Het LSVb-onderzoek naar ‘Buddy-programs in the Netherlands’ laat vooral zien, dat een al te versplinterde vrijblijvendheid binnen de instellingen niet leidt tot blijvende integratie en studiesucces. Zo stelt men vast dat “buddy programs at some institutions are handled by the international office staff and at others – by the communication and marketing department personnel. Another feature of buddy programs is that they are also very decentralized in a sense that in most cases, after the introduction week, buddies are granted considerable freedom over keeping in touch with the international students they are matched with.”
“All of these factors together make it difficult to accurately assess the availability, quality and efficiency of these programs in terms of supporting international students during their initial days in the Netherlands and in terms of creating bonds between Dutch and international students.”
Enkele van de kernobservaties van de studie zijn: ‘Some general trends were noticeable based on the correspondence with the higher education institutions. First of all, most universities and universities of applied sciences are very decentralized. Therefore, buddy programs are often organized by individual faculties rather than on the central university level. In addition, some universities rely on their local ESN section to provide buddy or mentor services to their students. From the top ten list, University of Groningen and University of Amsterdam did so (for an overview of other universities, see the ESN Report in Annex III).
It is also noteworthy that buddy programs at some institutions are handled by the international office staff and at others – by the communication and marketing department personnel. Another feature of buddy programs is that they are also very decentralized in a sense that in most cases, after the introduction week, buddies are granted considerable freedom over keeping in touch with the international students they are matched with. All of these factors together make it difficult to accurately assess the availability, quality and efficiency of these programs in terms of supporting international students during their initial days in the Netherlands and in terms of creating bonds between Dutch and international students.
Buitenlanders voor buitenlanders
Another common feature of buddy programs is the difficulty of recruiting Dutch buddies which results in international students (those who have been in the Netherlands for some time) being recruited as buddies for incoming international students. In this regard, a distinction should be made between two types of buddy programs: 1) those which are primarily meant to help international students settle in the Netherlands in the first few months of their arrival and 2) those which aim to integrate the Dutch and international student communities in higher education institutions in the Netherlands.
Considering the shortage of Dutch students in buddy programs, recruiting international students to act as buddies for incoming internationals may be a great solution for providing information and support to international students who are new to the country (the first type of buddy programs). However, such programs obviously cannot contribute to efforts of „breaking the bubble? between international and Dutch student communities.
It must be observed that the majority of the buddy programs reviewed in this report belong yo the first category of buddy programs. In other words, they are primarily aimed at providing support to international students in their initial days in the Netherlands. This explains the short duration of the programs (mainly the first few weeks or months of the semester) and the fact that Dutch students are often absent from these programs (one program coordinator even mentioned that international students who have lived in the Netherlands for some time are better placed to help new international students as they all face the same problems).
Korte termijn metoren
Even if some programs do have a considerable number of Dutch buddies, the relationship dynamics between them and international students are not such as to foster a real connection and lasting friendships. This is because the Dutch students who participate in these programs often assume the role of short-term information providers (mentors) while international students are much like information consumers (mentees). Thus, once the internationals have settled into their new environment, there is no longer an incentive to keep in touch with each other, unless there has been a „click? between them.
Therefore, the effect of these programs on the advancement of the objectives of the Make it in the Netherlands initiative is not likely to be substantial. Only the second type of programs – those created with the aim of integrating the Dutch and international student communities – are in line with the „Breaking the Bubble? action line of the Make it in the Netherlands program. This is because they go beyond the initial introduction of the international to the Netherlands and really focus on social interaction, cultural exchange and the creation of friendships between Dutch and international students.
Two examples of such programs are Leiden United and BuddyGoDutch. Unlike the first type of buddy programs, these programs have a longer duration (structured group activities for the entire course of the semester) and do not have the mentor-mentee dynamics. Instead, both Dutch and international students are brought together as program participants. Therefore, these programs are more likely to help the international student form connections with Dutch students (integration into Dutch society) and enhance the intercultural competences of Dutch students who do not go abroad (internationalization at home).
Moreover, these integration-oriented programs have a higher potential of attracting a greater number of Dutch students. This is because, as mentioned above, in both Leiden United and BuddyGoDutch, Dutch and international students are brought together as equal participants of the program rather than the Dutch acting as mentors for the internationals. Being a mentor is like a job: it requires (a major) time commitment and a certain degree of responsibility on the part of the Dutch student.
Thus, it represents an additional task for a student who may already have a heavy academic workload and a fully packed schedule. It is no wonder then that these types of mentorship programs find it difficult to recruit Dutch volunteers. In contrast, participation in projects such as Leiden United or BuddyGoDutch will be a fun break from schoolwork rather than an additional responsibility.’
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