Even in the depths of winter, the 150 foreign students arriving in Wageningen at the beginning of February can count on a warm welcome. The successful buddy system launched last year gives them a group of friends to fall back on right from the word go.
Most foreign students start out like that, says Tutku Yuksel of the IxESN student society. Of course they have done some homework on websites and read brochures, but these do not answer all the countless practical questions students run up against every day. Where is the nearest bus stop? If you want to bake your own bread, where can you buy the ingredients?
These are the sorts of questions you would normally ask a friend or flatmate. So last year IxESN launched an extensive buddy system. The typical buddy family consists of two, usually Dutch, mentors and about 15 foreign students. In fact it is an extension of the introduction period model, explains Tutku. There have always been some AID groups that kept in touch with each other, but with the arrival of the buddy system, that becomes an official feature of all the groups. At any rate, the buddy groups eat together once a month and go to one IxESN activity every period. The mentors are also expected to be an information source for their 'kids', and to actively invest time and effort in the group. There is even a budget available for that, taken out of the grant from the university.
One thing is clear: through her buddy family and the AID, Natacha has quickly made new friends in Wageningen. 'It was nice to meet people who were in the same boat, studying abroad.' It gives her a sense of security to have a group you can always fall back on. 'I already feel more at home here. We have already visited lots of nice places in and around Wageningen, and now I know a lot of people.'
Zinnia from France also thinks there's a big advantage to belonging to a group of some kind. In her group there are students from nine different countries, at various stages in their student careers. Since the AID they have been to a Halloween party together, to the cheese market in Alkmaar, to Amsterdam and to the beach at Bloemendaal. Just having a beer in town or eating together are popular activities. They try out each other's national dishes. Zinnia says the atmosphere is friendly, and everyone is very open-minded and interested in each other. 'Nothing is compulsory, but everyone does their best to join in everything.'
The buddy programme was thought up by international student society IxESN. About 25 families have been formed since September. In 2012 about 600 students from 40 different countries signed up to join a family. The programme is running better and better, IxESN notes. In the past it could be difficult to find mentors but there was very little problem finding people for the coming winter AID.