Science - June 2, 2005

English gives students advantage

This year Wageningen University was the first in the Netherlands to have an international student council. In the opinion of the members, it has improved the position of foreign students.

Although Sarah Tang Yun, Wei Qin and Jasmine Osorio came to Wageningen for a two-year master course, they decided to quit their studies for a year and join the student council. Now, almost a year later, they are pretty satisfied with the contribution they have been able to make. But it wasn't always easy. Yun: 'Especially in the beginning we had to wait a long time for documents to be translated into English, which meant it was hard for us to prepare. Also we did not know the university very well. We had only been here for a year. Qin: 'I had to get used to the cultural differences. That made it hard for me to make my point during the large meetings.'

They feel though that their contribution means the interests of foreign students are better taken into account. Qin: 'I experience things differently than Dutch students and I see different problems, which we can immediately take into account. Yun thinks their contribution is best felt during the preparations for the meetings. 'Especially within the party you can contribute from a different, international perspective, and these aspects can be taken into account from the start. As a party you can now form an international opinion.' Osorio also sees another advantage: 'Coming from the outside, we see things from a different perspective, for instance the bachelor-master system. We know things can be improved and the student council gives you quite a lot of power and the opportunity to do so. We do not always get what we want, but at least we get the board to pay attention to the problems.'

The fact that all meetings now are in English is an advantage, they think. Osorio: 'Students generally speak better English than most staff. This gives them an advantage during the meetings. Also we get shorter answers. It is not so easy for the members of the executive board to fall back on lengthy, pointless stories.' However, some of the English translations are still too late, which makes it hard to prepare well.

The student council members do not all agree on the future, however. According to Yun, student participation could be organised more efficiently and taking a year off is too long for foreign students. Yun: 'If you come to Wageningen just to do your masters, an extra year is a very long time. I would rather have a part-time membership or give the International Student Panel (ISP) more formal influence. Then foreign students would be represented but would still be able to finish their studies within a shorter period of time.' Osorio does not agree: 'If we are going to do it, we should do it right and give every student the same opportunity: an international student community represented by an international student council.' / JH

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