Student association boards have hardly any international students. Some can’t find them; others don’t want them.
Dutch students make up less than six percent of the ESN international student association membership. But Dutch students make up one hundred percent of the ESN board. ESN president Adiëlla Boot thinks this is a shame. ‘We’re an international organisation, and we are definitely searching for international students’, she says.
But ESN can’t find them, and it’s not alone. AIESEC, the global humanitarian youth association, aims to foster ‘world citizenship’ in its members – but still, everyone on the Groningen board is Dutch. ‘It’s a challenge to approach internationals,’ says board member Merel Peletier.
The current board often finds new members through personal networks which are mostly Dutch. ‘We don’t know the international market that well’, says Peletier. And international students don’t step forward on their own.
Boot believes there are several reasons for the shortage. Most full-time international students have only budgeted for the time it takes to get a degree, so the financial cost of an additional gap year is prohibitive. And almost half of ESN members are exchange students who leave Groningen within six months and can only commit to short-term committees.
Other student organisations simply don’t accept international students on their boards at all. Student sports foundation ACLO only allows Dutch board members, even though all their class instructions are in English.
Board members have to know Dutch in order to understand important documents, explains Maud van den Berg from ACLO. ‘We’re in the process of internationalisation, and we are trying to translate all the documents we have’, she explains. ‘But it takes a long time.’
Cultural association USVA only accepts Dutch-speaking applicants because they have to communicate with local and national groups and professionals in Dutch. And it’s the same story for the students’ union Groninger Studentenbond, which collaborates with local Dutch council members and legal professionals.
‘If internationals apply for the board, they’re very welcome here,’ says Groninger Studentenbond board member Iris van der Burch. ‘But we have to find people who speak Dutch.’