TU/e students from the Caribbean too have difficulties with language and housing

Problems with applying for a bank account or finding a room, and the struggle with other formalities: things aren’t always that easy for Caribbean students in the Netherlands. Students at TU/e are confronted with similar problems in Eindhoven. No wonder that the dropout rate out from higher education is relatively high among these students, the National Ombudsman pointed out recently. The problem has now been heard by members of the House of Representatives.

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Last year, the National Ombudsman sounded the alarm with regard to students from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom – the countries Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, plus the special municipalities Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba – who come here to study. Caribbean students are faced with prejudices in the Netherlands, some of them have deficient language skills, they have a hard time taking out health insurance, and they don’t have a social network to fall back on. Something needs to be done quickly, the National Ombudsman said.

After several months, politicians have also heard the message by now. Outgoing education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven sent the House of Representatives a letter in which she explains the ‘obstinate and complex’ nature of the problem facing this group of students. Applying for a citizen service number is difficult enough, because students can only do so after they have been registered in a municipality. Pre-university education and study information could also use some improvement. In part, these are common problems facing a large number of international students, but that’s no excuse, the minister says. And students from the Caribbean who want to enroll in a higher education institution often have no other choice than to come to the Netherlands.

The minister’s letter came with an extensive report from research institute ResearchNed about the experiences and pass-rates of Caribbean students. Each year, some 750 students from that part of the Kingdom commence with their study program at an applied sciences university, and some 250 at a research university. After eight years, only 40 percent of Caribbean students at applied sciences universities and 75 percent of students at research universities obtained their diplomas. The gap between expectation and reality is larger among this group than among other students, the researchers observe.

Small population

Even though TU/e only has a small population of Caribbean students, similar problems occur here. Approximately ten Caribbean students travel to Eindhoven each year to study at TU/e. However, the number of students from this region who reside in Eindhoven is larger, the university says. That’s because Caribbean students who study in Tilburg often prefer to live in Eindhoven.

TU/e student and columnist for Cursor Harsh Jethwani comes from Sint Maarten and is familiar with some of the problems, particularly with regard to housing. “I’ve been living here for a few years now, but I spent months searching for a room before I came to the Netherlands. Just two days before I got on the plane, I heard the good news that I had found an accommodation. Looking back, it truly was a bureaucratic jungle.” Jethwani currently provides a friend – who, like him, comes from Sint Maarten – who can’t find a room with accommodation. “Rooms are very expensive for most of these students,” Jethwani says.

Rohan Babani from Curaçao is one of those students who lives in Eindhoven and studies in Tilburg. “Eindhoven is a nicer place to live, it’s livelier and I have a few friends living here by now. But finding a room here is not easy,” according to the Data Science student, who came to the Netherlands last year. “I know of quite a few students who came from Curaçao, like I did, who had to sleep in hotels, simply because they couldn’t find a place to live. I too spent months looking for a room.”

Rent allowance

Arranging rent allowance took some effort as well. “People simply don’t know that you can apply for rent allowance.” At this point, Babani, who speaks Dutch, helps several acquaintances finding their way in the Netherlands. “They ask me to translate official letters, or to help them with applications for allowances and insurances. There’s a major language barrier.” Rohan believes that a welcoming package provided by the Dutch government would be very helpful. “If we want to study, the Netherlands is our option. Help us feel at home here.”

Orpah Lawrie, third-year Chemical Engineering and Chemistry student at TU/e, benefited significantly from the help offered by the university. “Just before I travelled to the Netherlands, I contacted TU/e because I still hadn’t found a room. The university was very helpful in finding a temporary housing accommodation, even though it was very expensive.” What Lawrie missed most of all when she came to Eindhoven, was general support. “I can’t go back to my parents in the weekends. I can call them, but the time difference also plays a role. I felt quite lonely in the beginning, especially when I had trouble understanding something.” Nevertheless, she doesn’t talk negatively about her experience of coming to the Netherlands. “An experience like this is good for your general development. It made me very independent.”

Plan underway

Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, which attracts a relatively high number of Caribbean students and therefore sees the problem from up close, took the initiative to find an effective approach, in collaboration with several other institutions, so that Caribbean students won’t be caught between two stools. The proposal will be further elaborated this fall, minister Van Engelshoven informed the House of Representatives.

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