International Club carries on with new blood
If I meet a Dutchman in a bar conversation soon dries up. But I could not live without the contacts I make at the ICA. I'm also addicted to dancing," says Jos Michel smiling. Long-standing member and former councillor, this year she was elected secretary of the new council. She continues, The club is unique in the Netherlands." Pijnenburg joined only a few years ago. He moved to Wageningen to take up a job at WAU. An acquaintance invited him to one of the club evenings: I quickly felt home. ICA has an open atmosphere if you open up yourself. I started dancing, something I'd always thought I could never do." Pijnenburg goes on to enthusiastically describe the different evenings ICA organises and music bands it hosts, playing music from all over the world.
Honourary member Wil Oudhof explains that the International Club Association was established by international students forty years ago. As well as students from Surinam, there were originally many from Egypt and also from Hungary. The latter had fled from their country at the time of the Soviet invasion. The founder members wanted to create a place where people from different countries, irrespective of the length of stay, could meet and feel at ease. Gert de Jong, manager of the club's building, joined in 1967. De Jong explains that in those days foreign students first had to learn Dutch before starting the actual study programme. This group used to meet in a rented room in Hotel Nol in 't Bos. In 1985 they moved to their present building at Marijkeweg.
Max Donkor, last year's president, discloses that the composition and number of the membership has gradually changed over the years. He continues: In 1977 25 MSc students were club members. During the eighties we decided to open up membership to non-students, which led to a greater diversity." At present the club has approximately 300 members, of which the majority is foreign and less than a third is Dutch. Children of older members are now becoming members themselves. So last year we started to organise days for older members." There has also been a shift in activities over the last decade: We used to have a band every month, but last year we only had four. Instead we focused more on cultural evenings, which are organised by members themselves. An African evening was organised by African members and a Russian evening by the Russians."
About 40 members are active volunteers, who organise the different activities, run the bar or act as a DJ. The ICA depends on the efforts of volunteers, who also have their work or study to attend to, so participation in the organisation is sometimes at low ebb. Michel admits that perhaps not all activities are as well organised as they could be, but she feels that that is partly characteristic of clubs run by volunteers and partly also a question of the spirit of the times. Pijnenburg, who teaches a course in philosophy to MAKS students, agrees, Take for instance MSc students. They have to work extremely hard. I can imagine that they have very little time for active involvement in ICA's activities."
Pijnenburg discloses that financially the club just gets by. It receives an annual grant of seventeen thousand guilders from the International Agricultural Centre. Introduction evenings for students attending courses at the IAC are organised regularly. The centre pays membership fees, but the students are only here for a short period, and are therefore not actively involved in club matters.
Michel adds, Students tell me sometimes that they just want a place to relax, chat and drink a beer. They might not be so keen on special activities." She is aware of the fact that a group of MSc students called at the ICA recently inquiring into the possibility of having a social meeting place. Pijnenburg stresses that he welcomes such initiatives, since it matches the objectives of the ICA. He also wants to investigate the possibility of opening the club on weekdays. At present the club is open on Fridays from 5 pm onwards and cultural activities are usually organised during weekends.
In the past MSc students were automatically given membership when they arrived in Wageningen. Membership fees were paid directly by the Dutch government. Due to economy measures this source dried up some years ago. Michel explains: We tried to get funding from the university. However, they decided not to pay membership fees automatically since they felt that students should be free to choose themselves. In 1991 we provided free membership to all MSc programme coordinators." As far as Michel knows the MSc programme Agricultural Economics and Marketing is the only programme offering students the choice to opt for either ICA membership or a sports card. Membership costs 75 guilders and for certain activities there is a small extra contribution to pay.