Manju Sharma, inside-outside-in, charcoal on paper, 50cm x 65cm, 2015

Everyday racism and discrimination faced by international students in the

Issue no6
dec - jan 2022
zigzag 2022 > 2023 + nieuwe collectie

As a tutor at HKU, Manju Sharma regularly speaks to international students who face micro-aggressions, everyday racism and discrimination. At the request of Metropolis M, Sharma set up a research project into the experiences of international students, which resulted in a series of poignant stories, which are presented here, after the introductory interview.

—Domeniek Ruyters We know each other from the HKU MAFA. You immediately said yes when I asked to research everyday racism among international students at art academies. Why is this such an important topic for you?

—Manju Shama ‘My background as a person of colour living in the Netherlands, in Europe, has shaped my interests and responsibility towards the international students through my own encountering of racism and prejudices. Yet, even with my experience, I cannot oversee all the painful experiences international students face. One thing I struggle with, as I can imagine most academies and universities also do, is that when taking on international students how much do we rely on the students themselves to find out about racism and discrimination in the Netherlands? How much of this responsibility should be placed on the academies, universities and ministry of education to inform international students of the difficulties of studying and living due to racism and discrimination that resides here? We know it exists given the increasing number of complaints and protests by students. But to what extent it exists and its effects on the mental well-being of international students remains hidden. This article makes visible mutual vulnerabilities faced by international students. The article thereby, sheds light on the lack of supportive structures in place to accommodate adequately for international students in the Netherlands, issues that are raised in the above questions.'

—Domeniek Ruyters Can you explain your role as a tutor?

—Manju Sharma 'To define my roll more clearly at the HKU, it leans towards ensuring the well-being of student’s personal practice and their personal mental states. In other words, to find out what conditions do students find themselves in that disrupt their education and creative and mental capacity, and to provide help and care within my capacity. This support and care at a general level ranges from helping students find their way around to dealing with bureaucracy, housing, burn-outs, isolation, domestic violence, depression, everyday racism and discrimination, providing information not available in their mother tongue nor in English, and finding voice (ways to speak-out). Part of this parcel includes dealing with student harassment in public spaces, the numerous lessons missed due to students constantly having to look for accommodation and arrangements with IND, students not able to pay their student fees due to lack of employment opportunities, cat calling, mental exhaustion, low creative energies, living in fear, and low self-esteem.'

—Domeniek Ruyters How did you organize this research?

—Manju Sharma ‘I chose not to interview current students because I did not want to jeopardise my position as a tutor in creating trust and confidentiality with current students. The students that have been approached for this article are ex-students from different art schools, some I already knew and others I had the pleasure to meet along the way. I have used the method of interviewing and conversations to voice their stories. It was a method used by Philomena Essed for her book Everyday Racism that was first published in 1984. I did not send out questions to them in advance, as I did not want to provide an extra work. They were informed beforehand of the purpose of the discussions and where encouraged to talk about anything they felt the need to address and to spend time with. I brought a recording device and left it on recording during our conversations. The conversations lasted between 2 and 5 hours. These conversations have been transcribed by me in a story-telling narrative to give voice to their difficult positions. During our meetings things were also discussed that remain confidential and have not been recorded in the transcriptions. To protect the participants, individual names and the names of academies and universities are not mentioned, thereby giving focus to the students and their situations. The organisation @No.More.Later have also contributed their interview to this work. @No.More.Later deal with complaints about Dutch art academies and more.'

—Domeniek Ruyters What did you recognize in their stories?

—Manju Sharma 'The conversations have been relayed in the form of story-telling as a means to share (micro) aggressions. It provides a way to speak, to speak-up, and to speak-out. Another reason for using story-telling is that it is often difficult to explain what is going on all the time. Story-telling gives a more open space without having to explain oneself continuously. These ex-students very much wanted to tell their stories, a space to speak openly and a space to share with the public, to create awareness of the seriousness of their precarious conditions. The stories show entanglements or points of intersectionality that make these situations complex such as persons of colour, class, gender, constraints of laws in place, insufficient protection from the government, insufficient protection from schools. Their stories can be a telling of not being safe, exhaustion and feeling excluded. They are intimate moments of sharing; sharing of joy, laughter, fears and tears which may not be so visible in the texts and therefore form a part of the undercurrent. Sometimes it is not easy to hear these stories. I do find that the stories themselves are a sharp critical analysis of the struggles international students endure. It is important to mention that ex-students that have participated in this article are,for now, still living in the Netherlands, which means they have found coping mechanisms to deal with everyday racism and discrimination.'

—Domeniek Ruyters You chose not to edit the transcriptions too much, leave it close to the speaker, the words said. Why?

—Manju Sharma ‘Given the seriousness of these stories it requires putting time, effort and labour into the reading. This effort is required if we want to try and understand what is going on, before jumping to solutions. Listening to these stories is a good start as a form of care. If we want our academies to be enriched with international students then we need to take time to listen to their experiences. The stories show that this is a collective problem and therefore a collective responsibility is needed from academies, local municipalities, and government. Listening to these stories is essential to create empathy, and it is through empathy that we create a society to question its actions. It is therefore important to sit with them and hold space before jumping to solutions. It is not the case that one student struggles with a job and another housing and another with micro aggressions. They struggle with many of these problems simultaneously. It is a constant confrontation and juggling of inequalities. Because of their struggles, international students lose their entitlement to concentrate their efforts on a study. The effects on mental health, have a consequence towards academic performance levels, thereby performing under their potential which again influences findings jobs and sharing their work in the cultural sector.’

—Domeniek Ruyters What should change?

—Manju Sharma ‘Local council and academies to provide housing for at least the first year of their study. This will provide time for international students to settle in and arrange bank accounts, doctors, visa’s and so forth. Thus, allowing international students to concentrate on their studies. To abolish the requirement of work permit (TWV) making it easier for companies to hire international students, and will provide the opportunity for international students to pay for living expenses and school fees. Trainings at academies for both all students and staff which raises awareness of racism and discrimination. Provide a space at academies where students can talk about the difficulties they encounter and help students log complaints at academies, local councils and other places such as transport companies. Providing international students with classes on staying in the Netherlands after their study. Some of these suggestions are not easy to put into action. For example, given the housing crises in the Netherlands now (insufficient number of houses) acquiring accommodation for international students is very difficult. Other suggestions, can be more easily activated for example a space to talk and to log complaints. The stories, once shared, make it possible for international students to have acknowledgement that their struggles are in unison and not an individual struggle. Given that these struggles are shared these stories do provide a space for student recognition. But these stories should not remain in the same circles of those who struggle and therefore provide an opportunity for the public to listen to excluding mechanism that prevent international students from equal chances.’

Before you proceed to read the stories, I would like to give a big heart-warming thank-you to the participants who shared their stories, for their time, energy, emotional labour and care. Without them this article could not be possible. There are also many others to thank, including those who helped with making ethical decisions, those who put me in contact with ex-students, a good friend who asked questions, and Metropolis M for providing the platform to hold these stories temporarily.MS

INTERVIEW 1 Ex-student from South Asia, pronoun he

Bye Bye tot ziens!

Bye Bye tot ziens! concerns how unequal the job situations are for international students and how much effort is needed to not only keep going but to not feel inferior. The story shows how covid reduced the chance of finding a job within the cultural sector given that the cultural sector was closed for much of this period. It also shows how important it is to find help in dire circumstances.

I came to the Netherlands in 2009 to study at an art academy. Before coming to the Netherlands, I did a fine arts degree in South Asia and in my second year I did some collaborative work with a few Dutch art students. To be honest I had never heard of the Netherlands before. I knew Holland but not the Netherlands. This is how the motivation came to apply to the Netherlands for a study to take my artistic practice further. I first applied to a master’s programme in the Netherlands but I got rejected. It was later when I started a preparatory course at the art academy that I understood why the rejection, namely different values of art. I was very happy to go to the Netherlands and specially to see Europe and the lifestyle and what it looks like. I thought if I like it I will stay longer and if not I will go back to South Asia. Anyway, that was the plan. I arrived on August 2009 and started the academy in September. I had not at all thought about racism or discrimination, it was very far away. It was a part-time education and I had to be at the school from 6-9 in the evenings. There were many international students but I was the first student admitted from a country in South Asia. It was good fun particularly because of the international community. During the prep course, there was no discrimination felt. But, I would have liked to know and to have been aware of racism and discrimination in the Netherlands, and that these things exist. It is difficult because I was very new and maybe the art academy did not want to push me down before I had a chance grow.

For housing, I did not have to struggle that much because it was guaranteed by the academy. It was organised through relationship with people and housing, personal contact formed by friends from the coordinator of the course. For the first year I was fine, but after this, in the second year, housing started to become a problem. In South Asia I had my own apartment and was working as a teacher. I was a self-dependent guy. I also wanted to have my own place in the Netherlands, but to have this you need to get involved in a corporate spider web where you need to register and wait ten years. There are also many scammers that ask you to pay first and then after receiving payment they will offer you housing. But luckily for me housing was not such a big problem. Someone from the academy, a student councillor, helped me find a student house in Amsterdam because I was in a very problematic situation. My girlfriend at the time was just out of hospital and I did not have a place to stay and she needed care. We spent one month moving from friends to friends like a tourist. This situation of having a job, doing a study and caring for my girlfriend became too heavy for me so I went to a student counsellor. She helped to find a place for us. I don’t know what I would you have done if the student counsellor was not able to find accommodation for us as my girlfriend needed a place to rehabilitate herself. I also wanted accommodation where I did not have to again and again tell the story of my girlfriend’s situation and her big and serious surgery. The student counsellor was amazing. She found us a small apartment and we managed to stay there for several years. The student counsellor is still working at the art academy, but the situation and the conditions are different now. I have heard from other friends that the art academy is not so active nowadays, not really addressing international students with their problems. But I don’t know from my own personal experience how it is there at this moment. Because of the active student counsellor I did not have any problems with housing and therefore did not experience any discrimination in this area.

Unfortunately, looking for employment and working in the Netherlands was and is a big problem. At first I worked in a sauna and this company did not know that they had to apply for a work permit [ TWV-tewerkstellingsvergunning]. They all thought because I have a visa to study that I can work freely. After a couple of months, they figured out that they had to apply for a work permit. I tried to convince them to apply for the TWV but they found out that it would be almost impossible to get this permit as they would first have to put the job availability on the Dutch market, then on the European market and then finally non-European. Later I started to work in a restaurant. I had a legal contract for ten hours a week in a restaurant (later 16 hours from 2014). But when I started working with them they also did not know about the TWV and they did not know they had to apply for this work permit. But later they did apply and luckily got the permit.

How the hell are you, as a student, going to survive working only 10 hours a week when you have a high international student fee of 10,000 euro

You can imagine how the hell are you, as a student, going to survive working only 10 hours a week when you have a high international student fee of 10,000 euro. Then you have the costs of housing, food, health insurance, and other survival costs. And the pay in a restaurant is generally 10 euro with a maximum 15 euro per hour. How can anyone survive like this? It therefore becomes a struggle for not wealthy international students. Those who want to survive need to look for work outside contracted jobs. I am half positive about the working conditions and half negative. Positive with the few hours and possibilities to work even though it is not sufficient. The negative side is that you find precarious jobs working at odd times, which means you are not safe. For me it was always late at night till early hours in the morning and working with minimum wages. The positive side is, at least you get some money. I worked in an Asian restaurant and somehow cultural values are also there. The relationship between the management and the workers was not entirely satisfactory but I was very happy to be in contact with the customers, to know them and to understand their culture, and to share our culture including food culture. It was nice, the biggest problem was working with a low minimum wage and the limited number of hours.

Language was not a barrier for me working there because we spoke in English and my mother tongue. With my colleagues, we spoke in our mother tongue and with the customers in English. The customers did not mind me speaking to them in English because most Dutch speak English. This is not a problem in the restaurant business. In other types of business this is a problem. In the restaurant business, the better your English is then the better the communication is in the restaurant. This helps to build a stronger relationship in terms of food culture. It is also how you get into contact with different people from different backgrounds. When you share your food culture you exchange an emotional connection with the customers also. And I do believe that people like to be connected emotionally.

At some point, I stopped working at the restaurant. I quit the job during my masters’ study in 2019. For me it became too much, it did not fit in with being an artist. At the restaurant everyday become the same ritual. You go to the restaurant, you greet the customers, once you have taken their plates you clean the table, you ask them how is their food, is everything ok, would you like to order more things, and then ‘bye bye tot ziens’ (until the next time)! As an artist, where was this space to grow in the environment of a restaurant? Then this feeling boiled up to my neck and I thought I should not work in a restaurant anymore. It’s not that I don’t like it, I loved working as a waiter, but being an artist, I did not find a space to grow myself, to move forward. For me it was a tough decision, because during the time I needed money I was happy to do this work. I took a break for almost one year. I really wanted to explore my own artistic field, my own faculty my own space, my own practices. I started visiting a lot of websites on what to do next as an artist, how to explore more opportunities, how do you move with your artistic practice in the Netherlands. I later graduated with a Masters. But what was this point of graduation, what could it bring? There should be a space where you explore your talent, your qualities, your capabilities as an artist, so I started looking here and there, listening to different people. I decided it would be super nice to get a job in my own field and art practice. As an artist, the best thing is to be paid for a job that helps you understand more the qualities that lie inside of you. I started to look for different jobs, but unfortunately only got rejected. I applied for more than 500 jobs in the field of graphic design, video editing, film making, and as an art teacher.

I did not send out general application letters and applied for specific job openings. I would say they were official job applications. Most of the job applications were online from platforms such as LinkedIn, in other words, job hunting websites. When I saw that the required qualification really matched my own qualification then I wrote a motivation letter and made my portfolio as strong as possible in order to apply. I am good in video editing and handling cameras and I know the techniques of film making.

I got invited to talk with about 10 companies. I was so fascinated when they gave me the date for the interview. They said ‘hi, we are very happy with you…’, but they never had me in mind. I really wanted to tell them to go to hell because of the loss of my own time.

And when you are rejected more than 100 times, when there is a guy or person saying I want to meet you for one hour it raises your hope. Then you start building a positive breeze you know, and the possibility of hiring wants to make you dance and then after one hour of talking they say ‘your portfolio is quite impressive, you know a lot, technically you are supper strong, we will get back to you within a week. But each time I never saw their face or an email from them within a month. I call them ‘the ghost interviewers’. It was a ridiculous situation and I started hated showing interest in these types of people and companies.

My artistic practice was effected as some point, knowing that the working field outside was not approachable. It made me think why the hell was I doing this especially when having completed a master’s degree in Fine Arts. It made me think why the hell did I travel from South Asia to the Netherlands to study this arts study. But I am proud that I am an artist, and I can proudly say that I am an artist. But at some point, when you are rejected so much, when you are pushed back and back and back, then at some point sitting in the corner you start to think of the same friends that you travelled to the Netherlands with. They are doing different courses like IT, and are now working in a company and are quite settled with money, a house and a car. Me myself and I, am here and I am struggling to survive every day. So yes, sometimes it made me question what I was doing. But I am a positive guy – I am very positive and possess a power to control these emotions as well and feel that my day will come. How long this will take I don’t know but the day will come. I am happy that I am an artist as it gives me a way to express my feelings. I can express the things that I hate. I can express the experience that I get from the outside world. I can express myself in a very darker way as well. There is always this light, a small light that I also want to put into every project that I do. That is why I wanted to work in my own artistic field and take a step away from the restaurant. I am happier looking for a job that fits my own quality even though I am not there yet.

I now have my own company and I work as a freelancer. On one-side you can say proudly that you have your own company but in reality, it is very hard to be honest. You are constantly shifting descriptions to fit the artist freelancer requirements. Being a freelancer is a way to motivate yourself, but it is not easy to find work as a freelancer because many of the companies I approached did not want to employ me as a freelancer either. This is a bad situation in the Netherlands. They just also prefer not to work with freelancers either. It seems like a plausible way to say if you cannot find employment within a company than there is another way by starting you own company. But this is a different strategy. In the Netherlands, they welcome freelancing but in reality, they are doing something completely different.

These things are also very closely related to my visa status. Now I have an artist visa for two years. Technically I should prove that seventy percent from my income must be from the cultural sector. But how can the government ask this of you during Covid-19 period, when the culture sectors are closed and there is very little space for someone to hire you. Seventy percent income from the cultural sector, that is just funny. I hope there will be more leniency this year about the seventy percent rule. I really don’t know. I am trying to be very positive. Maybe when I need to extend my residency permit this year I can use this Covid reason. But is completely on them how they will react because they are the government, they are the power house, so it is up to them and I really don’t know what the outcome will be. One thing I dislike about this permit system is that there is no allowance for delayed documents for those applying, but those issuing the documents when they are delayed then it is not a problem.

This way of surviving has a huge impact on your mental health. The impact is huge. Well of course. Let us start from the job applications. When you apply for jobs you have some sort of hope that you become stronger the next day because of the application for which you are applying. You are entering a field in which it relates to your own practice. When your own practice matches a company’s then you can grow there more and more. But when these companies say you do not match their requirements then how should you react? The first rejection is not bad, second and third also not, but then you start thinking is my qualification much worse than their requirements. Then you start becoming sick health wise. Then you start to look at your surroundings in a different way. Then you start doubting, am I the wrong person choosing the wrong field of study. Then there is a high possibility that artists like me can start suffering from depression. Then depression can reach to other phases such as crime. There needs to be a strong power that helps you and controls you to be yourself. But how long can you fight with these things? I have been fighting for 10 years, and people keep saying keep trying, but what the hell is keep trying? When the day comes that you will have to sleep on the street and then how will you survive? The struggle line is super strong. Then you can imagine that the mental health can collapse. You can imagine how some start fighting with friends, family, become isolated, then turning to alcohol or drugs.

This did not happen to me. I have gained certain qualities or capabilities from living a harsh childhood. This provided me with a strong core for survival. It taught me to celebrate life. This is why I remain positive after receiving so many rejections and feeling discriminated. These qualities picked up in my childhood help me to sustain my practices and beliefs. And I have seen my own growth from a child to adulthood. Even if I am no longer allowed to stay in the Netherlands, I have seen my growth from my childhood to now.

These difficulties did not put me off my studies. In fact, it inspired me more to gather all this darkness and try to hit back through my artistic work. It’s probably strange that it did not effect my studies and how this happened I don’t know, and how I managed my studies. Even during my bachelors in the third year because I was looking after my girlfriend and helping her to rehabilitate I think I missed half the lessons. The teachers I had then were so supportive. There was a lot of communication via the email and they said not worry and to take what I was going through as a source for my work.

INTERVIEW 2 Ex-Student from Middle East, pronoun she

Losing the meaning of home

Losing the meaning of home reveals how unequal housing opportunities leads to dangerous living conditions especially when there is nowhere to bring your complaints because of the illegal/ underground situation in which they are driven to and find themselves in. Students that find themselves in illegal situations have little to no access to protection rights.

A friend of mine from my country is now going through the same struggle I went through when I first arrived in the Netherlands. A struggle that is both physical and mental. She is having panic attacks and she is not yet registered with a local doctor. The staff at the hospital will not see her and tell her that she needs to go to the local doctors. I can imagine this situation because I have epilepsy and it happened to me also when arrived here in the Netherlands. When I arrived, I did not have a legal home, a home where you have a contract and can use the postal address. I had rented a legal postal address for Euro 300 a month in a town 50 km from where we are actually living illegally. The postal address is necessary to register at the academy, bank, visa, and receive post. Because the living address is illegal I cannot use this address. This meant that I could not register with a local doctor. The doctors told me that my address is elsewhere and that I need to register for a doctor there. I could not tell them that I was living in an illegal situation. Given that the postal address is far from the illegal living address there is no use for me to register a doctor there because if you have an epileptic attack you need to go to a doctor nearby. So, when I had epileptic attacks I went to the hospital and I really begged them to help me. I cried and my body shook. I felt very bad and unsafe. It is the same situation my friend is in at this moment.

The person who gave me this postal address is now my friend. She is also from the Middle East. We found her on Facebook. She helped us in our bad situation because she is also a translator. But it is not a good situation when you need to rely on someone else for a postal address. This is because sometimes you have a limited amount of time to respond to documents especially legal documents and this becomes complicated. The government thought we lived at the address she provided us. It is known in the Netherlands that first you need to rent a legal address. I think the government knows about these postal address situations as whole system has been developed to allow foreigners and international students to move in these unsafe places. You need to have a legal address within the first three months of your arrival. If you do not have a legal address then you will have to leave the Netherlands. It is so stressful to continuously read in documents, ‘if not you have to go back’. Seeing this sentence caused panic attacks and set-off epilepsy.

When my partner and I arrived in the Netherlands we could not find a place to stay or live. The housing agents told us we could not rent a place from them since we do not have employment here or contracts. When we were looking for a place to stay we signed up to see many apartments. There were many people at the visitations but the persons chosen where always Dutch. We soon realised that we did not have a chance. Of course, I understand the decision to choose a Dutch person because landlords want to be sure that the persons renting the place can afford to pay the rent. And they are not sure about us foreigners. This happened the whole time we were looking for a place to stay.

The housing agents said you are student and the University needs to help you. When I first arrived to the Netherlands I followed a study at a University. I did not want to continue with the University study course because they often talked about gender and racism. But what I experienced it felt like they were pretending to fight with racism because I did not feel safe here in the Netherlands at that time. It is so important to have a safe place to live in any country. At University, we were with several middle eastern students and we were facing the same problems, having the same situation. But for the students from Europe it was totally different because they had a bank card. When I came to the University I could not arrange a bank account straight away. So, I only had cash. I could not drink coffee at the canteen because they would not accept money only bank cards. There were times that I was hungry and tried to buy a sandwich and the man working in the canteen would get angry with me. The local council was busy with foreign students at the time and it took more than one month before I managed to open a bank account. When we arrived, the University told us we must get insurance. But because we could not find housing and had to live in a hotel, the insurance company told us that they could not except this as an address. So, we thought we did not have insurance. Once we found a postal address we applied for health insurance again only to receive a fine of Euro 1,000 because it turned out that we had been accepted for the health insurance but we never received the letter because it was sent to the University address. We still had to pay for the insurance that we did not know we had in the first months. I later switched to an Art Academy.

In the first few months in the Netherlands, when we recognised that we could not rent a home we went to a hotel and lived there for two months and went through all our finances that we had. We then had no choice but to look for an illegal accommodation. Living in an illegal situation means that you cannot complain about any of the conditions of the accommodation. For the illegal home the landlord asked for four times the monthly rent to be paid in advance. Our landlord had a key and he could enter the apartment whenever he wanted to, unannounced and uninvited. This was a very bad time for us, my partner and I. We felt very unsafe, particularly me, because he had a key. My partner had a night job and when he went to work I remember that I covered the table with blankets because I felt very unsafe being alone in the bedroom knowing that the landlord had a key and could come when he wanted. I slept under the table to feel safer. We were forbidden to have guests by the landlord and we could not order anything online. We found this accommodation in via different Telegram groups. And we paid one person approximately Euro 1,000 for finding this illegal place to stay. He was very famous in the Netherlands for finding illegal homes for foreigners.

Our second place to stay in the Netherlands was terrible. It was so terrible I missed the first illegal place of stay. The second landlord was from the Middle East, and I really did not feel safe at home all the time. Once I was studying at the table in my home and when I looked up I saw the landlord standing in front of me. It was a terrible fright and feeling because I was alone at home at the time. I asked him what he was doing here. He said I have a key and you live here illegally and I need to check on you. He was very strict and told us we could not have guests. He told us when you come here with friends not to speak loud because the neighbours should not hear you having conversations and not to bring any attention to ourselves. He said because we are illegal the neighbours can call the government and then we will be thrown out. I tried to put something heavy in front of the door at night afraid he might come in the night. He also drank a lot of alcohol. You could smell the alcohol on his breath. I felt very unsafe here. When we left this apartment, and asked for our deposit back the landlord would not give back our money. We could not complain to the police or any other authority about this. Eventually we got the money back but it was difficult. We had to threaten to report him to get our deposit back. In this period, I lost the meaning of home. I could not feel a sense of home inside.

When you go to another country you know you have some problems but when you have essential problems like housing, living, job, it becomes impossible to concentrate on your studies

During my studies I could not concentrate on the studies because I had serious problems with accommodation and extending my visa. I really missed my family. When you go to another country you know you have some problems but when you have essential problems like housing, living, job, it becomes impossible to concentrate on your studies. You do not know which problem or which event will influence you and the studies more than others. You start to question, why did I choose to study here, why do I make art? In my home country, I could have a good house to live in but I could not live there as people can easily kill each other.

I tried to study with lots of energy but because of the significant problems you incur you are so busy fighting with the world that there is little to no energy left for the study. But know I am calm and I can concentrate on different projects, but during my study at the art academy I thought I was a terrible artist because I could not produce any work. I lost my self-confidence and even questioned whether I am an artist. I also thought that maybe I should stop studying art. Even when you explain your situation to other people they cannot understand you and what you are going through. You could not tell others around you everything, you could not say I live here illegally and I have problems at home.

In my final year of my study, we found a legal place of stay where the landlord is really a good person. We finally found a legal home in Nieuwegein and the owners are nice people. We have a good contact with them and we have become friends. I am so happy my partner is with me because he is strong and confident for me in these difficult periods. I could not have survived the living condition of the first year of the study. When I felt unsafe, I knew that my partner would be coming home and this was a big comfort.

Coming as a foreigner living in the Netherlands there are always problems. Now I am here for more than four years and now again I need to think about extending my visa. I will apply for the artist visa (working permit). It is a large application and you need to put in a lot of work to apply for this. This keeps you in a continuously stressful living situation. But the biggest problem was accommodation. Now that I am living in a good place my mind is calm and I have more confidence and I can deal better with the other stress factors. I can even enjoy the rainy days here. My family back home also saw that something had changed in my face. They said that my eyes had changed and the way I was looking, somehow brighter. They could recognise this positive change in my face.

The corona pandemic made things worse because much of covid period was in the second place of stay. Staying there was just horrible. But now in my third place of stay where I am happy I also got the corona virus and this time it felt like having a cold and I could get on with things and move freely around the apartment. My landlord even made me food.

I thought the housing situation was only my problem because I could not see students suffering as I had been. But I understand now that many non-EU students are also facing similar problems. I am so happy that I found a good place to live and that my study was going well. I could start to study and to make art works. I did not want the study to finish because I was now at a place to enjoy it.

Before coming to the Netherlands I did make some enquiries into racism and discrimination in the Netherlands. I searched how it was in the Netherlands and it appeared that in the Netherlands they fight against racism. But once having arrived here I faced other things. I applied to two art schools. I was invited for an informal meeting to one art academy in which there where several applicants attending. The conversation was led by Dutch speaking applicant and teachers. They only spoke a few moments in English. After this meeting I went home and cried and I could not believe that this was happening to me.

If I had known the difficulties that I would have had before I arrived I would have not come to the Netherlands and would have looked at other countries for studying. But now I am in a good place but I am not sure how long I will stay in the Netherlands. There is still a bitter feeling because of all the struggles. I tried to find a new meaning for home but I have not found it yet. I spoke to a good friend of mine about this, and even though I am in a good place it still does not feel like home. I feel like I am always in a survival mode here, especially with arranging the visa and housing. How long we can stay in this home is also not clear. I want to stay here as an artist having an artist via (work permit). But again, this is proving to be difficult.

A fine that international students often receive is about putting your rubbish in the wrong place. I also paid too much on the buses in the first few months as I did not know that the ticket you bought in the bus could also be used for the return journey. I had never used public transport until I arrived in the Netherlands. There are so many things to understand when you move here. These are simple things but they have an effect on you. At major train stations, I asked for help on many occasions in English but all the answers I got were in Dutch. Other expenses include translations fees. Official documents and letters we receive we pay for them to have them officially translated to avoid trouble. We received many letters in Dutch, some were in English but the majority are in Dutch.

A friend of mine is studying big data and when she graduates she can apply for different jobs and extend her visa to stay. As an artist, this is not the case. We struggle again. Being an artist and making work is expensive because you need to buy materials. We cannot afford studio or materials. You feel on all sides that you are not European. They pretend that all people are treated the same but it is not like this.

Because of the lower value and currency exchange, to pay for the student fees and coming to the Netherlands, people need to sell a house in the middle east. I know someone who sold three apartments before they could come to the Netherlands so that they could secure enough finances to study three years in the Netherlands. When you cannot work here it is difficult to survive. The government needs to understand what types of sacrifices we make to be able to study here. Whoever writes the rules and regulations for international students need to think about this and if they want students from different countries studying here. There is a distance with the Dutch and you feel that you cannot ask them for help. You feel that you cannot approach them. I really like to help others who come from the same region and who are in the same situation as I was in - am in. I want to help them so they do not have to suffer as I did. I was so happy when I found others that made me feel safe. The responsibility of international students and their safety cannot be placed to one person or one institution. There needs to be honest and real information given to the students on how difficult it is to live in the Netherlands as an international student.

INTERVIEW 3 - Ex-Student, pronoun he, from China

Gentle shameful feeling

Gentle shameful feeling shows the constant struggle with the Dutch language and searching for help within different communities.

In many ways, the Netherlands treats me very nice and I feel the equality. But there are some areas where I feel treated unfairly and not equally especially when it concerns being an international student. One is language. So, when it comes to housing it is difficult to find information because of the Dutch language. I feel lucky that my mother tongue is Chinese and there is a big enough Chinese community here in the Netherlands, so I can get a lot of information in my mother tongue which has been translated already from Dutch to Chinese. For example, information about housing allowance was available for me in Chinese but is not available in English. There is not so much information available on housing in English. Students are constantly relying on google translate which can be a bit tricky especially when translated contracts. The student accommodation market and housing market is very difficult to reach for international students which ends up in using tricky complex networks, like rental companies that are very profit oriented. These companies do have their websites available in English and therefore attract those in precarious living conditions in the Netherlands. But they are very profit orientated. For non-profit oriented rental companies their websites are in Dutch and therefore difficult to access. For those international students with a small community from their home land it makes it very difficult for them to have access to accommodation. Within the Chinese community, it did not take too long to find accommodation especially because I looked together with some other Chinese students and shared our networking.

When I arrived I was desperately searching for accommodation? I applied to many, many, houses for a response. I massively sent emails everywhere I could apply, possibly close to one hundred. I got one response from a lady who said I could come for a house viewing. She turned out to be quite notorious in the rental world as someone not to approach.

During the first year of renting there was a rise in service costs which for me came as a surprise and many international students felt that this rise in service cost was unfair. I could not read my payment bill so I had to get it translated and looked at by Huur Team (legal advice offices in the Netherlands for renting homes). They explained that the extra expenses were not transparent and they helped me to contact the rental company with an email making enquiries into the extra costs but we never received a reply. At a certain point, we both gave up and I paid the extra costs.

For the third place I rented, I got a housing contract with no negotiation of extending the contract because the municipality was going to do something with the building like rebuilding or changing what it would be used as. After my contract terminated, only ten days later, I found out that the owners of the property were making the house available for new tenants. This means the reason they gave me was not true. I checked the new rent and the rent rose by Euro 100 per month. My hypothesis is that they gave me the definite contract because they wanted other people in paying more rent at a later stage. Those renting houses do not have to worry about no getting tenants because within 24 hours the house will be rented again. Due of the high demand for housing many companies can take advantage of this situation and there is a true lack of protection for international students.

If you understand the term ‘safe’ as not to be physically hurt or loose assets or your belongings, then the Netherlands is quite safe. But if you bend this word ‘safe’ to ‘mentally safe’ like a welcoming then, my previous experience of sharing a house with other people is that it is not so safe. Houses that are rented for profit are not made to sharing well with other people. You also need to feel you belong amongst your house mates and this was not the case for me. There was little privacy and this had a significant effect on my well-being, and this was not a good situation. I stayed for 3 months and then I decided to get a studio with a private company that allowed me to live alone. If you can get housing with SSH (student housing) then that’s good because the accommodation is designed for students to live there. The apartments and houses have common areas and private spaces for students own room. This is totally different with the private house sharing where rents are high so you need to share with more people to make it affordable.

One thing that is unfair regarding SSH is that SSH has a ranking system. How it works is that you can get accommodation based on your registration year. The longer you register on the website the higher the chance you find accommodation. According to their rules it becomes impossible for international students at art academies to find housing there, as the art academy is a HBO education (equivalent to polytechnics). Those who live in the Netherlands can apply from age 16 onwards. So, Dutch students can register much earlier than international. This is system is unfair. When I arrived in the Netherlands SSH ran a pilot in which they no longer used the ranking system but instead used a lottery system for house viewing, but in this situation the Dutch roommates simply choose with whom they want to live with. This makes is again unfair to international students even though I can understand from the Dutch students point of view that they would prefer a Dutch speaking person living with them so that they can speak in their own language. I do like the system in Singapore. In Singapore, there is an accommodation agreement in which they allow 70% to be Chinese and the rest must be from other backgrounds like Indian. This avoids only Chinese communities living together and other communities. The biggest problem in the Netherlands is that SSH does not have housing for all students.

From the perspective of racism and or discrimination as in race and skin colour I personally did not receive this in the Netherlands. But in terms of intersectionality I would say that discrimination is based more on economic power and class. It is further based on language, culture, and skills

When I applied to the art academy, and got accepted to do the study here in the Netherlands I was not aware of these types of discrimination. From the perspective of racism and or discrimination as in race and skin colour I personally did not receive this in the Netherlands. But in terms of intersectionality I would say that discrimination is based more on economic power and class. It is further based on language, culture, and skills. When I cannot offer to speak with others in either Dutch or English this makes me feel shameful as I am not able to use these languages to do what I want to do. I also feel discriminated with language and the Dutch common law. For example, international students do not receive lessons in how to abide by the rules when riding a bicycle, so quite often we receive fines from the police. So, you end-up learning what you can do and cannot do through financial punishment fines. To study in the Netherlands, we are not required to have a proficiency in the Dutch language, only in English. Yet all cycle signs are written in Dutch. I also know a friend who got a fine for not putting the trash correctly on the street. But nobody tells you that these things are important otherwise you will receive a fine. The information is also not available to us international students and not in English. When translating in Google you sometimes might get accurate information, but quite often you cannot rely on the translated information as being correct. Again, this is unfair economically for international students. It also makes you feel uncertain because you become scared to get another fine, and therefore feel unsafe.

Another example I can give you of language difficulties in the Netherlands is, one time when I was travelling I was stranded at Tilburg. There was an accident on the railway somewhere and so all the trains were cancelled. This was a frustrating for me because I did not know what happened on this day. Google cannot update this information that fast for me to understand what is going on via my mobile phone. All the information broadcasted at the train station was in Dutch. I had to make screen shots of the travel service app and then translate them in Google. By this time, you feel shame, because you are left to feel like a child who does not know what is going on. There is also this feeling of disability because of limitation in movement. After some time, I managed to contact my partner who is Dutch and luckily, he could provide me with an alternative route of travel. I did not dare approach other stranded passengers through this sense of shame and did not want to trouble others. You feel illiterate because you cannot read or listen to what is being said or written. Where this feeling of troubling others comes from, is not clear. The Dutch generally do speak good English but asking them for help is another matter. There is the expectation that as an adult you are supposed to do this by yourself, so asking for help becomes a shameful feeling. Transport is a fundamental need to international students who live here and if the Dutch require international students to have a proficient understanding of the English language for their studies then they should provide basic infrastructure and travel service information also in English.

In the shops when I want to buy something I speak English and this has never been a problem. At first I used to ask other people if they spoke English, but after a time I stopped asking this and just started speaking English to them. One time when I was buying oliebollen (fried dough balls with raisins and powder sugar) the guy serving me apologised for not speaking English well. Maybe he felt the gentle shameful feeling I was feeling at the train station and other situations, not able to reply back in a manner he would like to a customer. Some Dutch have been very cute in the kindness. I am very happy when in supermarkets they have self-check-out services in English because you can then do the scanning and payment by yourself and then you can avoid contact with the cashier. Local doctors at the hospital staff generally speak English. When I was a student the local doctors practice available for students had a website in English and this was good and very helpful. But when I was no longer a student I had to find another doctor in my neighbourhood. This time all the information online was available only in Dutch.

One thing we as international students complain about is the different standards offered by the Dutch government. For example, the public transport card for Dutch students is free. International students do not receive free transport. So, it feels like the Dutch government recruit us here for business. At the same time, I am afraid that if the Dutch government will provide a free transportation card for International students, then they will then increase the student fees to cover the free travel card.

When I was a student I got a job working with a Chinese company based in China and me working from the Netherlands. But I know my fellow students had much problems with finding jobs. Many international students that had jobs were paid put in cash. This is not a safe situation because they do not have a choice. If the government could provide them with a working visa then they would not have to do these unsafe jobs. I did not experience the problems of applying for a work permit. But I heard from my fellow students that this was very difficult.

I have family members in the EU that are Dutch, so this helps to maintain an income to stay. But I also work part-time for a food delivery company. The food delivery company is a neo liberal company that is pro free market and free labour and need a large work force. In my experience, they treat the employees quite equally; the salary payment, the language, the environment. Despite being a Dutch company they very often use the English language. Also, an important part of the art education is how to sustain and live as an artist. Even when I applied for a volunteer position I got ghosted. I sent in my resume and motivation letter to some companies for unpaid internships. They connected me with the persons responsible for recruitment. They gave an introduction and tried to make an appointment with me but because of school hours and working hours it was difficult to come to an agreement to meet because our schedules did not match. Then I emailed them back but there was no email connection possible with them anymore. So even when you are offering yourself as free labour or as a volunteer in the art world, you need to try really, really, hard to find a place to work. The arts position here is very competitive. I send around one hundred letters asking for employment in various places such as museums, festivals, small art institutions. At least half the companies required Dutch as a language. If Dutch is such a crucial skill to be a professional artist or to work in the art field, then why doesn’t the art academy provide a Dutch course as a compulsory course or at least optional. The current system does not allow you to financially sustain yourself because of lack of certain skills, skills that the art academy did not provide. English speaking positions in the art field are super competitive. From the hundred applications, I got one positive response, but I rejected the job because the pay was too little, they were asking to do the job almost for free.

There is also the artistic practice. We take this seriously but we all know how little income it brings especially when you started out as an artist. There are no other benefits received from an artist income such as sickness days off or sick pay. Working as an artist here is not safe, there are no guarantees. Those who are lucky will receive some government funding, but most do not.

As an international student, it is based on our free will to come here. First you should take the responsibility yourself to enquire into a country and the level of racism and discrimination. We should ask ourselves, do we take the appropriate responsibility because we are adults. We make the choice to come here, to immigrate here as a student and then to stay and work here if possible. Then there is also a responsibility of the institution with whom you study, the municipality and the Ministry of Education. In the last few years I have been dealing a lot with these institutions. Dealing with the institutions we should not generalise them or stereotype them. These institutions consist of human being like us, and rules and laws. Sometimes I find problems come from the rules and laws and not from the people. So, it is very important for the rules and laws to take on the responsibility of international students. For example, to change the international student visa to include and allow working, even if it is for a limited number of hours per week say 16 hours. This would help international students tremendously. For the international student visa, it is fine if the government regulate the number of hours because you do come to the Netherlands to study, but provide students also the conditions to work without asking companies to apply for a work permit. Why they put this boundary around the visa with regards employment is not clear. You should be allowed to work to financially sustain yourself. This is a basic need as an adult to financially sustain yourself. You have your dignity as an adult human being but this dignity is denied from us. The rules and the law allow us to seek employment, but they make it impossible to find work as the rules are very bureaucratic. International students question the rules and laws which most Dutch do not see. It becomes something that is not discussed enough.

INTERVIEW 4 Ex-Student, pronoun she, from West Asia

Sometimes things are just so complicated

Sometimes things are just so complicated concerns recognising patterns of behaviour in public spaces, verbal micro aggressions and attempts to fight back.

I visited the Netherlands on several occasions before I arrived to do a master. It is not possible to know what situation you will find yourself in in advance. I imagined the Netherlands as quite a free country, and that was why I chose to come here. I never thought I could feel discrimination so solidly as a felt it, feel it. When it comes to bureaucracy yes, I expected to feel some discrimination, this I was prepared for. But when it comes to what I experience in daily life, this I did not expect. For example, when I walk in the streets and people just push you out of the way with their bodies. This type of behaviour I was not expecting. Feeling this discrimination in a solid way has become part of my life. In the beginning, there was a period of shock on how people here see themselves superior than others. But this you find in many countries, even in my home country. But the part that made me angry was that the Netherlands can be considered as a well-off country. The Netherlands does not have to deal with many things compares to other geographies. The only thing that needs to be addressed in the Netherlands is to learn and understand your privilege, to learn about racism and unlearn a behaviour. Later, slowly but surely, I started to see patterns, and then started giving reactions to what I incurred on a daily level. I started shouting back in my own language especially when I was biking and received racist comments. Now I am still in the process, and sometimes I get angry and sometimes I let it go and just continue.

Once I was cycling in Amsterdam on the left-hand side of the bike lane and not on the right-hand side as one should. I Dutch women tried to pass me and said something in Dutch. She wanted me to move to the right-hand side. I could not understand her so I replied in English “sorry what did you say” and she shouted back “yes, of course you don’t speak Dutch!”. So, I shouted back “yes I don’t speak Dutch, what is your problem?”

One time in Utrecht I was cycling and I almost got hit by another cyclist when trying to gain access to the cycle path. This person did not offer me any space. This happens quite often. I see Dutch are careful about giving way to other cyclist, but when it comes to those who look foreign they drop this social respect. At first I used to shout back in my own mother tongue but then I got the advice from someone that it is better to shout back in a language they understand. So, I started to shout back in English and soon I hope to shout back at them in Dutch.

One time I was waiting under the bridge at Utrecht Vaartsche Rijn station and some guy was disturbing me getting uncomfortably close to me. I tried to physically avoid him by continuously moving away. At one point, he approached so close that I shouted to him to go away. The he started shouting back at me, “you go away, this is Utrecht, this is my city, so you go away!”. I managed to save myself and then shouted something at the man in my mother tongue. Close by in one of the corners was a bike shop and a man was standing outside smoking a cigarette. He witnessed what had just happened, but he did not help me. When he heard me shouting in my mother tongue he understood that we were originally from the same country. He said, that if he knew I was from the same country as him that he would have helped. At this moment, I felt like I was receiving discrimination from several sides. So, if I was not from his country I do not deserve his help? At the same time, I understand that he maybe has received so much discrimination himself that he does not want to deal with Dutch people anymore. Sometimes things are just so complicated.

INTERVIEW 5 – Ex-Student , pronoun she from Taiwan

It is not my job to feel numb

It is not my job to feel numb explains how sexiest comments from the intersection of being a female and physical appearance prevents international students to feel safe in public places. It shows how bullying or micro aggressions can have serious consequences on mental health.

Before I arrived in the Netherlands I was used to cat-calling from Australia, but cat-calling there is different than here in the Netherlands. For me I keep practicing how to fight back, and to respond. In the beginning, you get shocked by the cat-calling because they come in a unpredicted way and they can be creative, so you also need to be creative in your reply. You should train your brain. I don’t think the anger is going to be conquered. Also, not aiming to feel ok about it. It is not my job to feel numb. Due to the cat-calling I did not enjoy going out at night here in the Netherlands. Being in Utrecht after 12:00 midnight I know I will be harassed with cat-calling the moment I step out of the front door. Local young male adults shout things like “China, China, China,” or “massage, massage”, something along these lines. They often make jokes in Dutch and then laugh at you again. This happens all the time, and I kind of got used to it. If I do not feel energetic enough to fight back then I try to ignore them.

Being in Utrecht after 12:00 midnight I know I will be harassed with cat-calling the moment I step out of the front door. Local young male adults shout things like “China, China, China,” or “massage, massage”, something along these lines

These are daily life things to deal with. Me and an East Asian, walking back home together in Utrecht after 11 or 12 in the evening we got cat-called immediately. If there are a group of non-western looking people around then this is happening. It is like a video game where the conditions are set and certain things will happen. There is a difference if you are on your own. If I am on my own they come to me directly. This was an advantage during covid pandemic because people kept their distance to me. I remember when the first pandemic wave came, everyone kept as far away from me as possible because they were afraid that I had a Chinese disease, something like that. The feeling was different than before covid. In the news around this time there where many postings of racism because of the pandemic. Sometimes East Asian people in the Netherlands got physically hit or attacked, or blamed or assaulted. There were many of these videos, and in the beginning I was afraid to go out. Then I realized they were keeping distance from me.

I think the most hurting situation was from the police. My flat mate got stopped by the police because she did not have her lights on whilst cycling, she crossed a red light and was out during curfew. She only got a warning. Actually, she only ever got warnings when she was stopped by the police. I got stopped once by the police, the day after the curfew ended, but with me things went differently. I did not think to put my cycle lights on because I had not been cycling at bight during the curfew. First, they checked my residence card, but did not know what it was and asked if it was a residence card. They could not recognise the layout because it was not a permanent residence card. Then they asked if I had my passport with me. I told them I would not bring my passport with me, and that this card is officially provided by their government. Then they gave me a fine telling me that everyone would get a fine today. At this moment, a white guy zoomed pass us on his bike without having lights on and they did not stop him. It’s even more hurting if the discrimination is from the police. They should be fair. It felt like they checked my nationality before deciding whether they should give a warning or to give a fine. I finally decided to give up arguing with the police. During this incident, my friend (White European) who was cycling with me when this happened, was trying to fight for me. My friend explained to the police how when they had the same situation before they only got a warning, and how giving a fine is wrong to someone without any record before. They even argued to the police that they treated me differently because I was an international student. A friend later told me to get a law consult and try to make an appeal. I tried to fight this fine but felt a of lack of energy in the end to keep going on. I still feel the hurt every time I mention the story.

INTERVIEW 6 Ex-Student, pronoun she, started at the art academy in the Netherlands and within the first month decided to switch to a university education.

The ant eye and the eagle eye

The ant eye and the eagle eye is a story that starts in Syria and continues to the Netherlands and shows how difficult it is for some students to fit into pre-fixed Dutch educational forms and structures that do not bend in consideration of one’s history, culture and present situation.

In Syria, the big migration happened in 2015. Now, people are starting to go back to Syria and this is difficult. The whole situation on trying to get out of a country and trying to get a new life in a different culture, and then coping with this situation. I think this is the same story for all nationalities that face this situation. Moving from one country to another is normal. What is not normal are the borders. Politics is going in one way but people and well-fare are going in another direction. In Syria people fled because of the weapon movement.

I use my stories in my art form. I use this issue of the self and my experience in my art practice, experience and difficult conversations. I have and am having difficulties with the specific ways the education system operates here in the Netherlands. I want to unfold this. So, lets us try to unfold this.

I arrived in the Netherlands in 2017. The status in which I arrived is family reunion. My partner came here before me. My partner and I come from different religious parties so our future in Syria was not clear. This was critical for our families. Not so much the close family but the bigger families. We both came from the countryside, and we found ourselves in a rare situation. It is difficult to have a relationship with someone from another religion. This was also one of the reasons that we needed to leave Syria. Another reason why we left was the war and to escape the compulsory requirements of Syrian men to join the army. So, my partner fled. When he fled, and came to the Netherlands, I also fled from Syria but not on a dangerous journey. When he was safe enough in the Netherlands he asked me to join him. He chose to arrive in the Netherlands because it was the only country that allow family renewing without possessing a marriage contract. So, I left Syria and came to the Netherlands by aeroplane. Sometimes I feel a little shameful when I say this, because of the struggles many people face when fleeing.

Both of us (me and my partner) being artist we decided at first not to leave Syria and instead to hide in Syria. We worked in refugee camps for years. This is how we got into the performance side of our art. We both had studied sculpture and then later with the war situation we had to go outside to meet people, trying to practice this creative communication. When you are working in camps you want the work to help the people breath out, open hearts so that those living in the camps can imagine another situation, to take them out of these zones. This is how we, my partner and I, came to practice performance communication in art.

The real difficult circumstances came when my partner left. I completely collapsed. He made this decision suddenly to leave. I was working in Lebanon at the time. I got a phone call from him saying that he was going to leave Syria in one week and requested to meet before his departure in order to say goodbye. The decision was made not to build any future plans, because he never knew if he could survive. This was the critical time for me. Some people do not recognise these difficulties are a part of the journey, but for me it was a big part of my story. For ten days I did not, could not, look towards the sea. I was living beside the sea. For me looking to the sea was like looking to the criminal injustice and hoping that he would not die.

We could not say goodbye in a regular way. He left Syria in a big bus, a bus that collects groups of refugees. The bus passes the army boarders and therefore people must pay a lot of money to bribe the guards on duty. There are many such buses leaving from Syria under the same conditions of making illegal payments to the guards. When he left, we were separated by a gate. The families of those leaving needed to stay behind a gate, whilst the refugees got ready to leave with the bus. After ten days he arrived in the Netherlands. I was following him on google maps. I could not contact him so I am just following a dot on my screen all the time. I had a virtual relationship with him during these ten days. Following this dot, watching it move, hoping that it did not stay still too long in one place.

Most people think that the biggest trauma refugees have is fleeing and getting through this forest and crossing seas. The biggest shock is living in a situation that we are not prepared for

Most people think that the biggest trauma refugees have is fleeing and getting through this forest and crossing seas. The biggest shock is living in a situation that we are not prepared for. We do not have a sense of normality. When he arrived in the Netherlands he applied for a family reunion. After one year we got the acceptance of my coming to him. In this year of waiting I was hanging in the nowhere.

I came to the Netherlands in 2017 on an aeroplane. The first two weeks were great, and then I started the integration process that all refugees go through. Where you need to face the whole conception of your identity and to confirm it to others for your rights to be in another country. I see similar situation with friends who are migrants not even refugees, they are out of a system that could support their housing and the possibility of having a studio to practice their art here. Some of them even have families here and they are operating outside the legal system. Being outside the system is not my biggest difficulties here. I live another specific normality. Being one of the Syrian people living in the Netherlands, when I share my story within the Syrian community I feel very normal. I don’t see the difficulties of being outside the system, it is just different, totally different. For others with different normalities, for example the Dutch, or other who live in the Netherlands, they see our situation as difficult. But this perspective should be changed. Not everyone in this world lives this same normality. This normality cannot be put on a scale. I therefore, prefer to talk about it as difference.

When I arrived here I entered the same process that refugees go through, or what I see as the common situation of the refugee. I entered this competition, I call it the competition stage of a refugee life. This implies finding a way to confirm that I am a good refugee. I thought to do this by entering an education system. That this is better than getting into an integration system that is prepared for me by the Dutch authorities. The whole integration system was too much. It was too offensive for me. I felt offence to go and learn how to say ‘hi’ to my neighbours. I could not handle this practice of do you know how to say ‘hi’ to a Dutch person. That is why I thought it was better to get into the education circle. I applied to five universities including various art academies. This was also me panicking. One of applications was to an art institution. I got accepted and started the art masters course, but I only stayed for two weeks, because a letter came later that I also got accepted to a University. I was panicking and following what the Dutch would like to confirm as a good refugee given there is an idea in the Netherlands that smart people got to university. I heard so many times from various people that refugees cannot handle university programmes in the Netherlands. They said it is too difficult for refugees. Every refugee is connected to a client manager at their local council where they can get information about the system here and the community and your entitlements as a refugee. This is where I heard this sentence – ‘don’t try to do anything difficult because your background does not help you to go this way or that way’. I pushed myself to take this difficult path of going to a university. I stopped with the art academy and jumped to the university as it is seen to have a higher status. At the time, I was only looking to get in to the ‘best’ programme, and not even looking to myself and where I fit best. So, I went to a more theoretical side to an art study. I wanted to break what was said to me, that I could not go to a Dutch University to do a research degree, because my educational background did not support the bag of knowledge required to handle a university master in the west. There was a desire to prove them wrong, that I can do this. I spent so much time and effort writing the most perfect motivation letter, having it checked with many friends from all around the world. All of this to help me get in. I do not like this whole application system, because for me it is about assessing one part of you. You need to prepare so many application documents such as portfolio, motivation, research, transcripts, and what you write or prepare is the moment that you are in, and not what you will do later. But I was lucky with my motivation letter. I also had applied to another University in the Netherlands but I got rejected from them because they did not trust my educational background. The feedback I got was that your motivation letter was good and your portfolio is good but we think that the university that you came from does not have enough quality to get you in.

I started my Masters in 2019. They accepted me and they knew the background that I came from. Yet all the time they were commenting that I do not have enough academic skills. When I arrived in the Netherlands I did not have the basic equipment that most students are required to have, for example a mobile phone and a laptop. I did not have these tools that I should have been prepared for. Maybe they thought that the person who wrote such an application comes from a good background (in money terms), and never considered the fundamental situation I was in here in the Netherlands. The first article I had to submit, I wrote it without approaching the reading materials and without approaching anything about structures of articles. This is where I faced the first harsh feedback. The feedback I received was that maybe this is not the right place for you. I consider myself a responsible person. I did not stay silent in this situation and tried to explain my fundamental situation I was in. I tried to explain to them that I know that I can write what you want but you need to look also into my circumstances in which you accepted me into this course. They did not just accept a specific letter, but also the conditions of the person who wrote it. It felt like they did not have experience with regular people, possibly from only private school education in the Middle East. Maybe they expected a person with a good private education. This was a corner that I could not see in advance. I did not see this feedback coming in advance.

This education system or structure in this institution did not take much considerations of different bodies and different knowledges and backgrounds. I really appreciate when the educational system tries to make space, as the system cannot change so easily. The educational system is not like having clay in the hands that you can mold. But it can be pushed to change over time. I tried my best to change or mold a small part of the course. I understood that I was in a weak position trying to ask them to believe them that I can do it, that I am capable. By weak position I mean, when I got my first feedback from a paper I wrote, it was really bad. The reflection on myself was bad. I had the self-recognition of being in a new place, with new languages, with new knowledges, with new people. I have never had harsh feedback from someone I hardly knew or have hardly met. I never had this situation before. It really made me feel like I am really nobody or someone not able to make make sound. The feedback came in an email. Maybe this is common in the Netherlands to receive feedback in an email. But for me receiving this email was very big. It was difficult to meet with the teacher in person because of corona. This method of communication came across very strong. I was so broken after this feedback. It was the tipping point of me feeling burnt-out. It was the shock that made me collapse. In 2019 I was so busy applying for studies and at the same time doing the integration programme and exams, and then starting a Master which I was so happy about. It was a long and full year of many difficulties. But when I got this feedback I suddenly realised that this fight did not stop, it did not end. It only just started but in a more focused way.

I got a burn-out, and then I asked the University to stop my study for a year. I was really effected bodily. It wasn’t just the email. Later, I tried to meet some of the teachers and explain that they accepted me as an artist and a creative thinker. I have a background in more artist writing. That should take into consideration that I need some time to consider the level of academic writing they are asking for.That feedback was not giving me any opportunities and was judging me as an end-result. There was no care in the feedback. There were no questions asking are you ok, or what situation are you in that you were unable to fulfil their requirements. I would never send such a feedback especially when it is your first. To speak about their expectations and why they were not matched. I still refuse this harsh feedback. Education is about communication and not passing information. I read in an article that some groups are trying to configure new educational systems for new generations. Refugees and migrants are a part of this new generation and therefore a part of the new educational system. When you have an international programme, you need to have a new inclusive system in place. The nice side of this story is that I did meet teachers who are trying to change the educational system. Having a positive experience helped to make me see what happened to me. Eventually, I tried to defend myself, and they accepted to stop my enrolment for a year. This allowed me time to handle my health issues and to arrange the fundamental equipment.

Taking the one year off from studying was very helpful for me, but still it was not enough for me to stay at the same programme. The year started ok redoing the courses. Doing a full-time study, I realised that I should take better care of myself, because the university does not provide such care. I tried to be as confident as I could and I got through the first block. It went well and I was happy. I did not receive fantastic grades, but good enough. I got a 7. In the second block, I met a teacher from another department, and she became a best teacher. She had a different method, she was not a teacher that gives a lecture or a seminar, expecting researching level from the students. She never expected us to be perfect writers. Other teachers would comment that your work is not good enough. I gained stigma from what happened to me in the first year. When I re-did the first block I had the same teachers from the previous years and there was an expectation that I am not doing that well. The I met a teacher from outside this circle, a teacher from another department. With her I had a different kind of communication. Suddenly the cases I am bringing, the way I am discussing, the way I am writing is very good. I was good enough to be someone who is considered analytical. I really enjoyed the course and I did not have any talk about my skills with her. In the following block, I followed more courses from the department she was from and I received a similar well treatment. It felt like the teachers from this department are more prepared for different bodies.

I had some experience of teaching in the country that I came from. I was an assistant to a professor for three years before I came to the Netherlands. I was very young but I had the feeling of how difficult it is to be a teacher, or to be a person who deals with people who are asking for knowledge. It puts you in a position that is difficult to be humble through, to be open through because you need to give. But still what I experienced in the Netherlands in the first year of my study was something very wrong that nobody should face. I did not need to have this harsh feedback. I did not feel stigmatised with my refugee background until I started this programme.

In the second block, I failed my course as my difficult circumstances started to weigh in again. By the end of the academic year they sent me a very harsh letter again in which the university department said that I was not good enough for the programme. I had failed two courses from the twelve courses taken in that year. It felt like I was not paying to get knowledge but to get assessed all the time. I spoke then to my study advisor and told her that I cannot handle the teachers anymore, they are too difficult. That a study advisor can completely understand your situation and yet they are working in the same institution with teachers and other staff, this was a shock for me. The study advisor advised me and the teachers to meet. I did receive an apology letter from the teachers but they never followed the advice of study advisor to meet with me. I never had the chance to say to them that I felt unsafe and that they had no right to say these harsh words to me. It felt like the teachers were saying you are still not perfect enough let’s kick her out. This was the image in my mind. The study advisor and I wrote an official letter of complaint in which we said that this feedback is not ok and that I was not safe in this programme. In the apologetic letter, they offered me the choice to stay or not. I choose to stop my studies for a few months. But then after a while I realised that because I am a woman refugee I obtained a loan to follow the study and to leave the study without a diploma is also problematic.

I went back to the same university and switched courses. This time law. Again, I received a red flag for one of the subjects, whilst I obtained high grades in the others. I think by then the university had realised that I am not a magical student and therefore do not fascinate them. I was more of a token or prize to them so they could boast about what a good university they are for taking on refugees only to find out there was nothing magical about me. I really wanted to get into the theories and discussions at University level. But it seems that they are practicing the theories in a fake way. This led to some regret about leaving the art academy.

Some teachers are very tough and use a complicated language. I don’t know if they question themselves on how the other is going to navigate this complicated language

Many friends that I came with to the Netherlands, they are going through hard times of burn-outs and psychological issues from the education system here. This is partly related to the way we have been brought up. We have been brought up to have a high respect of education, believing that if you fail in education then you are a failure. Our responses to the educational system here is partly related to our own background issues. After faces these different experiences, directions and struggles in the Netherlands, I know when I can do good work at an educational institution and under which circumstances I cannot. It is very much depending on the relationship with whom I am communicating with. It comes with an understanding that there are only a few students of colour and even less teachers of colour. This is a real issue here in the Netherlands. How can teachers estimate the problems a student of colour goes through if they have a very materialistic problem? Some teachers are very tough and use a complicated language. I don’t know if they question themselves on how the other is going to navigate this complicated language. Their programmes are prepared for a very specific way of talking. There are teachers who are open and are aware of this other student, and they can see that this is a real issue and a real problem. As students, we have rights to learn and to be at an academic site, even with our circumstances. Any persons with difficulties, sicknesses or disabilities have a right to learn about Judith Butler and Michel Foucault if they so wish.

Now I am doing a study in Art and Society. It is a master degree but now I do not care anymore about the status of the education. I have also let go of whether I will obtain a certificate or not, because the knowledge and experience I am gaining is enough. I have really tried to let go of things that I should not have cared about before particularly feedback from teachers. It is not easy for people like me with a background of respect for education to receive feedback and fold the paper away and archive it. This is not a healthy situation but something I have learnt to do. I understand now that sometimes the feedback is to do with the teachers own problems.

It is my right not to speak English perfectly, to navigate differently than the way universities and institutions expect of me

What I am sharing at this moment is a vulnerability siding with resistance to meet other people who are experience similar things and to talk. My strength is also coming from my vulnerable situation. I never run away from issues. I am trying to stress my situations honestly, and this is a kind of activism for me. If I am tired, I am tired and I tell the parties around me that I am tired. I am afraid of getting into a fake situation pretending I am ok when I am not. I am in a place where I can now say what I feel, and it is my right to be weak. For example, it is my right not to speak English perfectly, to navigate differently than the way universities and institutions expect of me. A powerful side of me is coming from the artist practice that I do and these practices should be shared so people can also use them to their benefit. Otherwise, if I was to wait until I am perfectly well or fit to study or to speak out– this is just not possible. I am searching for ways to speak out, using trauma as language to speak and looking for counter future narratives.

INTERVIEW 7 Ex-Student from Asia

Black pearl

Black Pearl is a story which flows though several situations from replying to unfriendly remarks, being happy with the health system, and explains how as an international student, with lack of financial funds, does not have the privilege to go against critique from lecturers.

In my second year of arrival in the Netherlands, I was a soft dark skinned Asian taking a ferry to one of the islands. I was the only person of colour on the ferry. A lady that was traveling on the ferry with said to me that I was the ‘only black pearl on the island’. How do you react to such a comment and a situation? There are two words in particular ‘black’ and ‘pearl’. I did not know how to react so I gave her a smile. This was the first racist comment that I received, heard or understood. The lady was a guide from the island that was traveling with us. I don’t think she meant to be discriminative or racist, but somehow the words popped up and out of her mouth. She was a very loving lady so I did not have any anger or negative thoughts towards her. But I did not know how to react at that time. Should I smile, should I be angry with her, should I get into a fight with her, so I choose to smile. I felt new and did not know how to react. So, I took in a simple casual way.

I later had some other experiences but mostly with Dutch aged 60 plus. Sometimes they have a strange expression on their face and you get a vibe, even when you greet them they have strange gesture on their face, an air of superiority, but they never said anything that was discriminated but the face and body gestures suggests that they see you as inferior.

Another example is when I was studying, I was walking with a group of academy friends in Rotterdam. I was the only person of colour in the group. One of the members of the group saw an Asian guy and told me ‘look how black he is’ and then he said, ‘I am very happy that you are not so black’. Then I said to him, ‘why did you say that, it is very racist?’. And he replied, ‘is it racist, but I don’t mean to hurt you?’ Later when we got back to the academy we had a conversation about this. In the conversation, he explained that he loves people of colour and the words came unconsciously and that he did not mean to hurt anyone, and then said it was some part of a joke and he wanted to make the group laugh. A joke can be super sharp you know like a weapon that cuts you in half and is something I really don’t like. First they make a racist comment, the they read your face, then they give these strange comments and if they find something different in your face, they turn it to a joke or joking. For them it is funny.

But I realised that I also get comments from people with the same origin, especially when you are from Asia. The hatred starts from your own house, from those with the same origins. Those who you come across that are always curious what you are doing in the Netherlands and when I tell them I was doing a Masters they act very surprised and strangely. Why I do not now. I am not sure if it has anything to do with a competitive element. I don’t know, I am just amazed at how they treat people of the same origin. Maybe it is about showmanship, showing-off that they are earning money and have a house and a car, and that I am just a student. It is something I have always wanted to ask them, why are they acting this way and saying these things. Many have not studied further than high school but act as if they have a PhD.

Also, when I entered shops many people ask me where I am from. This repeating question does not annoy me. I am very happy to answer them. People do not know where to place me wondering if I am from Indonesian or Mexico. But I take this question as a compliment because then I get a chance to introduce these people to where my country is and what it is, and how rich it is in natural resources. I do then ask them if they have ever been there, and if people have visited the country then I ask them when, how long ago did they visit? Asking them if they enjoyed certain parts of the country and culture. So, for me it is a promotional strategy and I therefore take this question as a compliment. Some time ago I was in Amsterdam and I was outside having a cigarette and a Dutch guy came up to me and asked for a cigarette so I gave him one. He thought I was from Indonesia and I did not reveal my country of origin to him. He said, ‘Indonesia is a very poor country’. So I asked him, ‘do you know why it became a poor country?’ He suggested that it was always poor, but then I told him that they became poor through Dutch colonialism. The Dutch looted all the gold and minerals and sold these onto other countries and you yourself became rich all the time keeping the Indonesians under a Dutch shadow making them beg for help. Then later in the conversation he acknowledged this and he even apologised. But man, these conversations are so difficult.

At the art academy, a division starts from the requirement of a certificate that says you are proficient in the English language for all international students regardless of whether the international students are proficient or not. All international students must take this exam and the universities are demanding a minimum result of 6. For some this is good as this gives them a chance to learn more about the English language. But for those who already have a sufficient or good level of English it becomes a burden. Depending on your level of English influences your confidence in the study. Those coming from outside of Europe feel dominated by those within Europe, that have a better understanding of the language and how things work in the Netherlands. It gives a feeling that we do not know anything. So here there is room for being politer. An academy needs to have a very welcoming approach, particularly for those who come from another continent and say that you are welcome and that we will try and guide you. Being a professor means being there to guide you to assist you and not a superior divine power and not give the feeling that international students are from some alienated country. As an international student, you need to go through many processes but often professors do not tell you how to go through them. Professors and academic staff are also limited in the number of hours they have to help you. Quite often you find yourself looking for external help.

Academy racism is super dangerous. Emotions are there in everybody, but Asians have a different way of showing their emotions. We Asians have extra elements that are connected to our emotions. Our emotions are different to the Dutch because of our different backgrounds. We are so honest to our emotions that we always think and consider about hurting or not hurting other people. When someone questions your emotions, the results are dark, very dark. You can imagine coming from Africa and Asia, the value of Europe, the value of currencies. These students spend more coming to Europe. They have to sacrifice more to come to Europe. It is not just about coming to study and finishing a study but also to dream of a happy life. To have these dreams is fundamental right, to dream big, to dream a happy life. Dreaming of having a comfortable life for yourself and family it not a crime. Just to even get to Europe you need at least Euro 20,000. You need to ask for help in raising this amount to travel to Europe. When you arrive, you come into so many difficulties that it feels like you hit a wall, and that you are not perfect enough to jump the wall. And all the time it is in the back of the international students mind the amount of money they have sacrificed to come here. The wall is the non-emotional Dutch, which feeds into discrimination. We cannot change this mentality. There is a lot of racism and discrimination in the Netherlands, but we international students try to get on with our lives in a positive manner.

What makes you want to stay in the Netherlands is the dream of a human, to live a beautiful life. In my home country, it is difficult to grow as an artist. There is an opportunity to become a teacher but then that would be it. There is hardly any space for an artist to grow. I will more than likely go back at some point, but first I would like to make a happy living here. There is also the wish to be able to travel freely. I have been here now for almost 10 years. There is a dream of getting a residency permit that allows me to travel freely. I have invested so much money and emotions into being here and now I would also like to get something back, to enjoy the time here. The residency card is a medium to say that I can stop worrying. Most of the job rejections I received is relating to the fact that I am a non-European. It is the main reason I think they rejected me. I am curious to find out whether the residency card is what makes people human, that you can only belong to this country based on this residency permit. To be given the opportunity to work and pay taxes so I can look after myself. It feels like, yes, the country and the institutions want us so that they can say we are international but with this claim to international comes with a responsibility.

Once you graduate the Dutch governments offers you a one year visa, a searching year visa, and this visa allows you to work 24/7. But it is not clear why they do not offer the same opportunity while you are studying. This way they can collect more tax from working students. This one year search year is tricky because of competition. Many companies want to hire you as an interim but not on a long-term contractual basis. The first months are spent getting CV and motivations letters ready and applying and applying and applying. After 6-9 months, the worrying starts. You either must stay illegally or be deported or you must return to the country you came from. This a very tricky and hard condition that all non-European students must go through if they wish to stay longer and with a discrimination cloud above you. It not only about the amount you have invested but also the space and possibility to explore a dream adding to the field that you are interested in, for me the art field. And not worrying about your origin. Yes, it is our own choice to come to Europe, this is one fact. But these other facts are also there. I am not asking for a passport or to become native, or looking for luxuries, I am only asking to give me the simple opportunity that somehow reflects your qualification. Discrimination in corporate industries is so big that it can harm you. All these push backs are difficult. Of course, there is a language barrier but I am not afraid to learn another language. Another language is always beneficial. But I do not like it when companies say that speaking Dutch is not a requirement but when you get a rejection they say they are only hiring Dutch speaking persons or native Dutch speaking persons. I would wish that the requirements of companies would be very clear. To be super clear that you are only interested in Dutch speaking people, or only Europeans, then say it in the job advertisements. Everyone has their own story on why they want to come to the Netherlands and why they want to stay. For some internationals students rich or poor, it is about political problems they are facing in the home countries. For me it is about getting more opportunities and therefore a better life. But to get this simple life is not easy, it is not so simple. Always constantly looking around on how to gain an extension to stay.

I do not like it when companies say that speaking Dutch is not a requirement but when you get a rejection they say they are only hiring Dutch speaking persons or native Dutch speaking persons

One thing I am very happy about here in the Netherlands is the access to good health care and hospitals. This is something I do not have in my own country. This is one area that I have personally not faced discrimination and have been treated very well. If you need to go the hospital in the Netherlands you will be treated regardless of your nationality. I have been to the hospital on several occasions and I was treated very well by the hospital staff.

Whose responsibility are international students is a good question. First it is your own decision. You have the right to ask the host. But the host should be crystal clear. International means diversity, so the host is responsible to give super clear information. The host needs to be upfront with the information. Generally, your first point of contact is with the University, so they should communicate very clearly the situation in the Netherlands. Universities are generally very clear on communicating that non-European students cannot work more that 16 hours per week and the company they work for need to apply for a work permit (TWV). Apart from this they are not clear or honest for example about how difficult it is to get a TWV, accommodation and transportation. Here universities should re-write their procedures taking into consideration racism and discrimination. I think if they can be honest and clear of the situation in the Netherlands then students can make a more informed decision as to whether they should come to the Netherlands or not. It should be written on their website and discussed in the application procedure. They should inform future students whether they can provide a space that can help international students survive and then it is up to the student to decide if they want to come or not. The administration make it sound so easy to survive. They say you can come and after you have paid the tuition fees approximately Euro 9,000 and deposit Euro 11,000 that will be returned to the student once a bank account is arranged. But bank accounts are coupled on visa status and BSN (burgerservice nummer), which are not straight forward processes and can take some months to arrange. Many international students frequently miss lessons because of the number of appointments they need to attend to arrange these bureaucratic things. The money for the deposit are often borrowed from family members and need to paid back as quick as possible. So, there is a lot of stress that comes with the bureaucratic requirements. They say you can find a job and work for a couple of days per week to help cover your living expenses. But the reality is completely different. Many students are set on the wrong tracks thinking they can borrow money to get to the country and then pay back later. Because of this dream, they think that once I am there everything will be ok and I will find a way, but they don’t realise how difficult this is, even once you have all these administrative papers.

Institutions should be honest about the life and struggle here in the Netherlands. So, say yes, you can come and work but explain that it is very difficult to get a job. They also need to explain that it is difficult to get student housing because Dutch students don’t want to share accommodation with international students

Institutions should be honest about the life and struggle here in the Netherlands. So, say yes, you can come and work but explain that it is very difficult to get a job. They also need to explain that it is difficult to get student housing because Dutch students don’t want to share accommodation with international students. That you are required to search outside of student housing and will need to look within your own community for help. To make an impact at this level, it should be made compulsory for universities to explain these difficult circumstances that international students find themselves in. The first search a student does is the University website and it should therefore be the responsibility of the universities to be clear about these important matters. But I am not sure how much this will help because of the strong element of the international students dream. The international students will not bring up these topics when they are applying so we need to rely on the University to tell them about various problems that international students can get into and how to live and survive.

I generally give the advice to others who want to come to the Netherlands that it is better to come on a working visa than a student visa. At least then you can better afford the expensive housing and living expenses here. As a student in the Netherlands, this is very difficult if not impossible. I often tell them to try another county as well because the Netherlands is very expensive and difficult even for those who come from countries that are tied in colonial histories.

Discrimination also became a factor during the last year of my bachelor studies and my graduation. There was one teacher who did not like the work of students from Asia and Africa. All the work I produced in that year was not good enough for her and her mind-set. She wanted me to change my work based on her own mind-set and values. There were many quarrels. She even told me that I was not good enough to pursue a Masters and refused to write a recommendation letter for me. She also had a problem with a lesbian friend of mine and her work. There was a big discussion amongst us students on how she could be a teacher. Students coming from other countries adjust their work to fit the standards set by a teacher because we need the certificate and we do not have the money to fail and are scared not to get the qualification. Because of this pressure we conform to the ideas of the teacher and loose a sense of autonomy. It is very difficult to go against a decision of a teacher especially if it means you will not pass. It means lost time and money and we do not have the privilege as those who pay the home fee, since they do not have to worry about the high international fees, housing, visa and a job. For us whether we would like or not to meet the mind sets of teachers is not an option.

After the graduation, I was approached by two galleries with my work but they rejected it because there was a Dutch flag in the video and the criticism I was making. One of the gallerist even suggested that I should take out the Dutch flag from the video and then they would consider showing the video. Nowhere was it projected afterwards, and it was really me that wanted to speak out loud to the audience.

INTERVIEW @No.More.Later with Gizem Üstüner and M.C. Julie Yu


@No.More.Later share their experience with limitations on the job market and the lack of preparation for life after the academic education.

We don’t know why there is a limitation on the job market for international students posed by the government, in both the number of hours and the requirement of an additional work permit TWV that employers need to apply for. It could be due to working rights as a privilege idea. Technically if you come here to study full time you will not be able to work more than 16 hours a week or full-time during the summer. These rules are not about that working should not effect your studies, it is more related to knowing the purpose of you coming here in the Netherlands. The purpose is that you come here to study, and then if you find a high skilled job, one that is not in a kebab place or restaurant, you can stay longer. It is about finding a job in which you contribute to a taxed level of income. The system is set up that you can only work 16 hours next to your study and you should arrive prepared with savings in a bank account. You give out your income when you are in the Netherlands.

As an international student, you need to pay for your time, effort and energy. There is a level of protection for locals in the Netherlands, so not to steal the good jobs. To get in Dutch society you need to be a high skilled person that pays taxes. The visa system does not value what you have studied. A study in the arts is not valid is many countries.

Julie - When I moved abroad they did not recognise theatre assistant jobs as skilled work, nor waitressing even thought I was waiting tables for several years in my home country/ Taiwan. That is how I learned to give massaging. When I arrived, I had no experience in massaging but I got offers to learn massaging easily. But I got no jobs relating to what I had learned and trained for. It becomes defining a job based on your appearance. If you can get past a job definition based on appearance and can proving that have skills to be recognised then you can access the highly skilled market. It is very tricky. How you define what a high skilled person is, is very problematic.

Gizem - For me it was the same. I had so much experience from Turkey working in building up exhibitions and as an artist assistant, so working with art institutions but then in the background. As an intern, I had lots of experience. But when I came here I had to restart the whole process. The good part is that due to this restarting it help with building my network so in that sense I did not mind so much. But it did become clear that even if I was to do intern volunteering for even 5 years, they would never offer me another higher position. They always higher either a native English speaker or a Dutch person for higher jobs. When I realised that there was only a small chance or no chance to be hired I gave up the position. It became a false promise. I should say that this was the situation in Utrecht, and I don’t know how it is in other cities on the Netherlands.

Also, there is a law that prevents the hiring of non-EU students. For a high skilled visa you need sponsorship from a company that argues well the need to employ a non-EU person.

If a company must choose from one EU person and one non-EU person, and the company chooses the non-EU person, the company must argue to the Dutch authorities why they chose the non-EU student. There should be something specific, a special skill that is needed by this company such as speaking a non-European language. Companies are just not interested in going through this difficult procedure of employment. There are also other laws that restrict working in the Netherlands. For example, to be classified as a high skilled worker you need to earn more than the minimum wage, so this also puts pressures on companies. Another alternative is to apply for a self-employment visa but the costs are high to apply for one. It costs more than one thousand Euros which is ridiculous. For the self-employment visa, it is the IND that checks your financial plans, then the sent your application to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to evaluate the application in terms of suiting cultural work. Those who have a design background such as graphic design, architecture, product design, they have a higher chance of applying for a high skilled visa than those who studied Fine Arts. Those from Fine Arts generally apply for the self-employment visa.

Another difficult layer of finding employment is speaking and writing Dutch. I am now doing a course to learn Dutch and this requires a lot of time, so much time that I started to work less to ensure I had enough time to study. This space you should create yourself. It also strange that teaching or working at art academies is not counted as a cultural employment for the self-employment visa. Teaching is not seen as cultural work even when you are teaching in an art academy. Art projects including alumni projects are counted as cultural work.

It is important to have informed tutors. Some tutors do not know these situations or conditions well enough to be give support or help to international students. But when tutors work with international student they become informed through the students struggles, case by case. I was lucky to have one of the teachers who went through a similar process and she was very helpful with the questions we had around employment and visa permits. I am super grateful about the education in the Masters Programme, but there was a serious lack of preparing you for the life after the education. This lack of attention contributes to the system of you coming here to study, and then you will need to deal with it in your own way. There needs to be an understanding that students that come to the Netherlands might stay, and if you exclude them from the beginning then you exclude them from the art system also. So, if you exclude them from the working environment then you have a very Dutch bubble working environment. You cannot speak about inclusivity, you cannot speak about diversity, you cannot speak about colonialism, you cannot speak about care, without having the international students in the country. Without international students, you do not know or understand these concepts. Therefore, each educational institution, each art institution needs to have this type of diversity to learn from each other and to help each other. The topics are very urgent but the time to learn about these topics is very short. When an international student has a problem (finding a place a to live, finances, employment, mental health etc), then it must be solved very quick because the timing process is very short to educate people about it particularly in a master’s programme.

It is important to not only increase diversity with students of different nationalities, but it is also about creating a diversity in general. When you welcome mothers or someone who has a child, when you welcome someone from a poor background, when you welcome someone non-EU, when you welcome non-binary students, this is another type of diversity. It is also important to have teachers with different backgrounds and identities. Students benefit from such diverse spaces. Education is not only about the programme we follow, it is also about what we do afterwards. It would be very helpful if there were courses and training on self-employment visas. We were lucky to have this course privately (not a part of the Masters programme) from one of the teachers who help us a lot with our questions. This was our individual luck, but why should students rely on this individual luck? Why not give this access to international students in general? It would be super helpful to be transparent and to have an honest structure that helps once you graduate. To know what options are available for you, to know about the self-employment visa and high skilled visas, to know about the costs. Once you graduate if you want to stay in the Netherlands it becomes a stressful situation and it would be helpful to know how to deal with these situations. Graduating in the middle of the pandemic just made matters much worse because there are no job openings and because of isolation. Lawyers can help you with advice on the application process but they do not offer help on finding employment. Lawyer fees are expensive so it is better to have one session within the educational institution where more students can attend.

Conclusory remarks - Everyday racism experienced by international students exists in various forms of discrimination and prejudices and are experienced in a variety of situations. We (the participants and I) are hoping that this article can provide other ways of thinking and understanding some of the difficulties that international students are facing when living in the Netherlands and to bring more awareness of racism and discrimination in public, private and institutional spaces. Dutch academic institutions are mainly not recognising institutionally, the precarious conditions international students find themselves in. Intersectionality is a key contributor to these precarious conditions. Physical appearance, gender, class, crossing axis with unequal opportunities in housing, employment, education, all of which in turn influence the students general well-being. These stories could be helpful for future students applying to the Netherlands to create awareness of some difficulties that lie ahead. They are useful for academies and (local) government to understand the implications on mental health and performance and together look for active policies that can reduce the levels of current stress caused by discrimination.

Manju Sharma
is beeldend kunstenaar

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