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Country associations popular among international students

It seems to be getting more popular: getting together with people of your home country. The TU/e has many international students (2511, -October 1, 2021) and employees (2528, -June 24, 2022). What does a country association have to offer and why is it important to have them?

photo ISA & PPI

Master’s student Industrial Design Rachel Feldman and bachelor’s student Electrical Engineering Erik Fani are part of the American group. Yes, still a group and not (yet) an association, something than Fani hopes to change in the near future. “Our to-be association started as a groupchat of about 40 Americans and the yearly Thanksgiving dinner we organized”, Feldman notes.

Having a group of people with a similar background regarding culture, traditions, food, et cetera is meaningful, both Feldman and Fani stress. Feldman: “I had a culture shock here and didn’t expect it too much. I look like the people here and everybody speaks English. But communication is different for example. One phrase could mean something different depending on intonation, causing misunderstandings and not fitting in.” Fani: “Oh yeah, I remember seeing a friend here and saying ‘hey, how is it going’ while passing him, and he started to tell me about this day. I was just saying ‘hi’ man. Then I was like oh yeah, that’s different over here.” But having a like-minded group means more than just easily communicating with people. “Also talking about sports I missed, that has a different place in Dutch society. In the US it’s huge! So it’s nice to talk about players with someone who knows who they are.”

Feldman: “And obviously: celebrating holidays like 4th of July and Thanksgiving. The latter is very important to Americans and it can be emotional if you are here alone missing out on that. Therefore we organized a Thanksgiving dinner every year since 2017. Not just for Americans, all nationalities were welcome. And we also saw broad interest as last year we easily sold a hundred tickets.”

Fani had to miss out on the Thanksgiving dinner this year because of Covid. “I was quarantined in my room. Couldn’t even cook anything as I live in a shared house. But some Cosmos volunteers were kind enough to fill a plastic container with Thanksgiving food. That made me very happy. If I don’t have mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, I will throw a fit like a five-year old. Missing traditional food can be emotional, especially on a holiday.”

Food unites

Prasanjan Chattopadhyay, president of the Indian Students’ Association (ISA) and master’s student of Electrical Engineering is leading an association with 94 members, but even many more visit their events. “This is the second year of ISA with a real board. The board is limited to Indian students to keep the background and culture, but the members and visitors are welcomed from the whole Brainport region.”

The students of the Indian association are rather active and get together often, as can be seen from some of the event pictures. Recently, ISA made a cross-cultural event together with the Indonesian association (PPI). Dhwani Swami and Harsh Jetwani, two of the organizers of the cookout explain the crossover easily: “our cultures have in common that we love food. With this event we could taste each other’s cultures.” The options were plentiful, like gado gado, kadhai paneer, butter chicken and piscok. Some of the volunteers with Caribbean roots volunteered to bring Caribbean food, among which was Pan Bati and tostones. The students with those Caribbean roots now also have their own association, recently founded.

Kiandra van Hoop, board member external affairs of the Caribbean association has similar reasons to why a country (or region in her case) association has a raison d'être: “This association is important to us, because moving from the Caribbean to the Netherlands was a major change. It truly felt like a culture shock, and you’re also faced with many responsibilities when you study abroad for the first time. But what you experience most of all is a sense of loneliness. We hope to create a sense of connectedness, a home away from home for Caribbean people. And we also want to share a part of Caribbean culture with those who haven’t experienced it before.”

Issues for non-EEA students

Sharing the cultural values is one important reason for having a country group, but it can also be very useful for administrative things. Feldman: “If you have an issue with your visa or work permit. We non-EEA students deal with way more challenges than EEA students do. And as an American it’s even worse, for example regarding taxes.” Fani: “If you want to open a bank account here, you have to inform the bank you’re American. If you don’t, there is a big risk for a fine for both you and the bank. Also if you have two passports this rule applies.” Feldman: “And then yeah, if someone goes back home and returns, you can get your favorite candy.” The eyes of the two students sparkle reminiscing about fruit roll-ups and junior mints.

Feldman: “When I came here in 2017, there were just a few Americans around. Jackie Edwards was one of them. She actually founded the group, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her house in 2016. In 2017 Jackie and I made it a Cosmos event. From then on it grew.” But getting cooking space on campus kept being the struggle, till today actually. “The prices of renting a kitchen are so high, we can’t afford that. We always have to ask around if someone has big enough ovens we can use to prepare the traditional turkey.” To get the latter is also a struggle in the Netherlands. Fani: “It just is not common here. We have to go to the butcher 1,5 months in advance. And what we got was American-size chickens. But we always made it work.”


Making the group grow into a real association, the students already try to make events happen more often. Fani: “This year we also did Super Bowl (the annual playoff champion game of the National Football League, ed.). It was a great success. We watched the game together, had traditional snacks like chili dogs, burgers, soda floats and even seven layer dip. It was really nice.

Talking about an actual association, the Indian association is one. Some groups are bigger than others, but we clearly see it’s popular to meet up with like-minded people. Feldman: “We already kind of speak of the American Association because it sounds cool to abbreviate that: we need to go to an AA meeting, which is a common abbreviation for Alcoholics Anonymous, in the US.” Fani: “Besides making the AA into an official association, we also feel like there are more Americans on campus than we know so far and we hope we can become more known among them.”

Known associations at the time of writing

In the BI portal you can no longer see which nationalities are most common among TU/e students. For employees (including PhD students) you can. Chinese employees form the biggest group (486), Italy comes second with 258 employees and India on the third place (213 employees). In the past when the student nationality figures were still accessible, they showed a similar picture, although Romania was also in the top three, instead of Italy.

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