International Background Advantage for Keeping Peace in Mixed Student Accommodation
When Maria Acosta started as the new student housing assistant at Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences back in November 2020, it was just as the second COVID-19 wave hit the Netherlands and many international students were back to online studying from their student rooms. As someone who has lived in many countries, equipped with a good understanding of what it means to be an international, Acosta was able to help students make their living conditions as pleasant as possible while they rode out the storm.
Testament to this are the many letters students have written praising her skills as housing assistant. One reads: "Maria is patient and someone who easily gains others' trust. She relates easily to students from a range of different backgrounds. She also makes sure that students understand and follow the rules as well as the health and safety requirements relating to Wittenborg accommodation."
Another says: "She handles every situation very calmly and is punctual, always with a smile and makes sure to interact with students, no matter how busy she is."
Wittenborg has nine apartments scattered around Apeldoorn, where the two main campuses are located. This is aside from the student dorm, Ruyterstraat, which has 30 rooms says Acosta.
After fleeing the Uruguayan war in the 60s and briefly living in Argentina, Acosta and her family were granted asylum in the Netherlands and she came here as a 7-year old. After growing up in the Netherlands, she also lived as an adult in Singapore, India and China, and has a background in social work. She speaks Spanish, English, Dutch and "a little Mandarin".
This international background is definitely an advantage on the job. "I think it is useful because it has taught me a lot about people. I embrace all cultures and religions and understand that different people have different cultural backgrounds and that has to be navigated with so many internationals living and studying together."
When the job came up last year, she says she did not think twice before accepting it. "I was very enthusiastic and also had to grow in the job. For instance, I am not a handyman, but I have since learned to do a few odd jobs like painting when the need arises."
She thinks the student groups who arrived at the height of the pandemic must have had the hardest time. "They are the bravest because they had to adjust to a new country while in lockdown where there was not a lot of room to go out and explore or meet up with fellow students at school. They had to deal with culture shock and maybe loneliness."
She also thinks that the student volunteers, who came forward to meet new students at the airport and make them feel at home on arrival, are heroes.
Her advice to new students is to be open to new experiences. "Holland is great, but it can also be very challenging. I can imagine that if you come here fresh out of high school or if you have never had the same kind of freedoms before, you can also drown in that new-found liberty."
by James Wittenborg