On the 30th of November ´14 the First Annual Buddy Day took place in Maastricht, the Netherlands. In Spring ´14, a likewise event was organized on a smalller scale at Eindhoven University of Technology and was such a success that the Landelijke Studenten Vakbond (National Student Union), the Nuffic (National Agency for Internationalization in Higher Education) and Erasmus Student Network the Netherlands decided to hold this event again half a year after.
The event was organized for one of Nuffic's programs 'Make it in the Netherlands', where international students are encourage to come to, and stay in, the Netherlands. One of the focuspoints of this program is 'Breaking the Bubble', where integration in the Netherlands and in local community are emphasized. For an international student coming to the Netherlands, both on the social as well as the academic level, challenges or culture clashes will come across. When this international student is guided by a Buddy, he or she will show the international student the Dutch culture, the habits, the nicest spots in town and will most of all be there when the international student has any questions about his or her new hometown or study program.
The Buddy Day was officially opened by Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University, followed by inspiring speeches of Freddy Weima (General Director of Nuffic) and Jos van Erp (Program Director at High Tech NL). All speeches focused on integration of international talent in the Netherlands and the oppurtunities but also the challenges. How can we for example get more students with an engineering degree to the Netherlands and also provide the right climate for them to stay and start a career in the Netherlands, what does that involve for companies?
During the Spring '14 edition, the organizers concluded that the topic 'Buddies' is very broad and also, that every institution (Universities or Universities of Applied Sciences) and local ESN section organizes their Buddy Program differently. Therefore, on the 30th of October the focus was put on the themes 'Recruitment and Promotion' and 'Obstacles and Incentives'. Workshops on these themes were organized by ESN NL and Maastricht University and were attended by Project Leaders and employees of International Offices of all Higher Education Institutions of the Netherlands. The main topics of discussion were: 'do we need an external incentive for students to become buddy?' (for example: financial reward or ECTS) 'What are the reasons for students to become a buddy, and stay a buddy for a longer time?' 'How can we promote becoming a buddy, where can we find prospective buddies and what are the requirements of a good buddy?' Also, is it better for students to be put in a buddy group or matched with a buddy automatically upon arrival in the Netherlands, or should the students who want a buddy apply for this? This raises the next question: 'is a 1-1 model or a 3-15 (3 buddies, 15 international students) model better for integration and guidance?'.
At the end of the day, the outcome of the workshops was presented in the plenairy hall and some outstanding ideas or conclusions were formulated. First of all, we concluded that the difference in Buddy Programs is there for a reason, it is what suits the institution or student organization and there are good arguments for all models and processes. However, we concluded we should better cooperate, and not exist next to each other and do things double. Where for example the institution has contacts and communication channels, the students organization can provide promotion material, video's and testimonails to send out via these media. In general, reaching more buddies would definitely be possible if the buddies know what to expect, for example through testimonials, promotional talks by current buddies, or an informational and social lunch meeting about becoming a buddy and also realizewhy these international contacts can be of much value for the rest of their lifes. An interesting point of discussion were the requirements of a buddy: do you get more and better buddies when you have more or less requirements (such as having certain skills, being available a certain amount of time and obligatory attendance of social events). For all institutions and student organizations this might be different, but these are good questions to ask yourself or brainstorm about with others, that is exactly what happened during the Buddy Day.
At the end of the day the organizational team concluded that this event is unique and necessary, since it is one of the first 'Make it in the Netherlands' events focussing on 'Breaking the Bubble' and has brought together many different Buddy programs and has facilitated even more new contacts and ideas to take home. During the wrap-up, already a new idea for a next edition was brought up: to see how Buddies and Buddy Programs can be of added value for companies and organizations hiring international or Dutch internationally minded students... let's see what a great day we can organize next time!