Considering foreign students

Delta nr 15, May 2005

Having integration on the university's agenda is one thing, but what exactly is the TU doing to stimulate integration and what does the future hold?

Within the TU, the general opinion seems to be that integrating foreign students is indeed an issue, yet there seems to be no social integration action plan, and no person or department really responsible for promoting integration.

"As our contact with visiting students is mainly upon their arrival, it's hard to say whether they integrate socially, as integration happens later on in time," says Anita van Velzen, head of the International Office. "But I feel integration in the field of education is going quite well. As for social integration outside university hours, there's definitely less of that."

Presently, the TU organizes several cultural events for international students, but as the number of foreign students is so high, it's logistically impossible to integrate locals into those activities. "That's why we stimulate faculties to also organize social activities," Van Velzen says.

At faculty level, Jan Gerbrands, MSc coordinator at the Electrical Engineering, Mathematics & Computer Science Faculty, is one of the staff members actively working to speed up integration. He explicitly received an order from the dean to stimulate integration. "Within certain programs, international students are fully integrated, and other programs are working towards that goal," Gerbrands says. "We've learnt that for integration purposes, it's important that student associations actively involve foreign students in lectures, excursions and other activities."

According to Gerbrands, integration is an important issue, because without social interaction with Dutch students, foreigners don't get a proper taste of life in Delft. "We also must guarantee that our international students are provided with a social structure, as they're uprooted from their homes and families to study at the TU and shouldn't feel lonely here," Gerbrands says. "As a university, we must constantly take into account the presence of foreign students in all aspects of university life."

Paul Rullmann, TU Vice President of Education, stresses that integration is definitely on the agenda: "We're very aware of the fact that we're becoming more international and try to support integration in an unforced manner. Faculties play a big role in this." Rullmann's pleased with efforts made by student associations: "Their magazines have more and more English pages, and the number of excursions and activities in English are also increasing."

When asked what the TU has done up until now to help international students integrate, Rullmann says: "We've made 'bestuursbeurzen' (scholarships for student organization board members) available to foreign students, we organize sports and cultural events with the other Idea League universities, we subsidize Aegee and have established the 'English Page' in Delta."

The TU also provides many free-of-charge venues where students can organize events, and the Student Facility Centre has funds available for subsidizing activities organized by students. Rullmann: "This year, for the first time, the Dutch student introduction week Owee will partly coincide with the international students' Summer School program."

Despite the TU's efforts, foreign students still have complaints, for instance, about the interaction between Dutch and foreign students in academic programs. Siu Wah Lin says: "I think integration will naturally improve if the academic program itself involves more cooperation and discussion between Dutch and foreign students."

Juan Carlos Ortiz Nicolas, from Mexico, says: "The semester I started my MSc, there were five other foreigners among the 80 students. Whenever we had to work together on assignments, I worked exclusively with fellow foreigners." Perhaps it's natural that Chinese students prefer working with other Chinese, and Dutch students tend to choose Dutch group mates. But it seems that if Delft really wants to stimulate social interaction on an academic level, the teaching staff must play a bigger role.


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