To finally give international students an opportunity to meet each other face-to-face instead of from in front of their laptops, the Avans International Community organised a free barbecue at Brack in Breda on last Thursday evening. With nearly six hundred students attending, it was a huge success.
Every student received a ticket that said you wouldn’t be allowed onto the site any more after five o’clock. But there was no way the rule could be enforced because when five o’clock came there was still a long queue of students wanting to get in. “A lot more people came out for the event than we had expected”, says Avans co-organiser Fernando Rojas Franco, somewhat surprised when he saw the people queuing in the bright sunshine. “That tells you something about the need internationals feel to get together again. And naturally the weather was splendid. Even if you dream of having good weather, this was more than you could ask for.”
Once within the grounds, it was a friendly mix of mostly international students queuing for free drinks or a snack, while a host of different languages floated through the air.
The barbecue was organised by the new Avans International Community, which was set up back in May but held its first big event on Thursday evening. The group was set up to promote closer cooperation between international study programmes, but also to make international students feel like they belong at Avans. “During the coronavirus period, it again became clear that some international students were suffering from loneliness. Lots of online lectures meant that it remained difficult to feel at home at the institution, the city where they’re studying and with their fellow students”, Franco explains.
Not my kind of food
Two of the many attendees are chemistry student Joanna Arbona and nursing student Adri Cadenas, both from Aruba. In a corner of the warehouse they have just started on their meal. “It’s not my kind of food at all. I expected a real barbecue, with sausages and hamburgers, this isn’t really barbecue food”, Adri says pointing to her plate. When these two freshers received their invitations for the event, they didn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about whether they would go. “This is the first chance we’ve had to get to know a lot of other international students. If you’re only going to classes, it’s a lot harder. That’s why it’s really good that Avans is organising this event”, she says.
The two have luckily never had issues with loneliness, partially because they fanatically text and phone with the home front in sunny Aruba every day. “But they say that you feel homesickness more in the winter, so I’m wondering what that will be like”, Joanna says while taking a sip of her drink. “It’s good to know that there are other international students you can talk to.”
Well-being and housing
The barbecue, which went until 8.00 PM, was free for all first- and second-year students in international programmes, meaning Dutch students were also invited to attend. If the organisers have their way, it won’t be the last event of its kind. “The International Community is also here to help students with problems in the areas of mental health and well-being. We have good contacts with a number of student counsellors”, says Rabia Aznag, Avans staff member and co-organiser. “And we’re here to help students who are looking for housing. We can offer them good advice and support them, not only in the short term, but also in the long term. This event was the kick-off to let everyone know that we’re here.”
Standing a few tables away, the Dutch student Memouna Sisi, Giulia Guidotti from Brazil and Shanna Zeng from China are having a friendly conversation. Each of them has a drink in their hand. You don’t really have to ask these second-year students in International Business whether they are having a good time. “This is so much fun! We knew a bunch of our fellow students would be here, it’s really wild. Finally we can meet other people”, Giulia says enthusiastically.
It was about time, too, an event like this, the three say. The last academic year was really tough. “A huge number of other students deregistered and left. They didn’t feel any connection with the school. Obviously, a lot of Dutch students were also at home a lot, but they could fall back on friends and family in the country. We can’t do that”, the Brazilian student says. “That’s why it’s especially nice that second year students were invited today and weren’t forgotten. We didn’t have Introduction Days last year.”
They do have a small criticism about the event. “The food! This would have been the perfect occasion to be introduced to traditional Dutch food”, Sanna says.
When the end of the evening approaches, the atmosphere is just as good as it was at the beginning, according to Ivan Krilov from Bulgaria, a third-year student in Environmental Science in Breda. He was very happy to have a chance to meet new people here. “That’s part of student life, certainly for international students. Last year, when it wasn’t allowed because of the pandemic, I really started to feel lonely”, he says openly.
He noticed that Dutch students don’t always pay attention to the international students in their programme, even though he thinks that’s somewhat logical. “But then it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. That’s why it’s great that Avans is making this a priority and that we’re here now with almost only international students. I’m still having a good time!”