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Student associations, should I join?

Date:04 December 2017
Dancing with my dispuut at SIB Gala
Dancing with my dispuut at SIB Gala

I was just starting out my new life in the city of Groningen. It was my first time living so far from home. A big change, and change is scary for sure. I came here for my studies, but also so much more than that. I wanted experiences. Groningen is a melting pot of different cultures and I wanted to meet them all. Everyone says that you make friends for life in your university days, so I asked myself: who here is going to be that? Am I talking to my future best friend without realising it?

This was how I felt when I first came here; overwhelmed by the all of the potentials. I arrived in Groningen in late August to partake in the KEI-week. This was an introduction week for international and Dutch students filled to the brim with parties, dinners, sports and even some lectures. We were put into a group, or KEI “family”, with whom we could explore the city. I found this week particularly helpful in getting to understand the workings of Dutch student life.

One aspect of student culture which immediately presented itself as important were student associations, as sign-ups for many of them were held during that week. There was a fair with sports clubs and a parade where associations competed to look the most fun. They also organised a “meet and greet” so that we could figure out which was the right association for us. However, it can be daunting committing yourself to an association you don’t really know yet, especially given that your academic year hasn’t begun yet so you’re unsure of your workload. As an international, it can also be intimidating as many associations are predominantly Dutch.

I was worried by these uncertainties, but nonetheless, halfway through the week I was already a member of the “Studentenvereniging voor Internationale Betrekkingen” (Student Association for International Relations or “SIB” for short). Even more, by the end of the month, I had become a CAERUS member too! Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive about what effect these commitments might have on my studies, but looking back on it now, I could not be more grateful that I took the risk. Since then, I have even joined some committees and a dispuut.

So is it worth joining student associations as an international or a fresher?



Meeting New People

Joining SIB and CAERUS has given me the opportunity to meet people from within and outside my studies, both Dutch and international. CAERUS is the University College Groningen (UCG)  study association, which is the faculty I attend. Study associations are for people in the same course or faculty. They generally offer the opportunity to further your education in your discipline with workshops, lectures, discounts on textbooks and connections with related companies and organisations. On top of that, they aim to create a sense of community within the study by arranging different social events.

Personally, I loved the “community” aspect as I got to know and feel at home with my classmates. By taking part in its different activities (parties, dinners, sports, camping etc), I became closer to those in my year and in years above me. When I walk through the halls of UCG it is full of friendly faces from CAERUS. As UCG already has a high proportion of internationals, so too does CAERUS. I love this aspect because I get to communicate with people from all over the world and on a practical level it helps as everything is in English. I’m also especially thankful for the link it provides with second and third-year students, as I have been able to approach them for advice regarding majors or simply about the best spots in Groningen.

As UCG is a small faculty separate from the main university, it can sometimes feel like we create a bubble for ourselves. I joined SIB to expand the bubble and meet like-minded people from different studies. SIB organises lectures on various interesting topics every Monday, and afterwards, you can stay in the club to socialize with other members. Luckily for me, everything was in English! As a new member, I was able to join an intro-group, with whom I had dinner with before the lectures for the first two months. This was a fantastic way to make new friends and there were always a few interesting things to talk about following the lectures. Recently, SIB had a Gala where we all got the chance to be fancy for the night. It was a heap of fun and I’m particularly proud of my ability to cycle there in a ballgown and heels!

Broadening Your Horizons

Being part of an association is about more than just the social aspect. As cliche as it might sound, both associations already have and continue to broaden my horizons. SIB organises lectures on topics ranging from sustainability to fake news to spirituality and more. CAERUS also gives practical workshops on making presentations or CVs.

Both CAERUS and SIB give the opportunity to literally broaden your horizons too as they organise trips. In a few weeks, I will go to the Christmas markets in Münster with CAERUS and I am considering joining a hitchhiking competition to Bonn with SIB. Recently, I also visited the Efteling with my travel committee which was amazing! The Efteling is the Netherlands’ largest theme park and has been compared to the likes of Disney-Land. If like me, you have missed out on theme park opportunities as a child.. the Efteling is your chance!

Sports associations are also a great way to keep active if you are looking to stay fit. I have some friends in rowing clubs that are going to compete nationally in Amsterdam soon… and one of them had never rowed before! This is your time to try new things out, be it rock climbing or scuba diving, the list is endless. We are testing our feet in our newly independent student lives, so why not run with them?

Getting Involved!

A fear that lots of people have when it comes to joining an association is the amount of time it might consume, and whether this will affect their studies. The only thing I can say to this is that it’s up to you how involved you get. Being part of an association doesn’t mean you need to show up to every event. In fact, I had to turn down bowling and trampolining this week because I simply had too much work to do! However, if you enjoy being busy and making friends, why not become more involved?

Because CAERUS is a young association, with only three years of existence there is a lot of space for new ideas and committees. I have joined the travel committee, where we are working on a big trip in April to possibly Bulgaria, Croatia or Greece. As well as that, with some others, I’ve formed a new committee called Civitas, which is a charity committee. We organised a Caribbean night last month to raise money for victims of hurricane Irma and next month we will make a cosy Christmas fair to raise money to donate presents to poor children. While it requires some commitment being a part of committees, the tasks are always divided up so that we are never overwhelmed by jobs. It’s also really fun working with a team to organise a fun event (and great for the CV!)

In SIB I have recently joined a dispuut. What is a dispuut? I didn’t know either when I came here and it was one of the strangest cultural differences for me to wrap my head around. A typically Dutch thing, a dispuut can basically be described as an organised friend group. Many associations have them, and you can decide which ones you would like to join at the events (the SIB did a running dinner-event) organised by the different dispuuts. If you find that you click with a dispuut at one of these dinners, they can invite you for drinks. What follows is the normal process of making friends except after a few months they “officially” invite you to join the group. The continuity of it is a nice aspect; as the dispuut gets older and people move away, new members join and many dispuuts do Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners where former and present members come together. Another good thing about its whole “organised” dimension is that every Wednesday we have dinner in a dispuut member's house. Because I have class until 8 pm on Wednesday, I love this, as I can arrive straight from uni to a cooked meal and relax!

So… your student life in Groningen is just starting. Everything is quite overwhelming, and you are wondering how you are going to go about making a new home for yourself here during your time in Groningen. Could joining associations be the next step for you? If so, which associations could you join? Is not speaking Dutch going to limit what you can join? It is true that many associations speak Dutch, but as Groningen becomes more international, associations accept more and more non-native speakers. I also have yet to find a Dutch person who isn’t willing to speak English. I have given you a taste of two of the many student associations of this city, but I hope that you find the right ones for you. There are plenty out there, so take your pick!


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