Last month a group of foreign students sat down with TU Delft's Rector Magnificus Jacob Fokkema to discuss current events and the current state of affairs for foreign students at TU Delft.

Lezen met de Rector' is one Dutch phrase that I can now confidently say. But what does it mean, you might ask, if you don't speak Dutch? On 12 December 2006, it meant 'Reading with the Rector', or the chance for a group of international students to sit down and talk face-to-face with the TU's Rector Magnificus, Jacob Fokkema, while enjoying some bottles of beer and bowls of soup.This particular session was part of a series of meetings between TU students and the Rector that involves discussing current affairs and relating them to the students' futures and TU Delft's development.The meetings are organized by Studium Generale (SG), and according to SG's Marion Vredeling, the aim of the meetings is "to reduce the distance between the university board and the students" and to allow students to informally express their opinions about matters that concern them directly to a member of the university's executive board.EmotionalRector Fokkema met with the foreign students in the common room of the infamous 'space boxes' on the Feldmanweg. And it truly was an international affair, with approximately 20 foreign students present from every continent.The evening began with Rector emphasizing the importance of having international students at TU Deft, because it is foreign students who build the reputation of the university wherever we go after graduation. For this reason, Fokkema hoped that evenings similar to this one would serve as an opportunity to "sincerely start communicating with foreign students" about their concerns.Several interesting topics were debated during the meeting and some of the serious questions raised included: whether developing countries were becoming dumping grounds for developed countries, whether there is a connection between human rights and climate change issues, and how TU Delft could participate in creating a more sustainable earth.With the students a little more relaxed and in a discussion mode, the Rector then introduced what, in my opinion, was the real purpose of the evening. He asked the students to express their opinions about TU Delft and what issues they thought could be improved upon. At this point a flood of emotional statements from the foreign students poured forth.Once again the issue came up of the foreign students not feeling very welcome in the Netherlands; they weren't able to easily relate to Dutch society. But this time the complaints were more constructive than merely the 'I hate Holland' kind. Some students complained that they wanted to learn the Dutch language to help in their process of getting to know the Netherlands better, but unfortunately there were never any spaces left in the language courses.There were also problems like the poor quality of English in MSc level courses. And one Italian student lamented that he didn't know a single Dutch person, he wasn't satisfied with the way classes were run and he wasn't happy with the accommodation provided to him. "Actually, I feel like I was stupid to come here for my two years," this student concluded.Polder modelWas the meeting with the Rector any good? Overall, it did seem like a success in terms of reaching out and getting in touch with students. One of the event's organizers mentioned that the Rector's last attempt to meet with international students was a disaster. Less than five students turned up and they were all afraid that "something was seriously wrong for one of the university's executive board members to actually come to their apartments."The question that remains to be answered is whether such evenings can have a tangible impact on the foreign students' lives at TU Delft. While it's nice to debate affairs and talk about student life, will the students' complaints be acted upon?Anybody who has been involved in any organization knows that decision-making involves rounds and rounds of discussions, in which issues are raised and each person has his/her own opinion. Worse still, in Dutch 'Polder Model' type discussions, issues can remain on the table for a very long time. The question then is: will students merely come and go while the decision-makers continue discussing?Perhaps the most interesting issue raised during this meeting was how to get more foreign students proactively involved in the fight for a better student experience while studying in the Netherlands. With low turn outs at these kinds of meetings, one wonders whether the students' disillusionment has finally crossed over into complete lack of interest: are they are now merely thinking about completing their studies and getting out of here as fast as they can. And if so, should we then move a step up from 'Reading with the Rector' to 'Playing with the Rector’?

Lezen met de Rector' is one Dutch phrase that I can now confidently say. But what does it mean, you might ask, if you don't speak Dutch? On 12 December 2006, it meant 'Reading with the Rector', or the chance for a group of international students to sit down and talk face-to-face with the TU's Rector Magnificus, Jacob Fokkema, while enjoying some bottles of beer and bowls of soup.This particular session was part of a series of meetings between TU students and the Rector that involves discussing current affairs and relating them to the students' futures and TU Delft's development.The meetings are organized by Studium Generale (SG), and according to SG's Marion Vredeling, the aim of the meetings is "to reduce the distance between the university board and the students" and to allow students to informally express their opinions about matters that concern them directly to a member of the university's executive board.EmotionalRector Fokkema met with the foreign students in the common room of the infamous 'space boxes' on the Feldmanweg. And it truly was an international affair, with approximately 20 foreign students present from every continent.The evening began with Rector emphasizing the importance of having international students at TU Deft, because it is foreign students who build the reputation of the university wherever we go after graduation. For this reason, Fokkema hoped that evenings similar to this one would serve as an opportunity to "sincerely start communicating with foreign students" about their concerns.Several interesting topics were debated during the meeting and some of the serious questions raised included: whether developing countries were becoming dumping grounds for developed countries, whether there is a connection between human rights and climate change issues, and how TU Delft could participate in creating a more sustainable earth.With the students a little more relaxed and in a discussion mode, the Rector then introduced what, in my opinion, was the real purpose of the evening. He asked the students to express their opinions about TU Delft and what issues they thought could be improved upon. At this point a flood of emotional statements from the foreign students poured forth.Once again the issue came up of the foreign students not feeling very welcome in the Netherlands; they weren't able to easily relate to Dutch society. But this time the complaints were more constructive than merely the 'I hate Holland' kind. Some students complained that they wanted to learn the Dutch language to help in their process of getting to know the Netherlands better, but unfortunately there were never any spaces left in the language courses.There were also problems like the poor quality of English in MSc level courses. And one Italian student lamented that he didn't know a single Dutch person, he wasn't satisfied with the way classes were run and he wasn't happy with the accommodation provided to him. "Actually, I feel like I was stupid to come here for my two years," this student concluded.Polder modelWas the meeting with the Rector any good? Overall, it did seem like a success in terms of reaching out and getting in touch with students. One of the event's organizers mentioned that the Rector's last attempt to meet with international students was a disaster. Less than five students turned up and they were all afraid that "something was seriously wrong for one of the university's executive board members to actually come to their apartments."The question that remains to be answered is whether such evenings can have a tangible impact on the foreign students' lives at TU Delft. While it's nice to debate affairs and talk about student life, will the students' complaints be acted upon?Anybody who has been involved in any organization knows that decision-making involves rounds and rounds of discussions, in which issues are raised and each person has his/her own opinion. Worse still, in Dutch 'Polder Model' type discussions, issues can remain on the table for a very long time. The question then is: will students merely come and go while the decision-makers continue discussing?Perhaps the most interesting issue raised during this meeting was how to get more foreign students proactively involved in the fight for a better student experience while studying in the Netherlands. With low turn outs at these kinds of meetings, one wonders whether the students' disillusionment has finally crossed over into complete lack of interest: are they are now merely thinking about completing their studies and getting out of here as fast as they can. And if so, should we then move a step up from 'Reading with the Rector' to 'Playing with the Rector’?