Following an article in NRC.Nl, by Patricia Veldhuis, following a national ombudsman study published yesterday

Caribbean students often in a pinch

Gianny Croes, reports she got better after she changed studies and made new friends who taught her “how the Netherlands works,” and took her to their parents, where she could enter their world and participate, which saved her she explained, because acculturalization was very hard at first.

She describes crying on the plane to the Netherlands, fresh after obtaining her HAVO diploma here, and while she knew for many years that she will take the trip she was unprepared to leave her family and start a new life five thousand miles away. This became clear to her on the plane and she was terrified.

She is completing a master’s in sociology at the University of Amsterdam, having experienced difficulties in the first year where she was mocked for her strange accent, being the only foreigner at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.  She was lonely. Had to get used to the culture and customs, the weather, the rules and the bureaucracy. There was a lot to learn, adapt and adopt.

According to Croes, moneyed Arubans send their kids to the US to a more familiar cultural environment while the rest of the bright Aruban students are faced with much bigger challenges.

Every year, sixteen hundred Caribbean students, from Curaçao, Aruba, Sint Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands, come to the Netherlands to study. A large number of them fail every year, according to a survey by the National Ombudsman among more than 600 (former) students. That research was published yesterday. See link below.

The students encounter various problems before, during and after their studies away. They are not well prepared for a life in the Netherlands and run into all kinds of cultural, bureaucratic and financial obstacles. For example, they do not have a citizen service number (BSN), no right to Dutch health insurance, they have to get used to Dutch culture and society and often accumulate large student debts.

Care allowance

The mere absence of a BSN is problematic: students need it to arrange things before leaving for the Netherlands, but only get it when they are already in the Netherlands.

Or take for example health insurance: students from the Caribbean are not entitled to it, but still often apply for health care benefits following family recommendation. As a result, they have to pay back large amounts and get into financial difficulties.

More than half of the students surveyed suffered a study delay, the research shows, the main reason being psychological in nature: they had difficulties acclimating and assimilating

“The language alone,” says National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen. “They speak Dutch, but not flawlessly: Dutch is their first foreign language. The language of home is Papiamento, or English.”

Van Zutphen lived in Curaçao for five years and therefore knew that it is “quite difficult” for many students to get to the Netherlands from the islands. Still, he was shocked by the results of his research.

Not the same rights

The students fall between ship and shore. Unlike students from China or Germany, they are not seen as international students in the Netherlands and are therefore not eligible for special housing and other support for international students. At the same time, despite their Dutch passport, they run into barriers that Dutch students do not have.

Van Zutphen: “They don’t get the best of both worlds, but the least of both worlds. One of the students said aptly: “You get on a plane in Bonaire with the idea that you are Dutch, and you get off as a foreigner. “

A choice must be made by the government, argues ombudsman Van Zutphen. “See Caribbean students as fully-fledged Dutch students who are also entitled to, for example, Dutch health insurance, or treat them as international students and give them all the extras that go with it.”

In addition, students should be better prepared for life in the Netherlands, he believes. “The information on the islands is inadequate, so that students sometimes change studies up to three times and end up with an enormous student debt, until they identify the study they can handle.”

In order to remove the practical obstacles and to better prepare and guide students, Van Zutphen is talking to the government and his fellow ombudsmen on the islands – not in Aruba, Aruba has none. “It is not an unattainable fix,” he says. “The authorities involved must quickly take steps together to solve the problems our research revealed.”

Having passed a difficult period of socialization Croes explains: “I now feel at home in the Netherlands, but it took too long. Students are abandoned here, and must find their way without much-needed support or guidance.”


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December 17, 2020
Rona Coster