Students and staff were served free drinks and snacks at the first Summer Fest last thursday. The evening was organised by the Avans International Community (AIC) in cooperation with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). On Thursday evening, some 350 students and staff gathered at Foodhall Breda to bring a toast and meet old and new acquaintances.
According to Joost van Hilst, project manager at the AIC and lecturer in Business Administration, many international students and staff say they have been made to feel very welcome at Avans. But do they really feel at home? Not always, it proves. “A survey revealed that we still have a lot to gain in this area. We recognise the need for activities that promote social cohesion and wellbeing for our international students and staff, so that they can feel truly at home,” said Van Hilst at the start of the evening, as the first students trickled in for a bite to eat and a drink.
The initiative to do more for international students and staff was launched by Avans in April 2021. Following an extensive survey, Van Hilst and his colleagues came up with a plan involving three pillars: “We will start with community building, which entails giving internationals the feeling that they really belong. It’s about strengthening, stimulating and encouraging connections between people in the broadest sense of the word. An evening like this is a fantastic example of this,” says Van Hilst, who goes on to point out how the second pillar, interdisciplinary education, also has an important role to play, with the new International Week in November as a shining example.
“To enable students of international programmes to take control of their own learning process (Ambition 2025), it is important that they have sufficient choices available to them. We would therefore like to see more cooperation between the international bachelor’s degree programmes. The aforementioned International Week is a pilot project we have launched to explore this together. This can also be facilitated by the third pillar: creating a physical space where people can come together. We are helping to achieve this with the construction of Open X in Breda.
According to Van Hilst, who attends in shorts, entirely in keeping with the Summer Fest theme, Open X is a physical space where students and staff can discover and encourage each other’s talents. “It is also a place for just socialising in an environment with an international and inspiring atmosphere,” he says. Various world clocks, an immense world map, international flags, and the frequent repetition of the Avans University of Applied Sciences logo help create this atmosphere. “These may seem like ‘simple things’, but they are much more than that. It is precisely these visual elements that define the identity of our organisation and thus encourage the sense of community,” says Van Hilst, who is delighted with Thursday’s Summer Fest. “After all the COVID restrictions, it’s great to be able to meet again. Now our international community will be able to experience that like never before!”
A little later in the evening, Esra Sh-Suliman, a first-year student of International Business in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and originally from Lebanon, is walking around with a friend, in her hand a cup of pink bubble tea. “We have just inspected the food; it looks good!” she says with a satisfied smile.
Unlike many of the students present, Esra does not study in Breda, but in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. “But I’m willing to put up with the train journey, because I like meeting new people. I like gezelligheid, being together,” she says. Esra, who also speaks Dutch, is happy that Avans is doing something for international students. When she looks at friends who study abroad, for example in Lebanon, she thinks they do more for community building there than Avans currently does. “They hold festivals with music, but also with stands where students from various countries can show something of their own culture and cook food together. I would love to see that done here too. But this is a good start.”
“I study International Business. I am learning the ‘business’ side all right, but it would be interesting to see the ‘international’ side strengthened through learning about different cultures. That’s still lacking at the moment,” she advises.
Close by in the restaurant, at around a quarter past eight, Lucy Donayre despairs at the menus in front of her. “I just had sushi, and before that ramen, and I’m still unsure of what to have next. It’s a pity that we only get ten euros to spend with this pass,” laughs the student from Mexico, who is following the Business Leadership & Sustainability minor at Avans. “But I am saving myself for tonight’s afterparty, when I’m going all-in.”
Lucy came to the event together with a group of fellow international students. She had been looking forward to it for a while, especially since this is her last month in the Netherlands. “The academic year is almost over, and I want to end my stay here with a bang, together with my friends. There’s a good vibe here, so I have no doubt that will happen,” she says, as Jennifer Lopez’s classic Let’s get Loud booms from the speakers and the first students cautiously venture out to dance.
She welcomes the fact that the AIC has organised this Summer Fest and aims to do more for international students next year. “Corona made it difficult of course, but I would have liked this event to have taken place much sooner. It is good that Avans is encouraging international students to form a community,” says Lucy. She herself felt mostly at home at the university. “But you notice how some Dutch students mainly like to hang out with other Dutch students. That’s logical, but it’s a pity. So it’s nice there is now a group especially for international students.”
The evening in the Foodhall lasted until 11 p.m. and was followed by an afterparty in club CUE.