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Participation 29 October 2020

Majority of Humanities' student council is non-Dutch

More and more international students are finding their way into the various participation bodies of VU Amsterdam. German history student Pia Potthoff is one of them, as the newly appointed vice president of the Faculty of Humanities’ Student Council.
BY Daphne Damiaans PICTURE Peter Gerritsen

Being an international student, why did you decide to join the Faculty Student Council?
“What I love about the Faculty of Humanities is how small it is and how interconnected the various studies are. There’s a lot of contact among teachers and students, also from other humanities studies, which made it all the more easy for me to find my place. Last year I also participated in a lot of faculty activities. That made me feel at home, exactly what I missed in Berlin. I want to make sure the faculty stays this open and the only way to do so, is by being a part of it.”

You weren’t the only international who felt this way: 4 out of 6 Student Council members are non-Dutch. Isn’t that a bit too much?
“Our chair Thomas is Dutch and our secretary Sarah is half-Dutch, half-American. Obviously, everybody can sign up for the Student Council and in an ideal situation the ratio would be 50-50. I suppose all students knew this was going to be a weird year and as a result almost nobody wanted to join the Council. At the same time international students were encouraged to do so mainly because of the efforts of last year’s Humanities’ Student Council. Even though more members of that council were Dutch, they still found it important to work in English. That paved the road for us. This doesn’t mean we’re not still fighting for the position of Dutch in our faculty. Last year one of the important issues was how to protect the Dutch programs, since even there almost all classes are in English.”

‘The members of last year's Student Council paved the road for us’

This international character also means your communication with the Faculty Board and Participation Council has to be in English. Are they open to that?
“Absolutely. Our meetings with them are mostly in English, except for some small parts that would take a lot of time and effort to translate, for example when it comes to budget issues. In general, I think the engagement of our faculty and teachers to work and communicate in English is impressive. Compared to other faculties the Humanities’ board is very progressive with that, which is probably also due to the work of last year’s Student Council. One of the things I like about being part of the Student Council is how seriously the university is taking us.”

Which issues do you plan on addressing this year?
“The main issue is online teaching and corona. Integrating and connecting at the university became more difficult in the last months. For all of us, but especially for international students. We’re trying to encourage engagement online and include students not only in the Netherlands, but also in the US, Dubai and Guatemala – because not everyone was able to actually come here for the start of the new academic year. We want to emphasize we are there for everybody and students can still contact us.”

'Not everyone was able to actually come here for the start of the new academic year'

Why did you decide to pick the VU, out of all the international possibilities?
“What I liked about the VU is the combination of History and International Studies and the fact that I would live in the country’s capital. It didn’t take long for me to feel at home in Amsterdam. As an international it’s very easy to find your place here and discover the genuine face of the city. A lot of my friends are Dutch and all of my roommates at Uilenstede are as well. I arrived in July 2019 and have been trying to learn the language for the past year, but without taking classes. That turned out to be hard. Luckily at this moment I’m able to follow a Dutch Intense Language Course as part of my study curriculum.”

How is life at the VU, is it easy to integrate at the university as an international?
“You have to put in a bit of your own effort, but it’s really easy to meet people – both international and Dutch. The VU – and more specifically student association Merlijn – did a great job with our introduction week. They didn’t only give us the chance to get to know the city and learn a bit about the Dutch history, but also ensured we already knew some people before the classes started. The language barrier has never been a problem, everybody at the university is very quick to change to English. The atmosphere is also international, I never feel like the odd one out.”

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