‘International students are missing out’
The university should do more for its international students, says University Student Councillor Ayesha Noorain Rizwan. According to the master’s student Information Sciences from India, corona has affected the international students in a different way.
How did the corona crisis affect international students?
“Some of the international students have gone back home when the corona crisis started. Not all of them have returned to Amsterdam, and they are not sure if they can come back, and when. Some of them are still paying rent or other bills for their accommodation here.”
“These students are sometimes living in a totally different time zone. They can watch the recorded lectures, but they are missing out on the interaction. Also, a friend of mine who has gone back home, was cut off from a lecture because the power went off. That’s something you can’t imagine here, but these things are actually happening.”
One out of three new international students at the VU is registered with a foreign address. That would mean that about 800 new bachelor and master students are studying from their home country. However, the International Office warns, experience shows that not every student who already lives in the Netherlands has changed their address. In March, it were mainly the exchange students that went home permanently. 'Other travel movements were mainly temporary in nature', emails department head Wendy Maat.
How about the students who are still in Amsterdam. Is the corona crisis affecting them differently as well?
“These students haven’t had a proper break from their studies. They have been staying in their small apartments, studying at home, sometimes cramped with fourteen or fifteen roommates in a flat. And they haven’t seen their family for a long time.”
What can VU Amsterdam do about that?
“It’s not something the university can solve directly. But what the university can do is provide moral support to these students, so that they don’t feel lonely. For example, booking an appointment with a student counselor takes a minimum of three weeks! If I feel like talking to someone, it makes no sense that I have to wait for so long. I know the counselors are overbooked with appointments. Therefore it’s important that the university has separate counselors for international students to easily reach out to.”
Do international students come to the Student Council with their issues?
“The University Student Council has planned their first public meeting with other international members of the Faculty Student Councils, asking them for their experience. That should be the first step: asking the international students what problems they are facing. Only then we can find solutions. I don’t see that happening around me.”
You are an international students yourself, and you stayed in Amsterdam. What do you think could be a solution?
“International students are missing out. Now the only way I can interact with my fellow students is in the virtual lecture hall. We are two months down the new academic year, and I still don’t know who my fellow students are. We see each other in working groups and project sessions, but there is no other interaction. Sometimes the students take the initiative to connect outside the classroom. But it’s wrong to leave it to the individuals. We need a platform besides the formal ones, and the university should provide that.”