The charm offensive of the RUG

During Meet the University, the RUG puts its best face forward for 20 visiting universities. Their mission: to woo academic partners into bringing their relationship to the next level.

Tjalling Halbertsma knows exactly what he needs: ‘We have 30 students and we need places for these students abroad in China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia.’ For director of the fledgling Centre for East Asian Studies, that means that Meet the University is way more than a grip-n-grin event. ‘Partners in Asia are key to us – that’s really what the success of the East Asia Studies programme depends on.’

So, where can a young Dutch programme find a respected Asian partner? Meet the University, of course. This year, Halbertsma personally invited Pusan National University from South Korea to visit. Professor Hongchan Chun and Professor Joe Phillips were the official delegates, but a third guest was playing for both teams: incoming economics associate professor Sunkung Choi.

Wined and dined

Choi is just getting to know Groningen, but she’s very familiar with Pusan – she was a bachelor’s student there. That made Meet the University a little bit surreal for her, in a good way. ‘Professor Chun was actually my professor when I was a student at Pusan’, she says. ‘Now that I have become a doctor and we were able to meet here, he was just really happy to see me doing so well and getting this job in Groningen. It was quite an experience!’

Along with the Pusan representatives, 19 other international universities were wined and dined around the city and province last week. It’s all about laying the groundwork, coordinator Anita Veltmaat says. ‘If you get people together, there’s always good things coming out of it, whether tangible or not. They don’t have to be material per se, but it’s really networking.’

‘Really impressed’

But one undeniable benefit is that it looks pretty good for internationalisation: no other Dutch universities offer a comparable programme, Veltmaat says. Professor Anders Klostergaard Petersen, who was a guest of the Faculty of Religious Studies and Theology, had never seen anything like it at his home institution of Aarhus University in Denmark. ‘We don’t have anything to this extent at all, so I was really impressed.’

‘There’s always good things coming out of it, whether tangible or not’

Petersen and the rest of the guests got a city tour and were introduced to each of the RUG’s ten faculties, as well as a swanky dinner at Verhildersum estate in the province. It’s obviously an important event for the RUG in general and to president Poppema in particular: he arrived at Verhildersum after coming straight from Schiphol, following a 12-hour-long flight back to the Netherlands from China.

Petersen admired Poppema’s humourous hour-long presentation at the dinner, but Poppema himself attributed his somewhat loose style to serious jet lag.

Foundations are laid

While few specific exchanges or collaborations are fully formed by the end of the event, the foundation is laid for those partnerships to develop. Charlotte Hoekstra, student affairs officer for the brand-new University College Groningen, said it kind of felt like starting a new relationship. ‘When you meet a guy, you don’t take him home on the first night necessarily. First you take him out to coffee, then maybe you go to dinner – so, we went to coffee.’

As for Choi, she’s decided to get serious with Groningen. ‘This event really made me think, ‘wow, it was a really good choice to come here.’ Groningen seems like an even nicer university than I thought.’