UniTe wants the international voice to be heard

| Rik Visschedijk

With the ongoing internationalization of the university it is logical for UniTe, the umbrella organization of international associations, to take a more advisory role towards the UT. 'We want the voice of the international student to be heard,’ says Nynke Tilkema, chairman and ATLAS student.

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK
The Diwali night in november 2018, organised by the Indian Student Association.

The board of UniTe does not maintain contacts with internationals directly, but they are in close contact with the so-called world associations. 'We talk with these associations and regularly sit down with UT parties like the student factions in the Uraad, the Student Union and the Center for Educational Support,’ says Tilkema. 'So we have a pivotal role. More recently we became a member of the UT platform International Affairs, where we stand up for the interests of international students.'

‘Many internationals struggle’

And that is necessary, according to UniTe. A recent report showed that non-European students suffer from psychological and social problems. That is recognizable for Tilkema. 'To a large extent internationals live separately from Dutch students. They come to the campus from a completely different culture, which is not always easy. Many of them struggle - especially in the first year - with homesickness or have difficulty finding their place.'

Tilkema thinks that  great progress is already made, but there is still a world to win. 'Focus the Kick-In on a more internationally welcoming environment. And further develop the buddy system,’ she  suggests. ‘The International Student Handbook that new students get, is not very accessible. The UT should write a new and more practical variant. With that kind of interventions you can create a softer landing for the students.'

Physical office

Internationals mainly lack a physical international office where they can pose their questions in person. ‘There used to be  an International Office, but due to budget cuts Student Services has taken over this role. However the international students currently lack a place where they can go with their inquiries. It might seem insignificant, but for internationals it’s quite a big deal to be able to get answers to their questions in person rather than having to look for them online.’

Integration in student housing has to catch up on internationalization, which is understandable according to Tilkema. 'On campus so much is in English already, it can also be nice to speak Dutch at home,’ she says. 'So we really want to show the Dutch that internationalization is an enrichment. To this end, we support the international associations in organizing activities. We want to bring the annual Culture Festival even more to the attention of the Dutch public this year, for instance.'

‘Bringing the Dutch and internationals together’

UniTe has always been committed to the well-being of international students at the UT. Traditionally this is done by supporting the world associations. 'That is far from finished,’ says Lina Diaa, who is the communications officer for UniTe. 'There are many nationalities on campus, but the integration with Dutch students is still a challenge. The world associations have an important role in bringing together the Dutch and internationals.'

Next to its advisory role on matters of international students, UniTe has made strides to professionalize the world associations, Tilkema mentions. ‘We organize training sessions with the Student Union, for example on how they can get funding. At times we have found that world associations could use a better structure. They rely on key parties that leaves them vulnerable in case of continuity disruptions, as the survival of the whole association would be at stake. It would be a shame if we lost beautiful international events.’