International members: both a challenge and an enrichment

This year, TU Delft will welcome more international freshmen than ever. This will bring changes with it. For the first time, international first year students can join in the Opening Week (OWee) and will be in touch with Delft fraternities. How do these fraternities deal with this and how will you know?

The number of English bachelor programmes at TU Delft is rising, and so is the international bachelor student population. In previous years, international first year students were welcomed to Delft by TU Delft’s Introduction Programme. They did not join the bachelor Opening Week (OWee) which was exclusively organised for Dutch freshmen. This separation based on nationality is no longer justifiable, according to the OWee organisation and that is why this year, international freshmen can join the OWee programme.

This change implies that international freshmen will also be introduced to TU Delft fraternities. Currently, most of these communities only have Dutch speaking members and have not dealt with international students before. However, many fraternities – ranging from the LGBT society Outsite to traditional fraternities such as Delftsch Studenten Corps (DSC) – are open to non-Dutch students. In fact, international students have always been able to become members, but it simply was not customary to join because of their small numbers and absence from the OWee.

Language will remain Dutch

The fraternities’ individual OWee programmes and initiation periods will not change that much and their working language through the year will remain Dutch. The main difference in terms of organising the introduction programmes is the number of students: no fewer than 870 first year international students have enrolled and received an invitation for the OWee.

Fraternities perceive the potential interest from the international student population as favourable, “but it remains a challenge” says Lisa de Kluijver from Sint Jansbrug. The dilemma for all fraternities lies in welcoming everyone interested and safeguarding the community’s culture at the same time.

Jan van der Steen from the Delftsche Studenten Bond (DSB) explains: “Many international students are not familiar with Dutch student life and can have an incorrect idea about fraternities. We offer more than just nightlife. That is why all fraternities got together to draft guidelines so that international freshmen can see what’s best for them. Are you here for less than a year and you don’t speak Dutch? Then look at a student sports club or cultural association such as Thor or Groover. Are you here for your complete bachelors and do you want to immerse yourself in Dutch student life? Then you are welcome at the fraternities!”

Willing to learn Dutch

Language seems to be the main obstacle. “Dutch language and culture play a significant role in a traditional fraternity like ours,” says Van der Steen. This is the reason why almost all fraternities set the requirement for aspiring international members to either speak Dutch or understand Dutch, or at least have the intention to learn the language. To help the students who are willing to learn the language, most fraternities are rolling-out a buddy system.

Julian Aantjes from C.S.R. explains theirs: “every new international will be linked to an older, Dutch member who will help with learning the language, getting to know the culture and also assist in practical things.” DSC sets a quota of 10 international students, “so that we can guide them intensively in their integration process,” says Robert de Nie. “This way, we create a healthy basis for a potentially new culture with more diversity at DSC. We intend to increase this quota over the years.”

Most fraternities think international members will be an enrichment. Van der Steen: “every student enriches our fraternity. DSB stands for equality so everyone gets the opportunity to become a member, regardless of their nationality.” Outsite has been actively recruiting international students since 2014, and its current Chairman, Andreas Zafiropoulos, agrees: “multicultural diversity in our association ensures good food at our weekly dining table, interesting conversations on drinks evenings and a pleasant atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”

‘Dealing with Dutch peers was a bit awkward sometimes’

Hennes Vermeer and Christiaan Ouwehand, DSB members, were both raised abroad to Dutch parents. They had to build their social lives in the Netherlands from scratch and membership of a fraternity helped . They felt welcome at every fraternity, so their choice for DSB was purely based on personal preferences. Neither student was completely student in Dutch and “dealing with Dutch peers was a bit awkward sometimes”, Vermeer admits. But both have made great strides and are very glad of their decision to join a fraternity. Ouwehand advises any international student who wants to integrate in the Netherlands to become a member of a Dutch fraternity. “You improve your Dutch and make a lot of friends who will make your student life a whole lot less lonely.”

International freshmen will thus be welcomed at fraternities and can become members under certain conditions. International freshmen should, however, understand that they are expected to invest time and effort in a fraternity and its members, just like any other aspiring member. De Kluijver doesn’t expect this to be a problem. “We assume that international freshmen have the same objective as any member: be part of the fraternity and bond with fellow students. Learning Dutch and spending time here makes that possible.”

Help is here:

Find your way through the 52 student associations in Delft. (infographic: OWee board)

Susanne Verstegen / Student, columnist en freelancer voor Delta

Editor Redactie

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