English everywhere, please

| Lisa Waldera

Lisa Waldera (24) is a master’s student Communication Studies from Bremen, Germany. For three years now, she’s been living on campus. Next to her study, she regularly visits the cinema and enjoys concerts of all music genres. Every other week she writes about her life at the University of Twente.

Photo by: Annabel Jeuring

A heated debate has been sparked at the UT. A survey revealed shocking numbers of international students with mental health complaints. The ‘voertaal’ was officially changed into English from 1st January 2020. A university in the Netherlands with Dutch only as their second language. That does not sit well with everyone. Personally, I think English has to become even more prominent if we want to make everyone feel included.

I came here as an international student myself. I know that Germany is not very far and the cultural differences are less extreme. Still, I experienced being a foreign student with very little language skills. The basic Dutch course I attended back home was barely enough to explain the existence of Sinterklaas and King’s Day. Everything was topped with language skills that allow me to start and end conversations with goedemorgen and tot ziens. Helpful. But not nearly enough when holding a conversation or reading a Dutch text. Naturally, I depended on communicating and receiving all necessary information in English.

I understand that people question why I even came to Enschede in the first place with so little knowledge about the culture and language. The Netherlands is being perceived as a progressive and innovative country. Naturally, I applied at the university that would offer me the best degree program fitting my interests. It also does not help that the number of English studies in Germany is limited. But what actually convinced me to enroll was a great impression of the UT at the Bachelor open days. The possibilities seemed endless for me. Everything that day was presented in English. I had no doubts about my little Dutch skills being a problem. During the kick-in already, I noticed that several activities, theater plays, pub quizzes and more were held in Dutch. The biggest student associations did not even consider advertising to non-Dutch speaking people. I decided to join a sports club with several other international students. Unfortunately, the practice instructions were given in Dutch. I applied for housing but one half was accepting Dutch students only or declined afterwards because of my lacking language skills. I was finally invited to one (room interview). The reason why I was chosen to move into the house was because the alternative roommate was a Chinese student instead. However, conversations at the table of my house were exclusively in Dutch.

While internationals, and so am I, are questioned about their intentions to move to Enschede and study at the UT, I would also like to ask why Dutch people seem to be so afraid to lose their stand? Why did you choose this university? While it is presenting itself as an internationally-focused and open place for cultural exchange, I hear a lot of voices that are afraid to invite internationals into their established community.
I would really like to see more together instead of next to each other. It is not a solution to offer separate associations for internationals or building a new apartment complex with single-person studios. For me, a university is a place of cultural exchange and possibilities. Let’s show on a small scale how integration can actually work. In the end, I am convinced that young people from all over the world have more similarities than differences. #doeslief