Unstoppable force, immovable object

| Niels ter Meer

Internationalisation, inclusion, influx — the i words — have been in the news a lot recently. It just doesn’t seem to stop, yet isn’t always very welcomed amongst the students at the 'front’. Almost as if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, thinks student columnist Niels ter Meer.


What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? You have probably been posed this question before. One of them cannot be moved, yet the force acting upon it is unstoppable? In some sense, this sounds vaguely familiar: what happens when an ambivalent Dutch student population is hit by a seemingly unending stream of international students?

Besides a lot of friction, it seems neither really budged. The influx of internationals is ever increasing; and they would like housing, and more interaction with Dutch people. Yet a large part of the Dutch (student) population seem at best mostly ambivalent towards them, and a small part would even rather get rid of them. Only a small fraction really seems to actively seek out anything more than collegial interaction.

Because, from the perspective of Dutch students — one seemingly never discussed before — there’s always a little bit of friction when they have to deal with internationals. Among older students, there always seems to be this sense floating around that working with Dutch people just goes better; be it due the internationals’ work ethic, or just the plain language barrier. Getting an all Dutch project group is seen as a lucky break. Meeting a ‘good’ international is often considered the exception. And none of this is intrinsic — they didn’t arrive here with that opinion — rather, it’s their lived experience. There is a clear simmer of discontent — or at least among my statistically insignificant sample set.

In contrast, the theme of last semester seemed to be inclusion. We had diversity (and inclusion?) week, a sabotaged diversity survey, and time and time again we hear from the higher-ups that this influx (and the inclusion that comes with it) is definitely for the best (they just keep saying the quiet part out loud nowadays). Our squarely-scheduled sjaars were even force-fed some diversity & inclusion training, in which the ‘Dutch only’ phenomenon was proffered as the prime example of exclusion and discrimination (albeit arguably legal).

And that seems to be where the rubber meets the road. Dutch students are not unreasonable: we’ll happily switch to English at times, especially in professional settings. We’re not crazy: we realize that some diversity is to our advantage too. But we barely have or had much say in who we associate with; the expectation of inclusion keeps intruding further and further into our lives, with no real escape. There will always be this everlasting itch among Dutch people to speak in Dutch with other Dutch speakers or people. ‘Dutch only’ houses or associations will always be a thing. ‘English everywhere’, as much as my predecessor or others might’ve wanted it, will (hopefully) never happen. There will always some sort of a divide. If inclusion and diversity is about allowing people to be who they want to be, then for some, this is just their limit. And all of that should be okay.

But of course, the preposition from earlier is a paradox. Neither is as unstoppable or immovable as posed, but the works are starting to bind. Yet, in the end, we are obliged to be hospitable to those who are already here, and provide more than a lukewarm welcome to those yet to come. But can we really, honestly do that if a plurality of the immovable object still views the unstoppable force with ambivalence, or even animus?

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