02 December 2020

Show each other that you're there, that you care

Studying at the VU as an international poses many challenges—beyond the actual studying itself. Taking that step of moving to a foreign country (by yourself!), that speaks a foreign language and follows different customs, requires a lot of confidence. Yes, Amsterdam is incredibly international and, yes, most people here speak English. But that is not all: as an international student, there is about a hundred other pressing matters that need to be taken care of before you can even feel like you’ve properly arrived and settled. There’s the visa, finding accommodation (that is up to par and affordable), getting a bank account and health insurance, not even speaking of other kinds of insurance one might need. Let’s imagine we’ve taken care of all of that (thank the heavens!)…

All of those things settled do not mean the end of it for us internationals. We’ve made it—physically and legally—but we haven’t taken any steps in the social, academic or mental realms yet. Talking social life of the international student, the most important stepping stones would be the Introduction Week, a mentor or buddy system in place to receive and guide them, and joining faculty-specific associations or ESN. Yet, the place where you really meet and get to know your peers is the classroom. Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a giant spoke in that wheel. That doesn’t just affect us internationals, of course. It makes life harder for everyone; but internationals simply don’t have the same safety net that Dutch students might. We don’t necessarily have family here, first-year’s don’t have a social support system yet, and everyone is forced to make the decision: should I stay or should I go?

The tiniest act of kindness can do so much. Now is the time to reach out to one another

The academic realm is another place where internationals meet obstacles and hurdles every day. Information is only available in Dutch or nowhere to find in English, you don’t know where to go with questions (and when you think you’ve found the place, you get sent somewhere else and so on…)—the things that were supposed to be easy become difficult. But I don’t want to get into this realm too deeply. Let’s, instead, talk about internationals’ mental health. Alongside ailments such as homesickness, feeling displaced, struggling to feel at home, there are much more paralysing feelings that might come up now that almost everything is happening online.

Without wanting this to become too real or too depressing (by the way, depression’s just one of them…), instead of listing mental illnesses that could be caused or intensified by the current digital situation, I want to appeal to all those who are reading this. If you know a someone, and you have the energy, please reach out. A simple message, a two-minute call, a letter or mail, a card during winter break, anything to show that you care and that you’re thinking of them can already help. If you know of somebody that they’re struggling, maybe you can’t help but you can reach out to someone who might be able to help them. If you realise that your friend is doing awfully, let them know that you’re there—if not physically, mentally. The tiniest act of kindness can do so much. Now is the time to reach out to one another, to set up Zoom dinners where once were night-out’s, to set up lunch or brunch calls where used to be shopping trips into the city centre.

KAT BARON
Culture & Diversity, Quality of Education, Internationalisation
k.baron@usr.vu.nl
Kat Baron

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