International students find it hard to connect

International students miss having contact with their Dutch counterparts. This emerged from research carried out by three student organisations. They also suffer stress.

For the second time the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO, Dutch National Students Association), the Landelijke Studentenvakbond (Dutch Student Union) and the Erasmus Student Network Nederland (ESN) investigated how international students in the Netherlands are faring. More than three quarters of the 1,002 respondents – the proportion studying at university of applied sciences or at universities is not known – indicated that they want more contact with their Dutch peers. It appears that it is difficult to find connection. 

This is worrying, write the student bodies, as good integration is important to retain international graduates in the Netherlands. The Chair of ESN Nederland, Lupe Flores Zuñiga, says that “internationalisation can be very enriching for Dutch society and the economy, but that can only happen if the students feel welcome.”

Language barrier 
Language is one barrier. “Most of my course has Dutch students, yet I barely speak to them. I find it very hard to get close to them,” says one respondent. More than one-third is dissatisfied or very dissatisfied about the opportunities to learn Dutch.

In terms of education, almost 70% of the respondents are positive about the quality of the teaching staff. That said, more than one quarter perceive that no account is taken of cultural differences during lectures. Further, 22% feel that they are hardly heard.

The international students are again asked in detail about their well-being. It turns out that almost 44% experience ‘high’ to ‘extreme’ levels of stress and more than 40% suffer psychological problems. According to ISO chair Tom van den Brink, “Easy access to help must be available for everyone, including for international students.”

Student life
The international students’ concerns are not new. Last year, one-third stated that they experienced occasional feelings of depression, but at the time only 311 international students filled in the questionnaire. LSVb research in 2013 already showed that international students barely took part in Dutch student life and that language was a major obstacle.  

The three student organisations would like international and Dutch students to collaborate more on group assignments. Further, the institutions should offer more opportunities to learn Dutch. They believe that the inflow of international students brings obligations with it.

The number of international students in higher education in the Netherlands has been increasing for years. This academic year almost 86,000 international students are taking full courses at Dutch universities or universities of applied sciences. In 2010, that number was 52,000. The 86,000 excludes exchange students who do not take full courses.

HOP, Inge Schouten

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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