Housing crisis, language crisis, staff burnout: blame internationals

I cannot recall when I heard the word international for the first time. But I remember getting on a bus in August 2000 from Pennsylvania to New York for a trip arranged for international students. I remember practising the pronunciation of water throughout that journey: wat-duh. 

The problem was that by the time I was able to order water in one try, I had to move to London and learn how to say wa-tter. There, nobody other than the customs officers cared about where I was coming from, so I was no longer an international.

In fact, I never thought of myself as an ‘international’ before moving to Groningen seven years ago. I have also been attributed other statuses such as ‘expat’, ‘immigrant’, or ‘foreigner’. The latter still makes me nauseous. I wonder when, if ever, I will be allowed to get rid of the buitenlander status. When I have children? When my children have children? When I retire?

What could seem like an oxymoron is that at the same time, my Dutch friends are leading a rather international life: they speak perfect English, work at Google, travel a lot, drink Starbucks coffee in the morning, and watch Netflix at night.

When, if ever, will I be allowed to get rid of the buitenlander status?

The recent national debate on internationalisation made me wonder how we came to the point of blaming those international students for everything: the inability of the universities to cater to the expected high numbers of students (who remembers Brexit?), the fact that university staff are overtired (not to mention that we recently came out of a global pandemic), the idea that the Dutch language is at threat (but no reference is made to the fact that Dutch children’s reading skills are fast declining), and even the housing crisis (or should I say nitrogen crisis?). 

I don’t need to experience any linguistic nationalism or xenophobia at this point in my life, I think to myself. My ‘international’ friends in Groningen agree. We start looking at the world map in search of possible destinations, as we sip our wine at a North African restaurant. We end up in a discussion about how internationalisation is broadly misunderstood, misused, and falsy reduced to solely the language of higher education.

We laugh because we know that AI will solve all language-related issues in no time. Water, aqua, eau, آب, νερό will matter not. The internationalisation issue we have to solve through a multi-factored and systemic approach; as all complex problems require. 



  1. Yes the Schrödinger’s immigrant, taking our herbs and our benefits. Living in a bubble not willing to integrate. Certain people avoid self reflection at all costs and even when they are fluent in a language fail to see between the lines of the “national discourse”.

    If you want the business that Brexit produced (tax heaven anyone) you have to live with the consequences…
    Sometimes you cannot have your cake and eat it

  2. I relate. It’s almost impossible to get accepted as one of them in the Dutch society, no matter how well integrated you are. For them, being international is cool, for you – a stigma.

  3. Very weird and strange article. Without any self reflection. Some people realy live in an island.
    “Living an international life, travel a lot(thats whats wrong with this world), drinking Starbucks(omg really…)”
    This article is the perfecy example of living in an international bubble with a huge gap to reality and the country you life in. Step out of your high educated international bubble and experience that outside your bubble inside an expatcity there is a life.

  4. I think there’s a little bit of projection here from the author. Removing the label “buitenlander” can be achieved once you start speaking proper Dutch; something we locals expect from immigrants after several years (especially if you’re highly educated, get paid well and live here for 5+ years…). Lucy’s frustrations about speaking Dutch and how she hopes AI will solve that issue for her haven’t gone unnoticed in her columns. While I can empathize, especially since Dutch isn’t the most friendly language, the real problem isn’t about language fluency per se, but taking ownership in trying to integrate. A perfect way of doing so is by learning the language. The effort is what counts, and this pertains to most of the criticisms locals have regarding international students and staff. Somehow Lucy conflates this with other societal issues which reflect on our administrators and universities. I for onedon’t blame internationals for anything really; except in, unfortunately too many cases, the lack of showing interest in Dutch culture, language and rules. But certainly not housing and other issues (I know quite some colleagues who are skeptical about the degree of internationalization, but never have I heard anyone be xenophobic or blame internationals for what’s been posted in this column.)
    Perhaps next time the author could stick to facts and not just summarize national debate as blaming internationals. Again, a better proficiency of Dutch would help in actually following what’s been said on the national level.

    • Although I can appreciate my previous summary of this comment having been deleted, I would like to add that in writing “something we locals expect from immigrants”, the author is generalizing too much. Not all locals are like the author.

      • Not my fault you fail to comprehend what I meant by that. In addition you might want to step outside of your bubble and ask stadjers with various backgrounds what they think of the segregation and increasing use of English in the city centre. There’s a limit to everything – called the carrying capacity (while commonly used in sustainability, it applies to social processes as well).

        • I did not fail to comprehend what you meant by that. It seems you failed to understand what I meant. I just pointed out that you write “we locals” as if your unfriendly opinion is shared by all, which is not the case.

    • The nitrogen crisis, caused by farmers mostly, prevents new houses being built. It is not the internationals or refugees that are the cause for the housing crisis. This is how I interpret it, at least.

  5. Wow! working at google, watching netflix and drinking starbucks. Such an international life.
    I feel sorry for you.

    • This morning I took the bus which was a Mercedes-Benz, and a few months ago I even ordered from Amazon !
      So I consider my life verry international as well.


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