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October 2017
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Erasmus University’s Sports Associations: International or Not?

Erasmus University takes pride in positioning itself as an international campus, but what happens to these international students after classes end? Do they get the chance to integrate into the Dutch population through for example the process of sports associations, or are they left to fend for themselves?

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Erasmus University, an ever growing campus on the outskirts Rotterdam, a city becoming more international each day. It will therefore not come as a surprise that by reporting 5.814 international students (accounting for 25% of the total student population), the university is proud to boast itself as being an international university. On top of the many amenities the campus has to offer, students are also able to join sports associations, many of which are situated right on campus. With an impressive 22 associations to choose from; ranging from badminton to rowing and from basketball to gymnastics, all students can be assured that they will find one to suit their interests. What they should remember though is that the internationalization of the university is still a work in progress and that many associations are still in the process of accommodating these international students and attempting to integrate them with the Dutch majority

How does Erasmus Volley measure up?
One of the associations based out of Erasmus Sport’s vibrant sports accommodation is Erasmus Volley, an organization that prides itself on inviting international student to join their association. The association actively seeks out international students to join their activities and all trainings and information (direct as well as online) is available both in Dutch and in English. This is an effort that I have found from my personal experience to be valid. Laura, a German IBA student and ex-Erasmus Volley member shares this experience, “I think Erasmus Volley tries quite hard to include the internationals by posting stuff in English also by writing the monthly journal in English” she tells me as she recalls her memories of the past year, “even if most of them speak in Dutch they quickly switch to English”. However, there is some conflict in these perceptions as Anna, 21 year old French/Croatian IBCoM student and also an ex- Erasmus Volley member explained that there were some language barriers in her team, leaving her “segregated” at times. This was also due to that she felt “it was always a bit intimidating to join”, especially after being the only remaining “international” in her team. The Dutch perspective to this is quite similar as Dutch Econometrics students Maaike explains “the board tries to include the internationals as much as possible”, however in her she also notes that language is still a big issue, both for Dutch and international students.

Where does Baros rank?
Baros, the Erasmus Basketball association, explains that though they accommodate international students (if necessary training in English, English website etc.)  they do not actively seek them out. However once they join they are welcomed like any other part of the association. Andja Latinovic, Baros’ secretary summarizes this by stating “international students are most welcome at Baros”. Anna, a Dutch 20 year old IBEB student and enthusiastic Baros member, also has a few years of experience with internationals being a part of her teams. Her impression relates well to the general atmosphere of the association as she explains that “the trainings are in English and we treat them [the internationals] just as any other part of the team”. Though she does notice some miscommunications due to language she does not feel this has greatly affected her experience.
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What do the rowers have to say?
Another big association can be found a little further down the road where they train at Kralingse Plas. Rotterdam rowing association Skadi’s situation is a bit more complicated, when asked about their policy Skadi’s secretary Else Visser explains that though they welcome international students to sign up, many drop out quite quickly. Brigit, a 19 year old Dutch IBCoM student ,and enthusiastic Skadi rower suggests that this might be due to the traditions, “It was quite difficult for them to suddenly start learning Dutch songs and traditions” she explains as she thinks about the behaviour of the few international members she knows. This language barrier seems to be a recurring theme as one respondent, who prefers to remain anonymous, reveals that during her Eurekaweek she was told point blanc that if she didn’t speak English she shouldn’t join. Though it would be unfair to hold one member’s statement against the entire association it does show that a bias against non-Dutch speakers still exists.

What is the problem then?
In the end it becomes clear that associations do try to welcome international students, but whether these truly feel accepted is a different matter. Many struggle with fitting in and some even abandon the association all together, the main cause of which seems to be the language barrier. But who is to blame then? The associations and the Dutch students are generally the first to be judged, yet they can hardly be blamed for speaking their own language in their own country. Not everybody has the advantage and ability of learning multiple languages and consequently (unwillingly) excluding those who do not speak Dutch. On the other hand it is hardly realistic to expect all international students to learn Dutch when, aside from the language itself being quite a tricky one, the university advertises itself as an international campus. But can such a language barrier ever completely be dissolved? And if it can, will this solve the internationals’ problem?


Disclaimer: Some names have been changed or left out in order to preserve confidentiality of the respondents

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