'Organise something where Caribbean students can meet.'
Keighley (student Geography teacher)
In a conversation with fourth-year student Keighley, Vigo Spruijt, a member of INCLUDED's student editorial board, discovered that Caribbean students remain heavily dependent on the Netherlands. Is this dependency part of neocolonialism?
The Dutch past, especially the country's role in the colonial era, has been a hot topic lately. When you start talking about it, you often get a response like: “But that's all in the past, isn't it? You can't change the past!” But the Dutch colonial era still plays a role among Caribbean students at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. In the seventeenth century, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten were colonised by the Netherlands. Since then, these islands have all formally belonged to the Netherlands. This still has consequences today. Although formally independent for several decades, in practice these countries still seem to be dependent on the former motherland. There is a term for this: neo-colonialism. Is the very limited choice of education also a result of this?
Limited choice of education
In the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, the choice of study programmes is much more limited. The focus is on medicine and tourism, which means that many students are still dependent on other countries. In addition, Dutch programmes are better known internationally. They are also internationally recognised because of their structure (with bachelor's and master's degrees). Because the cost of studying in the United States and Canada is so high, the Netherlands is a logical choice for many students.
Studying so far away from home can have negative consequences. Research by the Ministries of Education of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten shows that only 23% of students graduate after four years. Many students become homesick and end up not completing their studies. They then return home without a diploma, but with a huge student debt. They have no choice but to pay the high rents in the Netherlands, for example, to have a roof over their heads. This debt puts students under enormous pressure. The Dutch language is also often a problem. Students who are smart enough for higher education are still judged on their Dutch language skills.
Keighley (24) is a fourth-year student in the geography teacher training programme. She came to the Netherlands from Aruba for her study programme.
Keighley, why did you choose this study programme?
"I had originally chosen the Biology Teacher Training Programme, but as I did not have Chemistry at HAVO level, I ended up choosing Geography. I really enjoyed the subject at school, and I had a great teacher. It's a great subject because geography has a lot to do with other cultures. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. I enjoy being in contact with other people, talking to them and working with them. I also had a very kind mentor at school who helped me through a difficult
time. She was like a second mother to me. I still talk to her, and she inspires me to be that person for others. To be able to connect with a student and have a positive impact on young people's lives is a beautiful thing".
Why did you choose to study at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands?
"Most students from Aruba come to the Netherlands to study. Teachers in high school also assume that students will go to the Netherlands. They already have Dutch citizenship, so it's easy. In Aruba there are only a limited number of programmes and there is no teacher training programme for geography or biology. I did a lot of research and chose Rotterdam because it is a multicultural city.
What was it like for you to move to the Netherlands?
"In the beginning I was really excited about the adventure. Living alone in a new country, making friends and partying all seemed like a lot of fun. My best friend already lived here, so it was nice to live with her. Unfortunately, the reality was different. The first year of the programme was manageable, but when my best friend went back to Bonaire, it got a lot lonelier. I realised that I really had no one. It was difficult to make friends because it was a completely different world.
Have you often felt alone here?
"I feel alone almost all the time. Of course, I know people who are there for me and support me, but it's a different kind of bond you have. It's not the deep connection you have with your own people, family, and friends. I have good contact with people from my class, but it's not a real friendship. In Aruba I really came to school for my friends and that gave me a warm feeling. I miss that here".
What could RUAS do to improve your sense of belonging?
"They could be more sensitive to the feelings of Caribbean students. Despite our efforts to fit in, it's still very difficult. We come from a different culture. The school could help by organising something where Caribbean students can meet and talk about their experiences. We probably all have the same problems.
What advice do you have for students who can relate to your story?
"Reach for your goals, be goal-oriented! Open yourself up to meeting new people. Try to squeeze the Dutch culture into your life. Try to find a balance between your own culture and the Dutch culture. And remember that it will all work out in the end".
Can you relate to this story? Check out Study Help.
Moving from the Caribbean, starting university, leaving high school: your life is turned upside down. Running your own household far away from family and friends and adjusting to the academic language level can be a huge challenge. Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences helps you keep all the balls in the air. https://www.hogeschoolrotterdam.nl/voorlichting/begeleiding-en-voorzieningen/hulp-bij-studie/hulp-per-doelgroep/caribisch-student/