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. 



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