A letter to future international members of co-participation (and their Dutch colleagues)

A letter to future international members of co-participation (and their Dutch colleagues)

Dear colleague, Congratulations on your election and welcome to the co-participation! I hope that the advice below might help – it’s everything I wished I’d known. Dutch friends – don’t stop reading, some of this may be of use to you too.

I will admit that I did not have a particularly easy start to my time on the University Council. At the end of my first day, I felt overwhelmed and questioned whether I could really last the whole year. It wasn’t anything in particular that anyone had done but I came away with the impression that I simply didn’t belong. This feeling continued. Never getting the full grasp of the documents, feeling that questions I asked were dismissed, and constantly being behind, waiting for translation. I experienced imposter syndrome – thinking and believing that I didn’t deserve my place at the table and that I was taking up the space of a Dutch person who might represent students’ interests more effectively.

‘Just’ being there, sitting at the table and persisting is an achievement in itself

Don’t get me wrong here, I know that great efforts have been made over the past few years to improve the situation for non-Dutch council members. The chair and registrar have been accommodating and patient, answering my never ending lists of questions and ensuring that I was never left without translation support. My language buddy Devin has been an absolute hero and some of my fellow council members have helped me to feel more at ease. My term has certainly been easier than those of my predecessors (read about Viktor's experience here) but it has had its own challenges. So, how to overcome them? And how can Dutch colleagues help?

Where do Dutch councillors come in?
I’ll start with the latter. Coming into an environment like the University Council is very daunting for an international. Everything is new to us – the issues, the administrative culture and often the language too, so just being friendly goes a long way. Don’t underestimate the impact of a supportive smile or message. We’re not trying to be difficult; we’re trying to stand up for a group which represents over 20% of the student population and contributes a great deal to the university community. So if we’re looking confused or being ignored – help us out!

Now, some advice for my fellow internationals.

Ask for help
First, ask for help when you need it. The topics which co-participation bodies deal with are complicated, even for Dutch speakers. They are also important, so having a clear and complete view of an issue is vital if you wish to make informed decisions. There are no stupid questions. This goes for during meetings as well - don’t be shy about raising your hand if you are being left behind in a discussion or you don’t understand something. You deserve to have the same grasp of the situation as the rest of the council and be as involved in what should be collective decision making.

Second, find colleagues with similar goals and work together. Try to meet a couple of fellow council members before the year starts and discuss what you might be able to achieve together. Being an international in the council can be lonely, particularly if you don’t have a fraction, and you will need people to back you up. I wouldn’t have accomplished half as much without the strong relationships I’ve fostered with others on the council.

Third, don’t be too hard on yourself. Being part of the university council can be difficult even without the extra challenge of being international. ‘Just’ being there, sitting at the table and persisting is an achievement in itself and any mistakes you make are simply lessons for your successor.

Keeping this in mind, good luck! This role is not easy but it can be extremely rewarding if you make good use of it.

I’m rooting for you.

Katherine Willey

2020-21 University Councillor