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Week of the International Student: ‘Whenever I’m homesick my mum is not there to take care of me with a nice pot of soup’

Karime Mojica Handal

Traveller, yoga instructor, student, environmentalist. All of these words can be used to describe Karime Mojica Handal. Hailing from Saltillo, Mexico she is now a second year student Environmental Sciences in Breda. “In the Netherlands I get the chance to be more independent.”

In the past four years Karime spent more time abroad than at home in Mexico. It all started when, at 17 years old, she went on a yearlong exchange in Sweden. It was a common thing to do, she says. “A lot of my friends went abroad and I wanted to go as well. I just went to the agency that arranges student exchanges and they told me Sweden is quite cool and I thought okay, let’s go!” A little pause. “I couldn’t even locate Sweden on a map.”

‘I felt like I was part of the family’

Part of the family
When she arrived Karime was very nervous about her new life in Sweden. “At that point, everything could either go right or wrong.” Luckily, everything went very right. The international student was placed in a host family with two young kids in Göteborg and developed a deep bond with the host family. Her face lights up as she looks back. “The family feeling was very real. I did the same things as I would back home. We went shopping together, skied together and spent Christmas together. I didn’t feel like a random student, I felt like I was part of the family.”

It took Karime some time getting used to her Swedish host family. “Back in Mexico it was only my mother and me, my father was mostly absent. Changing to an environment with two young children, a mum and a dad was quite a shock to me. When I got used to it, it was very nice though. Because their children didn’t speak English I learned Swedish really fast. I still see my Swedish host family very often. Distance wise, they’re the family that right now is the closest to me.”

‘When I was accepted for the Dutch scholarship I was so happy’

When she got home in Mexico, Karime decided she wanted to pursue a study abroad. “At first I wanted to study in Sweden but since I’m not from the European Union this was too expensive for me.” It did not hold her back for long, though. “My high school grades were not too bad so I decided to apply for scholarships all over the world. When I was accepted for the Dutch scholarship I was so happy. I told my mum: you cannot tell me that I can’t go because I just got 5.000 euro!”

The international student to be decided to study at Avans because at the time Avans offered additional scholarships for well performing international students. During her first year however Avans suddenly cancelled the scholarship program. Karime only found out when she decided to check on the deadline. “I read: all scholarships have been discontinued. This was very hard for me because there was a real risk that I had to drop out after just one year. The tuition and living expenses suddenly seemed unaffordable.” She wasn’t the only international student affected by the sudden rule change: “One of my best friends had to leave because she couldn’t afford the tuition anymore.” A troubled look. “There’s a real chance of more students dropping out.”

Karime Mojica Handal
‘Whenever I’m homesick my mum is not there to take care of me with a nice pot of soup’

The student from Mexico now holds multiple jobs to pay for her studies. “I work as a yoga instructor and I’m the president of ESSENCE, the international student association of the School of Life Sciences and Environmental Technology. This summer I also worked as Deliveroo driver, which was a lot of fun.” Karime then looks at the window, where dark rainclouds cover the sky, and shows a wry smile. “Not in this weather though!”

One positive thing the international takes away from this is her independence. “I get the chance to be more independent in the Netherlands whereas in Mexico people live with their parents until they’re 30 years old. Here I get to live with fellow students in our own house, which is really cool!” The smile dissolves. “But whenever I’m homesick my mum is not there to take care of me with a nice pot of soup.”

Dutch directness
Another difference with Mexico is Dutch directness. At times Karime is astounded by the things Dutch people say. “Dutchies come on a lot harsher than people from other countries. One time a student asked a question and the teacher just laughed him off. The student didn’t even care!” When asked to describe how this compares to Mexico, she laughs. “Mexico is Catholic, we sugarcoat everything. We try to say the truth in the most mellow way possible as to not hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Karime sees the contrast between Mexico and the Netherlands as a valuable experience. “I learned that there’s not a wrong or right culture. Differences can be hard to adapt to, but at the same time it makes the whole experience more unique.”

‘I had a tough time getting to terms with my grades’

Sometimes studying in the Netherlands can be very stressful. “I always got perfect grades in Mexico, even if I didn’t study. Now, when I work my ass off studying I barely get an eight. Getting a ten is virtually impossible.” A sigh. “I’m very hard on myself and not patient so I had a tough time getting to terms with my grades.”

Yoga helps as stress relief. “It helps me to take a breather and to put everything into perspective: It’s not me, it’s not that I’m not enough. It’s just that there’s always room for improvement. Yoga helps me to accept this and takes my mind off of my studies and the stress that comes with it.”

As for the future, Karime has no idea how things will turn out. “In the Netherlands I have learned to live by the day. Whatever happens, happens, but most likely it will be for the good. I’m not even sure if I will stay in the Netherlands because I’m not the kind of person that likes to stay in one place. I want to live in at least two more countries before I settle. For now though, I just want to finish my bachelor’s degree, go for a master’s degree, and live a zero waste life.”

Week of the International Student
This is the Week of the International Student. Throughout the Netherlands events are organized for international students. Avans also participates by organizing a Stand Up comedy night in Breda and a Pubquiz in Den Bosch.

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