How we can make our international students' stay more enjoyable
What works: buddies, an international student panel or a Global Lounge? Staff at the faculties met on 12 March in Scheltema to share best practices. International students gave them some tips and tops.
Representatives from the faculties told one another in inspiration sessions how they made sure international students felt at home. At the medical faculty, the MFLS study association played an important role. 'The faculty had had a buddy system for years, but that wasn't enough,' Jozif Vlaski, a student of medicine and chair of MFLS exolained. A lot of international students only saw their buddy a couple of times for a tour and that was as far as it went.
From Sinterklaas to laser gaming
That's why the study association now organises a programme with a lot of different activities - from a Sinterklaas party to laser gaming - where Dutch students are also very welcome. The international students receive a newsletter every two months that tells them about all the coming events, and there are surveys asking them what other things they need. The participants were very enthusiastic to hear about this initiative. 'It's good to hear that the study association is so active. All the faculties should do the same,' one member of staff commented.
OWL introduction week is popular
The international students who were present were keen on joint activities. One student from Georgia remarked, 'We want to integrate with Dutch students so there's no need to organise separate activities; that makes the distance between Dutch and internatinal students bigger.' But the students were very enthusiastic about the Orientation Week Leiden, the introduction week for international students. 'Let's keep that!'
The Faculty's meeting room
The Law Faculty also wants to promote student integration and one of its facilities is the Global Lounge; it's the meeting room for the whole faculty, according to Annette van Sandwijk, whose initiative it was. She advises, 'Don't hide this kind of meeting place away in some far corner of the faculty, but create a central place so that internationalisation becomes very visible.' International students and foreign delegations are received in the lounge, and meetings are organised there. The lounge has comfortable settees, screens with news broadcasts from all parts of the world and excellent coffee and snacks, all of which make it a very pleasant environment where many students and staff like to spend time.
The Law Faculty also works hard on ‘community building’: even before students arrive, the faculty is in contact with them, there is an introduction programme, social activities are organised and during their stay they have at least three meetings with the international coordinator so they can talk about how they are doing. Italian-Spanish law studet Alex feels 'very welcome' at the faculty, at least in part because of these activities. He particularly appreciates the Global Lounge and the excursions with professors. He also has a tip for the participants. 'Thanks to all the tours, we know, for example, that Einstein was once a professor here. But we are particularly loyal to the present-day university and we would like to take part in more ceremonies and prize awards focusing on the current lecturers.' Van Sandwijk thought it was a good idea and advised him of the Dies Natales and the opening of the Academic Year: international students are always welcome at these events.
Panel with ten nationalities
At the Faculty of Science (W&N) a panel of international students is structurally involved in considering how to make things even better and more enjoyable; from a simple application procedure and help with looking for a room, to activities for international students.
The panel with representatives from ten different nationalities serves as a sounding board group and puts forward some interesting ideas, according to Gloria Schildwacht from W&N. Students respond in skype sessions to questions from people from their country who are thinking about studying in Leiden.
As well as these faculty examples, there are also new university-wide initiatives. Later in this academic year, for example, a new English-language app will be launched that will give access in one go to all the important services, such as Blackboard, uSis and the e-prospectus. The so-called one-stop shop (Wasstraat), a step-by-step plan put together by Student and Educational Affairs, will make sure things get off to a good start: from arrival in Leiden and especially finding a room. And the online language course Dutch & More gives international students the chance to learn Dutch without it costing a lot of money. A number of international students said they were keen to learn Dutch. 'If you really want to integrate, you need to learn Dutch,' the Georgian student commented.