A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
A year has passed since my involvement with AIESEC The Netherlands’ the Nour Project and my related cultural exchange to Irbid, Jordan. Indeed, as returning readers may have noticed, a lot of time too has passed since promising to deliver an entry dedicated to my time spent there. Whilst I apologise for the delay, interestingly neither have my Jordanian experience nor my ‘Dutch connection’ lost their relevance. In fact, during the time between these posts, and taking into account my recent travels to India, these connections seem to have strengthened, intertwined, and become increasingly meaningful.
In January of this year, I posted The Dutch Connection (part 1): multicultural Netherlands, global opportunities and Nour Project. It was with this post that I wanted to start addressing how my experience of being Dutch has never been confined to the Netherlands alone. I wanted to start making sense of how being born in the Netherlands has continued to play a role, and helped with making connections, elsewhere in the world. I particularly wanted to pick up on my multicultural experience of ‘being Dutch’ as a theme, and to try and make sense of how studying Asian Studies at Leiden, in conjunction with my Dutch-but-also-not-so-Dutch background, have contributed to my current prospects and general sense of wellbeing.
I generally had an incredible time in Jordan, and still feel very fortunate to have met a lot of incredibly kind and inspiring people there. However, living in Irbid certainly made me reconsider some of the freedoms that are accessible to us in the Netherlands, especially in regard to travel and mobility. Meeting international as well as local students studying in this (new yet familiar in many regards) setting, simultaneously deepened my everyday understanding of some of the barriers that young people face both collectively and elsewhere.
Regarding my Middle Eastern peers as absolute equals, I found it incredibly difficult to accept that, as a result of what basically comes down to the roll of the dice in the nationality lottery, some of my fellow international students couldn’t (and still can’t) pursue their interests outside of Jordan. It’s one thing to study displacement in a lecture theatre or workgroup, but it’s something else to witness your friends being ushered off a bus, for yet another security screening by police, whilst your own passport entitles you to remain seated. To be frank, It made me angry. It made me feel hopeless realising I couldn’t do anything at the time to alleviate the suffering of people who I looked up to, of the people I had become dependent upon. It made me sad realising I had opportunities and chances available to me that they needed in order to move on, and certainly not because I deserved these any more or less than they did and do.
However, due to the apolitical nature of The Leidener, I’ll move on from this subject by saying that, whilst episodes as such felt bitterly unfair, it did seem to me as though The Netherlands offers (perhaps different, perhaps more) opportunities for individuals to develop themselves into the persons they strive to be, exactly because our learning opportunities are not nearly as constraint geographically. I’ve come to appreciate this freedom to learn in a new light, seeing as I’ve never taken it for granted. That said, I do feel, now more so than ever before, that having access to this freedom comes with a responsibility to utilise it, especially in order to continually work at the breaking down (at minimum) of social barriers, within our direct environments.
Our departing points in this world may have been different, but that doesn’t mean we ought to continue to box ourselves in, when we need not be. If my multicultural experience of being Dutch then has taught me anything, it’s that the world is capable of sharing; that people can benefit greatly from each others knowledge by means of engaging in cross-cultural communication; and, that studying South & Southeast Asian Studies at Leiden University was a good place to start, in order to be at the forefront of the building of some of these valuable social bridges.