This week I was intrigued to read about the struggles of international students with language barriers at the UG. The two articles included a good spread of the issues these barriers can present to internationals. One looked at language barriers in student associations and the other noted issues with university council documentation.
In the first, a number of students speak about their worries and anxieties at joining in on student association activities when they cannot speak Dutch, or when they are at an early stage of learning the language. I recognised a lot of the worries about trying to join in on activities.
For example, while most associations and their members are welcoming, there is always a worry that when everyone switches to English that you are being some major inconvenience and that everyone is just too polite to ask you to leave. But the article shows that this is one of those little personal worries many internationals like myself share and simply isn’t an issue in most cases.
In truth, most internationals enjoy the chance to improve their Dutch and many Dutch students really won’t pass up a chance to practice their English. Most associations have released their documents in English too. It was particularly heart-warming to read that even when Dutch was the only language available, Dutch colleagues would whisper translations into their fellow students’ ears.
If you can’t make your point in Dutch, does it really matter?
Compare this to the second article, where Eoin Raftery of Lijst Calimero mentions that important and highly technical documentation for the recent university council meeting was only available in Dutch. This means internationals have to spend extra time translating them and often miss out on key details. Having been a student representative in Dublin for two years, I understand this must be a nightmare.
Documents like this are often so technical it’s easy to miss key details hidden in the fine print when they were in my native tongue. Having to rely on a free, unofficial translation would have been hell. More than that, it sends a deeper message to internationals on the council which says ‘if you can’t make your point in Dutch, does it really matter?’.
Devaluing someone’s time and contribution to a meeting by alienating them from key documentation isn’t the welcoming message the UG tries to send internationals when they ask them to fork out big money in fees to study here. So why is it acceptable to send this message at the high table?
Thankfully, while higher-ups struggle to play catch-up, the students lead the way again.