Incluusion student: "When I tell my fellow students I am a refugee, they still treat me the same."

Buddy programme supports refugee students

Three students during Incluusion's Utrecht Photo Hunt
Three students hunting for photos, with Sacha McPherson in the middle.

Incluusion, UU's refugee programme, provides a buddy programme for its refugee students. Regular UU students can volunteer to be a buddy. Jannes volunteered because he was aware that small actions can have a big impact. It's like having an extra study buddy you keep in touch with and meet up with from time to time.

Jannes and his roommate cooked a rich meal for the students he is paired with. He also made sure they could find their way around the Science Park and gave feedback on a writing assignment. For fun, they all went to Incluusion's first social activity together. During this event, the buddies and Incluusion students met for a photo hunt in the centre of Utrecht.

What is a “naborrel”?

Following this activity, a ‘naborrel’ had been organised. This word caused some raised eyebrows among the refugees: 'A naborrel, what is that?' Chiara Peroni, Incluusion team member, tried to explain as best she could what Dutch people mean by this. The table in the middle of the room on which snacks and drinks were displayed already partly betrayed its meaning. While everyone was relaxing in the room with a drink in hand, there was a pleasant atmosphere in which conversations in Dutch and English alternated. A real ‘naborrel’.

Drie studenten tijdens de foto-zoektocht
Three students during Incluusion's Utrecht Photo Hunt

A few days later, Incluusion student Yahya sits in the canteen of a university building with a big smile on his face, recounting his experiences. The first activity of the year was successful for him. Yahya explains that he signed up for Incluusion, because he did not want to fall behind with studying. He did not want his already acquired knowledge to be lost. Besides gaining knowledge, he finds the social experience valuable. Partly through the organised activities and his buddies, he quickly gets to know the UU facilities and both international and Dutch students. I’m quite social and know how to cope in new groups. The people here are very friendly, so it is not that hard to keep up or to have a nice conversation, he says with a laugh.

Equal treatment

Like Yahya, Incluusion student Yousef says he is happy with the opportunities Incluusion offers him. His buddy has helped him become familiar with the way of studying in the Netherlands. I love studying in the Netherlands. I like the discussions in class about the study material, the group work, and that we can address our professors by their first name. I feel the last one really breaks that barrier of being afraid to give the wrong answer or debate something with the teacher. Yousef later adds: I like the environment in class and how when I tell some of my fellow students that I'm a refugee, they still treat me the same.

Support from Incluusion

One aim of Incluusion is to give refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to make use of the waiting period during their asylum procedure. Chiara enthusiastically explains the opportunities for refugee students at the UU. Refugees get acquainted with the Dutch higher education system and the community at the university through Incluusion; the buddy programme helps with their social and academic integration. Since this academic year, all new students are also offered Restart, a two-day preparatory training about studying at the UU.

Chiara and her colleagues' tasks include recruiting teachers, processing applications and conducting intake interviews with new students. Almost 180 (!) applications were received for the second block of the 2022-2023 academic year. However, there is only space for up to 50 students. We would rather help fewer students in the best possible way, than take on too many students and leave them to their own devices. The admitted Incluusion students are then divided into "buddy groups" by Chiara and her colleagues. Each group consists of a few refugees and buddies. Regular contact is encouraged during several events per academic block. New buddies are also offered a half-day training to prepare them properly.


Students: sign up for the buddy programme!

This article was written by Sacha McPherson, former buddy and Education Sciences student