Students come to Groningen from all over the world. Currently over 15% of students are international students, who study here, but are also enjoying all aspects of student life. Apart from the regular associations and sororities, there are many cultural communities for people from a certain country. We spoke to the board of the African Student Community (ASC) to find out what life is like in Groningen as an African student.
Ruth, who has lived in London all her life, but whose roots are Ghanaian, arrives first. ‘The others will come soon, as they live just around the corner.’ Indeed, five minutes later Jonas and Iris arrive . ‘Sorry we’re late. We had social drinks last night, so we had some troubles waking up.’ Unlike many associations, students can become a board member of ASC in their first year. Iris tells about how she got in touch with the ASC: ‘I heard from a friend that he had been the chairman at ASC and he told me that they were looking for new board members. It sounded great to me so I became the Secretary General. Now it’s actually my second year in the board, this year as Educational Activities Coordinator.’
The African Student Community consists of roughly 150 active members, the majority of them aren’t actually from Africa. ‘That’s exactly what we’re aiming at,’ explains Jonas. ‘We like to be as inclusive as possible and to introduce people to African music, food and culture. So especially the non-Africans should come to our activities.’ Iris adds: ‘The ASC has two main goals. The first one is to create a network and a family for African people in Groningen. The second is to introduce people to the African culture.’ In order to accomplish this, the board organises a lot of activities. Every month you can visit a movie night or have ‘social drinks’ with the community and every now and then they throw a party. They have their own football team and a basketball team and six times a year they organise pub lectures in de Drie Gezusters. Iris organises these lectures. ‘You can order a beer and enjoy the stories. Recently, we’ve had a speaker who told us about his experiences as a volunteer during the Ebola epidemic.’
On top of this, the ASC Symposium with the theme ‘The African Rising’ is coming up soon. ‘It’s our love baby,’ says Iris smiling. ‘It will take place on May 13 and 14. In these two days we will find answers to the question ‘Is Africa really rising?’ by focussing in different aspects to the matter such as health, business and economics, politics, education and human rights. There will be speakers on every subject and interactive workshops.’ Jonas seems just as excited. ‘There are many different opinions on this matter. There are critical people and the so-called Afro-optimists. We want to provide a realistic middle.’
The ASC deliberately calls itself a ‘community’ as they are not just an association, but a real family. Ruth: ‘We try to create a home for the African people, a family. When someone’s suddenly not showing up on events, we start to ask each other ‘How’s John? I haven’t seen him for a while.” Next to forming a family, they try to build bridges between the community and African organisations. ‘We have a strong link with African Young Professionals, a network organisation in The Hague,’ says Jonas. ‘They are contacted by companies who want to start in for example Ethiopia and are looking for someone who understands the African language and culture. People from ASC can become part of their network and apply for these positions. On the long term we want to help people travelling to Africa to volunteer. The difficulty is that several companies offer projects which aren’t beneficial for the African country, but are mainly a source for money. Travellers can come to the ASC in the future and we will advise them on which company to contact for work and actually doing justice to Africa.’
After their studies, Jonas and Ruth are determined to start working in Africa. Iris wants to try out African life first, by doing an internship for six months with Ruth in Ghana. ‘I could see you living in Tanzania,’ says Jonas enthusiastic. ‘No, she’s coming with me!’ Ruth replies. ‘But I am taking the Groninger spirit with me. Everyone is so kind and interested in your background here. It really taught me to be more open.’ Jonas agrees with Ruth. ‘They know you’re different, but they want to know why you’re the same. That’s what I like about this town.’