Dutch Student Associations:

A quick glance for international students

By LAURE BLANCHEZ | November 22, 2019

Cover image by Isabel Bonnet / The Amsterdammer

In light of the new academic year, and the numerous international students that come with it, the Amsterdammer interviewed some members of sororities and fraternities at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in order to give these students more insight into what they really do. This article will look at how these student associations function for internationals, the perks student association members may enjoy and bust some myths along the way.

There aren’t many international students in Dutch student associations. One possible reason for this is simply a lack of access to information related to what student associations are and whether it is even possible for internationals to join. Mattea Wuethrich,  a 20-year-old Swiss PPLE (Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics) student at the UvA explains that it is not only possible for international students to join student associations, but that it can significantly enhance their student experience in Amsterdam. Mattea is a member of the student rowing association Nereus who “would definitely recommend joining a student association as an international student, especially if you want to learn about the culture [and] if you want to learn Dutch.” 

Dutch PPLE students Bente Heijmink Liesert, a member of rowing association Skøll and Nicolaas Schölvinck, a member of Amsterdamsch Studenten Corps & De Amsterdamsche Vrouwelijke Studenten Vereeniging (ASC/AVSV), also note that while “for some associations, it is almost impossible to join as an international student, for others, such as Skøll, it is a more straightforward process.” They add, “while you have to make an effort, and really throw yourself out there in order to join, if you do, members really do respect you. It’s a great experience and you get to experience a lot of the Dutch culture.” 

Though learning the language significantly aids the integration, it shouldn’t be considered a barrier at all; Mattea explains that learning the language and insisting on being spoken to in Dutch helped her impress her fellow members and gain their respect, as these efforts showed her commitment. According to Bente and Nicolaas, “everyone understands English, so you can always ask anything in English, and if you focus on developing your Dutch, then you can fully integrate.”  

However, in order to truly learn about the culture and assimilate as an international student, it is important that you go with an open mind and confidence. Considering the number of myths surrounding student associations, this open-mindedness is especially important. Nicolaas and Bente explain that a large part of the misunderstandings related to student associations comes from the fact that “it is very much an ingroup-outgroup situation.” As people in student associations spend a lot of time together, they tend to be misunderstood by people who do not spend as much time doing the same.

Another myth Bente addresses is that members of student associations are infamous for being arrogant. He clarifies that the atmosphere inside student associations is centred around equality by saying, “Even if student associations have a reputation for creating arrogant people, they are very much focused on impressing upon members that no one is better than others, whoever their parents might be; and it’s very much focused on taking the arrogance out of the way.”

Another thing that may be daunting for potential applicants is the hazing process. Nicolaas and Bente explain why it shouldn’t scare you away. “The hazing process is rough and tough but it has a purpose and brings a lot of advantages; at the end of it you know everyone and everything. It helps you develop as a person and creates a sense of respect for your fellow members. It also helps create new, true friendships at the beginning of the year. If it wasn’t for the hazing process, you wouldn’t know people’s names and you would just stroll around aimlessly. The hazing process helps you bond with your year. You become very close, very fast, because you see them at their worst in the very beginning.”

While joining a student association requires a significant amount of time and is quite the financial commitment, Bente and Nicolaas outline why being a member of a student association is also very beneficial. Although the price of joining a student association depends heavily on which association you join, Bente points out that “you should be able to manage with a student loan.” One benefit is that, with the connections you make you could gain access to benefits like cheaper housing. Hence, to a certain extent, the money spent for the student association could be money you save elsewhere. 

Additionally, if you join a student association because of your passion for the sport, like Mattea, then the association can help you participate in international competitions while providing higher-level training. Mattea added,, “it is very inspiring if you are passionate about the sport, to see all the athletes that were members of the student association before and see that those people made it.”