My colleagues are from China, Ethiopia, Italy, Serbia and the Netherlands. They all have their national language. We often speak English during the coffee break. Does that make me less Dutch? No, but it makes our group international, and that is the point.
In my classes, I create teams. Some groups of students prefer to be among mother tongue sharers. Others like to team up internationally. In such a team, the members need to be willing to take an extra step to co-operate well. They have to come to terms with language problems, gender issues, different approaches to planning and to leadership, and different ideas about duty. So the most resourceful, outgoing students tend to find themselves in the international groups, where they learn valuable intercultural skills. They are French, or German, or Iranian … or Dutch. But they form an international community. And a community needs at least one common language.
In an essay for the Belhamel contest, I once pleaded to make English the official language at Wageningen University. To my bafflement, the jury accused me of wanting to ‘Americanize’ the university. A few years later, the Board of the university tried to implement the idea but found once more that time was not ripe. Apparently, we still need our language to protect our identity. Changing this will take another generation.
I visit universities in many countries and ours is the most international one I know. And it should be, because of its international mission. We are Dutch hosts of an international community. For that, we need a shared language, and our skills need to be international. Noblesse oblige.