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Internationals at Erasmus Sport Clubs: Aye To or Way to Go?

Erasmus SportAs soon as I entered the noisy, not so cosy, but nice sportscafé from Erasmus Sport, I saw Larissa sitting at one of the tables in the corner, together with her volleyball team mates. Everyone was in bustling conversations, while Larissa just stared at her phone, which was the reason that I decided to jump in. I asked her whether she liked it at Erasmus Volley, the student volleyball association from Erasmus University Rotterdam. “Yes, definitely!”, she began convinced. However, she continued slightly less convinced. “I mean, I love to play volleyball, and my team mates are really kind. However, sometimes I just think it would have been nice if I weren’t the only international student in my team.”

Larissa, 20 years old, Thai and second-year bachelor student Psychology, is one of the 4,962 international students that are studying at Erasmus University of Rotterdam in 2015. With 24,069 students in total, more than a fifth of the students are internationals, which is a lot compared to for example the roughly 11% at the University of Amsterdam, or the merely 5.5% in Utrecht. Besides study programs, Erasmus offers many different sport facilities, differing from squash, to boxing, to hockey. However, unless the high number of international students, these sports clubs do not seem to have totally taken over this international-mindedness as well, which can make it hard for international students to integrate into the club.

Larissa: “At first sight playing volleyball at Erasmus is great for internationals! The trainings are mostly given in English, and people talk to me in English as well. Only, as soon as people start talking with each other they switch to Dutch, what makes it almost impossible for me to join any conversation. That’s totally understandable of course, because, come on, we are in The Netherlands! However, sometimes it does make me feel kind of excluded.”

Where Erasmus Volley still is relatively open to internationals, this is quite different for Skadi, the rowing club, and simultaneously one of the biggest student sport associations of Rotterdam. The Vietnamese Jina signed up for this club, but stopped already after one month. “I was placed in one of the few international boats, that were created in order to avoid language barriers. However, I felt like this only created more and more barriers, since you only knew the few internationals, making it even harder to integrate with the Dutch people. Besides that, all emails and activities were in Dutch as well. As I started to notice more and more that everyone just seemed to forget about the non-Dutch speakers, I decided it was enough for me.”

Something similar seems to happen at soccer association Antibarbari. Their website and social media are totally in Dutch, as is the club, according to president Saskia: “I don’t really know why it is the case, but it’s pretty rare for us to have international members in the club. I think that maybe it’s just hard to function within a team if you speak a different language. If international members subscribe, they often don’t stay that long.”

Lisa thinks this to be some sort of chain reaction. Because there are no international students in the club, everything is in Dutch, which makes it harder for internationals to join, which again makes that there are little internationals in the club, which makes it seem unnecessary to translate websites and pay more attention to international students, and so forth.

Lisa herself is French and is actually a board member of one of the student sport associations, namely running club EUR-Roadrunners. “At the EUR-Roadrunners, actually 23% of our members is international! We are very glad with this. It’s great to see how all different cultures can get around very well! Of course sometimes when I’m surrounded by Dutch people only, I cannot always participate in the conversations, but since that doesn’t happen too often I don’t really mind. I mean, it’s also really good to be in a club with so many Dutch people, since you learn many cultural things, by for example celebrating Sinterklaas!”

Tobias, Hungarian, also has good experiences with joining tennis club, Passingshot. “Besides finding many new friends in the club, it is also a very cultural experience for me. I am mostly the only foreigner, which makes me learn a lot about the Dutch, and on away games I get to visit the weirdest places in Holland. However, when I’m there everyone always speaks English to me and that really helps with feeling welcome.”

Larissa totally agrees that there are also nice sides to sometimes be within Dutch culture. “At my study I mostly hang out with other internationals. At Erasmus Volley I can learn more about the culture I’m now living in. Our yell is now for example ‘Aye To!’ which is apparently a famous quote from some Dutch tv-show for children, meaning something like ‘Good work!’. I bet otherwise I never would’ve found out about that!”

As member of the volleyball and running club, I personally feel like it can be a great addition to have international members in your club, since they bring great diversity, and can for example tell great stories about how it is to run in India with a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. However, I think that this can only work if a club really enables internationals to fit in.

I feel like at this moment, many student sport clubs just don’t really try to integrate internationals in their club, which makes it simply impossible for them to blend into these. However, clubs that do give the effort to fit internationals in, show that it can be of great benefit, since many internationals are highly motivated to join sport clubs, and it can serve as a great way of exchanging cultures. I personally really hope that in near future, more and more clubs will recognize this and take over this international, open mind-set, to in this way also make Rotterdam an even more international city.

By: Esther Pieters

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