I started at the university, were we teach in English and welcome lots of international students each year. Recently at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, I have been involved in a new master program where we welcome international students. I want to use this blog to say thank you to all these international students I’ve met along the way.
Thank you for the reflection
As a supervisor I bring my own context to the table. Students do the same, of course. Those contexts can be conflicting at times. For instance: I value directness. To me, direct messages seem clear and honest. International students however can sometimes communicate more indirectly as that seems more respectful to them. This can in turn lead me to – falsely- conclude that someone is not being honest. So, international students enable me to question my own beliefs. I have learned that the Netherlands has a so-called ‘low-context culture’, meaning that we tend to use very direct verbal communication and rely heavily on explicit verbal skills. Many international students come from high-context cultures, which often exhibit less-direct verbal communication, and use more nonverbal communication. In this communication style, information can be communicated in other ways than direct verbal messages, and one can even say something by not saying it.
I can’t and won’t change my style and neither do I expect this from students. When I don’t understand what the other person is saying or doing, I am open about it. I start asking these nasty direct questions. The answers I get are often very open and sincere. This is what fascinates me: two people, coming from different parts of the world, finding each other in being human. When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re not so different.
Thank you for travelling with me
I used to travel a lot and have enjoyed it immensely. Now that I am less mobile this is no longer an option. But through my students I am able to travel. They tell me their stories and I can look up the fascinating locations using Google Earth. Sometimes, when students have received their grades and are no longer dependent of my evaluation, we visit a restaurant together where we eat that one meal that is so specific to their region of origin. Or, they share videos with me of their families’ celebrations, and point me to recipes of their favorite regional dishes online. International students often like to celebrate special moments with sweets and pastries, the tastes of which surprise me every time! As supervisors we can’t accept gifts, but little treats like that are perfectly acceptable and very much appreciated. Those treats are connected to students’ cultures that they are proud of, and they enable me to travel to those parts of the world. Thank you for enriching my life.
I want to end this blog with the beautiful Indian Namasté, which means ‘my soul recognizes your soul’. I have a lot of respect for international students’ perseverance. Studying in the Netherlands means you need to overcome many obstacles, such as meeting the criteria for visas and scholarships, and finding a place to live. And then when you have managed to do all that, you find yourself in a new country, where it’s cold, grey and wet, where the culture is very different from your own and it’s hard to get to know any locals.
Many international students learn Dutch. And after having been here for two years they are so valuable to us that we do not want to see them go. They never let go of their own cultural identity. Some return to their home countries, with their diplomas. Others stay here to find a job or start a PhD. In two years’ time, they have become citizens of the world, prepared to take on our grand global challenges from various contexts. Thank you all!
Martine van den Boomen is a Professor at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and a principal researcher at TU Delft.
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