries.’

What do you do when you don’t click in such a whatsapp quartet?
‘We can’t do much about that. We take the first step, but then it is up to the students themselves. However, we do create a facebook page to which we add all participants. This way they can come into contact with other students who are in Groningen during the Christmas holidays.’

It sounds so simple, are you the only ones doing this?
‘I know of one study association that is doing something similar, but that’s exclusively for their members. Our initiative welcomes everyone. Every student who is in Groningen during the Christmas holidays.’

Photo: Ben White