Not roaring but weeping

Fear of the unknown can do real damage, as UKrant’s new student columnist Carla Erasmus, who’s from South Africa, knows all too well. It’s time to embrace the different cultures in Groningen, she says.

In 1987, at the height of unrest in the apartheid regime of South Africa, the song “Weeping” was released as a defiant response to the 1985 State of Emergency declaration. The message of the song is potent. It tells a story of a man who lives in fear of a monster and though he claims to have tamed it, the fear and the fire and the guns stayed. Yet, the narrator says, ‘as the night came round, I heard its lonely sound. It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping’.

As a South African, post-apartheid, it became integral to my education to understand this fear that threw its cloak over our sunny country. I use the word fear, for it captures a shared human experience, especially a fear of the unknown, which transcends discrimination borders.

In the Netherlands today, the fear of internationalization is no different from that of the man in the song. This fear echoes the chatter in most of the West and has even seeped into universities. So, as an international student in the Netherlands, where does this leave me?

International students are often perfect scapegoats for pressing issues like the housing crisis. Internationalization places immense pressure on the standing of Dutch language and culture, but for the scapegoats this results in discrimination.

Discrimination, regardless of its specifics, is a direct response to fear. But everyone is facing the consequences of the housing crisis. If everyone has the same struggles, surely there’s a better solution than blaming internationalization for a problem of which the cause runs deeper and predates the perceived influx of international students?

Surely there’s a better solution than blaming internationalization for a problem of which the cause runs deeper?

The solution lies within understanding the dimensions of this commonality. 

International students are again scapegoats for the Dutch language exiting academia. In the study “Publish (in English) or Perish”, it shows that over 90 percent of scientific articles published globally are in English, and thus it has become the lingua franca of science. This study also proves that English articles are more successful due to higher citation rates.

The Netherlands holds the position of highest average scientific publications in the top 1 percent most cited. In 2022, Rathenau Instituut showed that our very own University of Groningen had the largest output of scientific publications in the Netherlands. This trend in scientific publications proves that championing for more Dutch in (scientific) academia risks jeopardizing this global standing. 

Changing with the times is essential, but that does not mean that Dutch is now antiquated and useless. In fact, I believe that areas like history and art, unlike science and business where English reigns, is where Dutch is not only important but a niche.

South Africa has earned its nickname ‘the rainbow nation’ by embracing the multitude of complex symbiotic cultures. Similarly, the vast array of different cultures are what makes our Groningen fascinating. I advocate for the power of perspectives!

Beyond blame lies a grander scheme at play, one where internationals are not solely culpable. Finger-pointing stems from fear of the unknown, causing real damage. Solutions might simply lie in seeing our shared fear of the unknown as the monster, and in realising ‘it wasn’t roaring, it was weeping’.



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