International students on Tilburg: ‘cute, hospitable and helpful’
Tilburg is cute, although that is what the international students in Tilburg think about the city. More and more international students are coming to Tilburg so we thought it was time to go have a chat with Piet van de Ven and Jules van Iperen of the international student association I*ESN Tilburg. Did you know for example that Westpoint is called ‘the Christmas tree that will guide me home’ and that international students can entertain themselves in the bicycle parking under the Heuvelring for at least 15 minutes?
I*ESN Tilburg is a part of the European Erasmus student network spread all over Europe with 530 sections and in Tilburg it is one of the biggest student associations. Tilburg University is investing more and more in international studies, which translate into more opportunities for the association. ”The philosophy of I*ESN is guiding students who arrive in a new city and help them during their stay,” says Jules. ”We have about 700 members and 70% of them are not Dutch,” Piet adds.
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According to Piet and Jules being on the board of I*ESN is a lot of fun because there is a large diversity of people and cultures. Piet ”Biking is always difficult for new arriving students in the Netherlands, but after a while they get used to it.They are always surprised with how much the dutch people bike, especially if we have had some drinks. Last year we had a student who was so afraid of biking that she ended up going home by public transport or taxi after our parties.”
Jules continues: “When I go to the bicycle parking underneath the Heuvelring with international students for the first time it will take me at least 15 minutes to get them out again. They all take their phones out and start taking pictures. So many bikes so close to each other in one place is something they have never seen at home before.”
Piet and Jules both think it is important that international students get to know and experience the city, its products and traditions. Of course we introduce the students to the craft beers of La Trappe, we visit a match of Willem II together and we let them taste Schrobbelèr, the blood of Tilburg, already in the beginning of the semester. Jules: “When students arrive here they cannot pronounce the word ‘Schrobbeler. This caused so many problems for our bartenders, that we hung a big inflatable bottle behind the bar, so the students only have to point at that bottle and then our barco knows they want a famous shot of schrobbeler.”
Piet: “A Dutch Snackbar is something special for international students as well. In one of the first weeks after the students arrival, I took them to one of our snackbars. For them its a whole new world that opens. The amount of different sauces we put on our fries, they don’t understand it. I always order a ‘Frietje speciaal’ with a frikandel or kroket fot them, since they have no idea themselves what to order themselves. Of course they all like it.”
Tilburg for international students
A lot of inhabitants of Tilburg describe the city as cozy and hospitable, but what do international students think about Tilburg as city for students? “The image Tilburg people have about themselves is kind of right. Students think Tilburg is cute and cozy and because Tilburg is quite a small city in their opinion, everything is very central.” says Piet.
Jules: “Westpoint is the most famous building in the city. Some students even call it ‘The Christmas tree that will guide me home.’ Most of our students live close to the university and use Westpoint as an orientation point to find their way home.”
It might be surprising, but according to the international students the average Tilburger speaks English on a high level. Piet “We as Dutch people often make jokes about our own ‘stone-cole’ English sometimes, but apparently our English is not that bad. In the countries where our international students come from most people do not even try to speak English. This is why they appreciate the hospitality and helpfulness of the Tilburgers.”
Growing number of international students
At the moment our member count is fluctuating, because we mainly have ‘exchange students’. This are students who study for just one semester in Tilburg, during their studies at their home university. “Tilburg University is investing in international bachelor studies. This gives us the opportunity to get more international students as a member for a couple of years. This is part of our focus for the upcoming years,” Piet goes on.
I*ESN Tilburg is a bit different from other student associations; there are no obligations within the association “There are no mandatory activities. For example people from Asia like our dinners, but we don’t see them a lot a our parties. Where people from Latin America like to party a lot. It is up to the students themselves in which activities they participate.” says Piet. This does not result in students not showing up to the events. “We organise two activities on average a week, multiple trips a year and our members drink about 20.000 liters of beer a year.” says Jules.
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As a last question to Piet and Jules we asked them to come up with a day program for an international student who is in Tilburg for just one day. “Okay, let’s pretend for this story the weather is nice, Tilburg Zingt is on the calendar for the evening and Waterjump is open,” laughs Piet. “Then we start the day with a cup of coffee somewhere at Korte Heuvel, after that we’ll go swimming at Stappegoor, after that we’ll have lunch at RAW and then we’ll go by bike to La Trappe. There we drink a couple of Trappist beers after which we go for a barbeque at Waterjump. Let’s end the evening at Piusplein with a few songs of Guus Meeuwis!”
In the upcoming year there will be more articles of I*ESN Tilburg on Tilburg.com. They are going to make a series of 6 articles in which they let us see more of the city through the eyes of international students.