‘At AFRISA, it’s always: the more, the merrier’

| Jelle Posthuma

The UT is home to countless clubs, societies, and associations. In this series, we shine a spotlight on all of them, with this issue focusing on: AFRISA, The African International Student Association.


Since its inception in 2018, AFRISA has flourished, growing from a mere 20 members at first to 150 today. What is the key to success for this association? Akintunde Akinyoade, who sits on the board of AFRISA and studies Chemical Engineering at the UT, does not have to ponder the question for very long. 'We offer African culture. You won’t find it anywhere else in the Enschede area. Our culture is vibrant and colourful. I also think that people from Africa connect with others very easily. That’s what makes our association so unique.’

‘Anyone can become a member, even non-students. The more, the merrier’

Akinyoade is responsible for AFRISA’s activities. In a normal world, we would have paid a visit to AFRISA’s home base or attended a representative activity, but the pandemic decided otherwise. What's more: AFRISA does not have a place to call its own yet. That being said, they are hard at work to secure an office in Bastille and have partnered up with other international associations at UT for a space in the student bunker. ‘That would be great,’ Akinyoade beams, ‘as our members could simply drop by for a chat or some advice.’

The number of international associations at the UT is growing, with Indian, Pakistani, Romanian, Latin-American, and Surinamese students all having their own club within the university. In 2018, they were joined by an African student association, but Akinyoade is quick to point out that they aren’t just for students from Africa. ‘Anyone can become a member, even non-students. The more, the merrier.’

Building bridges

According to this Chemical Engineering student, AFRISA seeks to build bridges between different countries and cultures. ‘I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it myself. I suddenly found myself, a Nigerian man, speaking to someone from South Africa. I never did so before! Our association is about more than just contact between people from different African nations, though, as we also have members from the Netherlands and Germany. Anyone interested in African culture and the African vibe is welcome.’

This is reflected in the association’s motto: Ubuntu. A rough translation would be ‘I am because we are’ and this collective spirit is central to the association. It’s not me, but us. It’s not them, but us. However, such a divide does still seem to exist between Dutch students and internationals. The groups live in two separate worlds. Akinyoade is familiar with the problem. ‘I think language plays a big role. It's hard to understand each other if you don't speak the language. As an association, we try to make our own contribution. Some members of AFRISA speak Dutch, and they regularly organise language classes for others. This is just one example of how we try to bridge the gap.’


Fortunately, there is one language that transcends all borders: the language of food. ‘Every year, we organise a food festival with traditional African dishes,’ Akinyoade explains. ‘We also organise frequent dancing workshops. At the start of the year, one of our workshops managed to draw in more than 50 participants - a resounding success. On top of that, we host drinks every month and organise trips to various cities in the area.’

‘I like calling our association a soft spot for African students in Enschede’

‘Because of the coronavirus, these trips and activities have had to be postponed for the time being, but the association has tried to organise as many of its activities online as possible. We also organise activities of a more serious bent, such as a recent debate on Chinese investment in Africa. China is investing extensively on the African continent, and we wanted to ask our members whether they believed that this was a good or a bad thing. Black Lives Matter is also an important theme, with several of our members attending anti-racism protest in Enschede in June.’

‘Soft spot’

This year, AFRISA missed out on the perfect moment to showcase its wide range of activities to prospective members, as the Kick-In opening market was cancelled due to the coronavirus. The physical version of the fair, that is. ‘Despite the virus, we were still able to help out new members and share practical tips,’ Akinyoade explains. ‘We help them open a bank account and register with the municipal authorities, giving freshmen a soft landing in Twente, as it were.’

This soft landing was a key principle underlying the foundation of AFRISA. ‘I like calling our association a soft spot for African students in Enschede. It can be difficult to find your way in Dutch society, so AFRISA is a place where you can come to relax and feel at home. Our association has grown so much that we are not only a soft spot for African students alone. By now, I think we have become a place that feels like home for all members, regardless of whether they come from Africa.’

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