‘A safe place to find friends and reduce culture shock’

| Michaela Nesvarova

‘It can be hard for international students coming to Enschede from outside the EU. Having this group has helped me find friends and feel at home,’ says Kirill Svavolia (20) from Russia, one of the founders of Eurasian Student Organization (ESO). Together with his fellow ESO board member Valeriya Savelyeva (20) from Kazakhstan, the UT students explain why they started this association for Russian speaking students.

Some of the members of the Eurasian Student Organization on a recent trip together

When and why was the Eurasian Student Organization started?

Kirill: ‘The idea came up in spring 2020. Together with many other students, I came to Enschede from Russia to study at the Twente Pathway College. This college provides a foundation year for students from outside of EU, allowing them to start studying at the UT afterwards. We were with many Russian speaking people and we were organizing volleyball games every weekend, we had a very active group chat and so we thought: it’s better to make this into something official. That way we can represent these students’ interests and organize activities. Due to the corona crisis, all this was postponed, but in July we started with preparations and now we are working on getting recognized by the Student Union.’

Valeriya: ‘This is a good moment to start, because we also want to help out new international students coming to Enschede. We are in touch with incoming students, so they already know what to arrange, where to go, what to buy and so on. Our association should be a safe place to find friends and reduce culture shock. It can be difficult for international students. They get homesick a lot and we want to help them find their way. When I first arrived, it was difficult to find certain information that comes naturally to Dutch people.’

Kirill: ‘Coming here from abroad, you don’t know where to get cheap food, how to pay taxes, what are fun places to visit… You don’t even know that you need to have lights on your bike, because in many countries that is not required – but it can cost you a lot of money here. Now we can tell people what they need to do and make their lives easier.’

How many members do you have?

Kirill: ‘We have about 150 members, almost all of them students at the UT. We are working on adding students from Saxion, because we’d like to unite all Russian speaking students in Enschede. Our members come from at least twelve different countries: Ukraine, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, but also South Korea and Turkey and more.’

Mostly Russian speaking students then?

Valeryia: ‘Yes, we mostly speak Russian among each other, but we are open to other languages. We actually learn languages from each other. I’ve learnt Ukrainian from my friends here.’

Kirill: ‘We encourage everyone to speak their local language. We want to share our cultures and culture cannot be separated from the language.’

What is the main goal of your association?

Valeryia: ‘We want to give students the opportunity to meet, play sports, ask about life and studying in Enschede. And indeed, we want to share our cultures. We’d like to organize culture events so that people can celebrate their own holidays and introduce them to people here. For example, I’m from Kazakhstan and we have many unique holidays. Our New Year’s, to start with. First of all, it is celebrated in March. We have a lot of special food and customs and we want to show them.’

Kirill: ‘We also want to organize sports activities, such as volleyball tournaments, perhaps playing against other nationalities. We already have regular tournaments in computer games. In September, we’d like to have a small Kick-In – in small groups, of course. We are also considering connecting directly with embassies, to make it easier for students to get information about visas and restrictions related to the corona crisis. Most of all, we want to build a good foundation so that the next board can do something great.’

Can anybody join?

Kirill: ‘Absolutely. We have no rules. We always joke that we are very open and friendly, especially after a second drink.’