“Integeren of opdonderen!” is a phrase used jokingly with a group of my friends, loosely translated to “integrate or f*ck off!”. Of course, none of them genuinely mean this, but it’s one of those phrases that will probably never leave me, mostly because it’s fun to say and a great party trick. International students are a constant topic of conversation around Dutch university campuses, and it’s fair to see why. The number of international students coming into the Netherlands is rising at an alarming/exciting rate. In the past year alone, 122,000 international students were recorded as studying in Dutch higher education. Twice a year, universities set up to welcome incoming international students, be it for a three-year bachelor program or a masters or exchange semester. Among discussions about orientation weeks and finding suitable housing, university students are always talking about the many ways for internationals to integrate into Dutch culture.
Here's a few things I’ve recently said or done that force me to admit/accept: ik ben integreerd.
1. Waiting for ‘stufi’ to hit.
Every single Dutch student has the same sugar daddy; the one that they can count on to come through to help pay for their tuition, their rent and their entire flex. As an international I do not get study financing, which is more fondly known as ‘stufi’. However, I’ve been lucky enough to find the kind of housing that makes me eligible for the housing subsidy! I’ve joined the masses in eagerly-awaiting the mid-end of every month, for the prettiest sight of BELASTINGDIENST sitting on top of my bank account’s page.
2. “I need to check my agenda”
I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy as my life in Rotterdam makes me out to be. Even as a full-time student, you are afforded quite a lot of free time outside of lectures and tutorials. But right from the start, the need to join several study or cultural associations and attend events on or off campus is infectious. Students around you are constantly involved in extra curriculars, and some of them manage to keep part-time jobs alongside it all too! Pair this with the fact that university life gives you the opportunity to make tens, maybe hundreds, of friends to have coffees, drinks and brunches with… Before you know it Google Calendar is your PA and you are its slave. You can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
3. Buying/selling anything and everything online.
To put it simply, almost everything I have acquired in my time in the Netherlands has been bought online. And not just from the high street brands with next-day delivery. I was so pleasantly surprised at how much the Dutch love a good deal, but even more surprised at how much they love a good sale. From Facebook groups that span just your residential building to the entire Rotterdam community, second-hand sales are a norm in the Netherlands- a norm that I was more than happy to adopt. My entire bedroom is currently kitted out with second hand buys and hand-me-downs, and I love it!
4. Let the Albert Heijn bonus / Jumbo ‘kies & mix’ deals dictate my diet.
Let’s imagine for a second that all the students in Rotterdam are financially aware and responsible with their monthly budget. We don’t overspend, we don’t run ourselves into debt and we don’t live on less than a euro a day in the last week of every month. Even in this fantasy world, most students would forget to prioritise food and groceries over parties, concerts and cheap flights. It is in this reality (where I prioritised boots and a nicer room to rent) that I learnt to live by what was ‘in de bonus’ and in the ‘kies & mix’ sections. Although my ‘persoonlijke aanbiedingen’ awards me with 25% off my favourite wine, I also live for the weeks when it invites me in for discounted meats and veggies!
5. Biking with a suitcase in tow
This is possibly one of my proudest moments of 2019, yet. I’ve seen loads of ‘tricks’; the super cool no-hands biking, the (now illegal) text-while-you-bike, the variations of risk-your-own-life-and-bring-your-drunk-friend-home… but my favourite has to be the bringing-my-laundry-to-my-parents-house trick. With all the innovative ways that luggage producers add features onto suitcases for easy travelling, I cannot imagine that they are efficient enough for the Dutch. Regardless, the Dutch evolved to prepare for themselves. I have jokingly said in the past that bicycles are just an extension of the human body in the Netherlands. Locals laugh about how they are clumsier on their two feet than they are on their two wheels.
I had not the desire nor the confidence to ever be as competent on my bike as the average Dutch student, but when I mustered up the courage to bike with my suitcase in tow, I felt accomplished. The wind was in my hair, the sun was shining down on my face, my pits were soaked from nervousness/terrible fitness. But I made it and didn’t fall or make anyone else fall off their bike. Once back on my two feet and traipsing around Rotterdam like I was at Schiphol, I knew I had to write an EmbrACE article about how far I had truly come. This was probably the most ‘integrated’ I would ever be.
I think that my resistance to integrating stems from wanting inclusion over integration. The idea of Integrating is not all negative however it focuses on the ‘outsiders’ (immigrants, international students, expats) adapting and changing their ways to fit in to the ‘insiders’ (in this case, the Dutch) culture. Of course, you can argue this is sometimes necessary – I would agree with you. But do the outsiders ever feel fully accepted? Or will they forever feel like ‘buitenlanders’ – who will never feel Dutch enough until integration leads to assimilation?
Inclusion, on the other hand, focuses on everybody adapting to embrace each other. The immigrants, internationals and expats can adapt to Dutch culture as they would with integrating however, also feel fully included in a country where they can bring their cultures, values and tradition with them, and be truly celebrated for it.
They would not be just a number that political actors can use to claim how ‘international’ and ‘tolerant’ (barf) their country is.
A slightly heavy thought to leave you with. Please still picture me wobbling along the bike path and panicking when I realise I have no idea how to stop and get back on my two feet gracefully.
Integeren: to integrate
Opdonderen: get away
Belastingdienst: tax authorities
Kies & mix: pick and mix
Persoonlijke aanbiedingen: personal offers