“International students should embrace Belgium”
In 2017, the VUB counted 3411 international students from 128 different nationalities. They represent 21,5 % of the total student count and the numbers keep climbing. One of them is student social sciences Amalia Alibaev. How does she experience her time as an exchange student at VUB?
Amalia Alibaev was born in in Uzbekistan and lived there for seven years, but after that she moved to Germany because her mother is half German. She lived in Germany for twelve years and has lived in Belgium for two years now. She’s in her second year of social sciences. Next to her studies she works in Brussels as a tour guide and does touristic tours in German, Russian and English. Every now and then she also works as an extra for commercials or tv shows. She tells us about her endeavors at VUB.
Why did you decide to come to the VUB?
Amalia Alibaev : “I like moving to different countries, I don’t like staying in one place for too long. I’m actually already getting bored of Brussels, so next year I’m going to move to Ghent for my specialisation in politics. I wouldn’t even have stayed in Germany for so long if I didn’t have to finish school there. The VUB wasn’t really my first choice, my original plan was to go to the UK, or Austria, or any other place than Belgium. Because the country is so small I didn’t really know much about it, but a bachelor is really cheap here and it is really hard to find an English bachelor elsewhere. I want to work in politics and Brussels is actually perfect for that, as the capital of Europe. I also can’t go a month without traveling. I would get really sad. Last month I went to the US and Mexico. I like backpacking. Not the wellness travel, more the ‘dirty travel’.”
What else are you up to at VUB?
“I’m part of the Perskring. Every year they become more open towards social sciences, as we also study communication. The year I joined was the first year that non Dutch speaking people actually joined. It was also the first time they approached social sciences students. In the beginning I just joined because of the free booze and the parties. You can always meet new people. But at one point I really started liking the people there. So after a while of saying I wasn’t going to do the doop (baptism), on the day itself I just said ‘fuck it, I’m just going to do it’. This year I was even temmer (pledge master)’ and it was a very busy year because we baptized 29 schachten (pledges). We’re now the second biggest student society at VUB. But next year I won’t be able to do it anymore because it’s very time-consuming. I enjoyed it a lot though, it was really nice.”
“It was confusing at first, but I thought ‘okay I’m already in Belgium, I’m going to be here for three years only, so why not do something I will remember for the rest of my life?’. Not everyone can say they were naked on a stage and have paint thrown on them, for two years in a row.”
Do they have similar ‘clubs’ in Germany?
“Yes, there is something similar to the frats in Germany, but it’s more like a ‘brotherhood’. In Germany it’s rather uncool to be part of it. When I told my sister I joined one here she said: “Oh my God, what the fuck? Don’t you have any friends?” because it is just not seen the same over there. But here it’s a big thing. They are actually the ones organizing the parties and guest lectures. For so many events they cooperate with the faculty.”
What does your family think about it?
“My family doesn’t know, I’m not really close to them. They live far away so I just do what I want here and tell them what I want there. My parents are Muslim, so I could never tell them, but I think everyone keeps some things a secret from their parents. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
Do you feel the kringen (fraternities) should do more efforts to reach out to international students?
“It should come from both parties, I think. I think sometimes kringen (fraternities) are a bit scared of approaching international students since they might not understand what is going on. But this year more international students joined and it was a success. The more people you have in the kring(fraternity) that speak English and that come from different countries, the more international students will feel more at ease joining the kringen as well. The doop (baptism) is not easy. It’s not easy for everyone to be naked on a stage. But kringen are now better at dealing with the explanations. We had a secretary this year who was translating everything to English. A friend of mine is even learning Dutch to apply for vice president so I think interest is definitely growing.”
Why do you think the explaining it well is so important?
“There is a whole meaning behind why kringen do what they do, there is a whole folklore about it. The songs have history to them and you learn all this when you join. So maybe kringen should be more open about their folklore so people would be less scared of joining. Because when you don’t know what’s happening, it just looks strange.”
“I want to encourage other international students to be a bit more open and engage more with Belgian culture. I find a lot of international students just hanging around with other international students and I think they should also try to engage with people from Belgium. I don’t really see the point of studying in another country if you don’t want to interact with its culture. Of course seeing people throwing eggs at each other or kneeling down can look intimidating but if you go to one of the pre-drinks the kringen organise in the first week, you can learn what’s really going on and see how much they actually organise at the university. Also the more people you meet, the more connections you have for your future job. Sometimes you just have to go out of your comfort zone for bigger things to happen.”