A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
A few weeks ago a conversation with some of my friends would have looked like this.
“Oh no, they just killed our Don!”
“Let’s ambush them and shoot them all!”
While German friends might have seen this as a reason to start planning an intervention for me to keep me from joining the mafia, my friends from Leiden would probably not even have blinked. Don’t worry, there were no actual deaths and the only guns involved were filled with water. I did not join the mafia, I’m merely a member of a student association that really likes water fights, and organizes a weeklong battle every may. Most students in Leiden don’t look twice when they see a bunch of people in bunny costumes casually walking across a street, or people in ball gowns at a fastfoodchain. And while my Dutch friends don’t even bat an eye, my German friends are slightly confused, as they usually are when I talk about my student association.
Leiden is known for it’s many, varied associations, even without taking the specific study related ones into account, and many other Dutch cities have a variety of them to offer as well. Cities like Berlin often also have some kind of association related to their studies, and some of the towns with older universities have one or more “Studentenverbindungen”, which comes close to a German equivalent of what Minerva is here, with their many traditions and tough initiation practices. Many of them are still strictly male, and most of them are somewhat looked down upon. The diversity between the different kinds of associations that I love about those here, is often nowhere to be found, making it difficult to explain what exactly it is.
The main thing people tend to think about when hearing about a student association is often drinking beer. While this is a very popular activity for students indeed, there is much more to it. Being part of an organisation that is completely run by students, for students, has probably been the best lesson in teamwork I have had. But even for myself, it took till after the El Cid to really understand the big part an association can play in your life. Leaving all my friends behind and moving to Leiden to study in a class with about ten other people, I was in desperate need of some kind of a social safety net, so I took the leap and signed up for one of the five largest social associations.
Most international students don’t join one of the ‘mainstream’ associations, opting instead for a specifically international one, probably because the associations themselves don’t really encourage it. They want their members to stay for a long time and often forget that there also are people who come here for an entire degree, instead of just a year. Some of them however, I know of at least SSR-Leiden out of the five big ones, have special membership options for international students. They allow you to sign up for just one term, without the hassle of any of the standard first-year traditions or being stuck paying for more than necessary.
Now, almost three years later, I have organized things like an open week for the association and the annual ball, and I feel like I have become an active member of a tight community, which only works if and because every member is dedicated to making it work.
Explaining exactly what the concept of a student association is, when they are all so different, isn’t easy, but what they all have in common is that they can make the few years you spend as a student just that bit more memorable.