Wetenschap - 2 november 1995

Warm welcome for foreign students

Warm welcome for foreign students

A reasonable command of English, flexibility, an open mind and common sense is all you need to be a contact family," Mr Gijs Verkerk explains. Mr and Mrs Verkerk immediately show their suitability: in an atmosphere of hospitality, together with Ria Klompmaker from one of the contact families, they share their experiences. Seventy one year old Verkerk, is actively involved as one of the coordinators of the contact family programme. One of the activities of the Student Chaplaincy Wageningen, the programme was set up to help students from abroad to adjust to their new environment in the Netherlands. Local people in and around Wageningen volunteer to invite foreign students to their homes from time to time and help them out with questions and problems whenever they can. Mrs Klompmaker points out why: Hospitality is something I was brought up with. Everybody was always welcome at our home and I believe that that is a good attitude." Klompmaker has had contact with students
from many countries over the years. With each person the contact and activities undertaken have been very different, but always interesting, from having dinner to going on day-trips. Verkerk adds: It is definitely not necessary to talk and discuss all the time. Students should feel free to drop by at any time and they are also welcome to watch TV, a video or read a magazine."

Privacy

Providing social support is actually the best way of describing the programme's objective," Verkerk adds. That is also what Tashi Samdup, an MSc student from Bhutan is expecting from his contact family. However, besides social support, he mainly seeks social contact and an opportunity to share his personal experiences: I'm curious to learn how Dutch family life is organised, which is difficult to see as an outsider, since privacy is very important in the Netherlands." The procedure of the programme is quite straightforward. Students who register are put in touch with one of the contact families. These families often first send a postcard to welcome the students to the Netherlands. For the first meeting the students are picked up so they will know how to find their own way to the family on the following occasions. Although families living in neighbouring municipalities are also welcome to join the programme, Verkerk has a slight preference for families in Wagening
en, since students usually have to rely on bicycles for transport. At present 38 students have signed up for the programme. Although this number just matches the amount of families, Verkerk shares that he would like to have a few more families in stock for students who arrive throughout the course of the year. Verkerk concludes: An important point I want to stress is that the programme is definitely not meant to convert people to Christianity, though I believe that there have been some misunderstandings with regard to this in the past."

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