Mission accomplished: the Introduction Days of the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) went off without a hitch, according to Darja Miscenko, president of the organising committee. The days took place from 30 August to 1 September, organised by a six-strong team of SBE students. This was a new approach; traditionally the event has been organised by study advisers, taking a more formal angle. This year’s aim: to invite new students to have fun, to make friends, and above all, to integrate with one another. Student integration has been a hot topic at the School in recent years – but according to Miscenko (24, from Latvia), it’s coming along just fine.
Miscenko was joined on the organising committee by Lars Smits (also 24, from the Netherlands). “The Introduction Days used to be quite formal”, says Smits. “New students received general information about the intranet system EleUM, for example, and went on a tour of the library.” But this year – in the hands of students for the first time – “the event was less dry and serious. It still covered important things, of course – because the students need to know where they can find what – but much more time was spent on informal actvities.”
In concrete terms: a bicycle tour to UM Sport, a group stroll through the city, an information fair and a barbeque, followed by – what else? – a party. “The main goal was to help students have a good time with one another, to facilitate friendship. Because if it’s fun, that in itself invites you to get to know one another; it makes bonding easier.”
Focus on fun
This new ‘focus on fun’ is part of SBE’s drive to achieve one of its key goals: genuine integration between its students, who come from all corners of the world. For this reason, the committee pulled out all the stops to ensure a good mix of nationalities in every Introduction Days group, and kicked off the activities with an ‘ice breaker game’ to help the group members become acquainted. Group mentors of different nationalities were organised, and all participants were encouraged to speak English from the outset.
So how did it go? Miscenko: “We got a lot of really positive reactions from the participants. Some master’s students had previously also experienced the old-style Introduction Days when they started with their bachelor’s programme at SBE, and saw the new approach as a great step forward. Overall, the general reaction was ‘Wow!’, and people participated in everything.”
A signal, perhaps, of SBE’s progress in terms of integration as a whole. “It’s true that some people preferably hang out with people from their own nationality”, says Miscenko, “but in general the students at SBE interact with students of all kinds of nationalities. I really like the existing interaction within the School; it’s working just fine. And it definitely adds something extra to our study experience. Interacting with people from different countries, with different perceptions … you find out that there are many different ways to approach things, and it all adds to your overall understanding. It’s a valuable process – you gain a lot from one another.”
Certainly when it comes to integration success stories, SBE need look no further than its own Introduction Days organising committee. With its six members from all over the world, the team was called on to pull off a big feat, in very little time. Smits: “Organising the days was certainly a challenge. Logistically because of the large numbers of students involved. Organisationally because of the short space of time. Also, the School’s staff had to get used to us – some of them probably thought, ‘Oh gosh, please let it go well’.”
Fortunately, it went more than just ‘well’. “We were quite surprised to discover that the organisation was almost perfect”, says Miscenko. “There were no issues and no problems at all. In my experience, no event ever goes completely smoothly, but this really was an event where – except for the weather on Monday – everything went perfectly.”
Microcosm of integration
The best part, in the organisers’ views? “It was nice to work with such a diverse group.” says Smits. And diverse it certainly was. Smits and Miscenko were joined on the committee by two other Dutch students, a Bulgarian and a German. “It was such a positive experience. Within the group you try to contribute your best qualities, and the others do the same – and in that way, you arrive at something great.” Miscenko agrees: “I immediately felt that it was a great team: half Dutch, half non-Dutch. Different perspectives, different mentalities, different behaviour. Integration happens while doing activities together; certainly not by sitting in a lecture. Now the participants really are a team. We achieved our goals 100%.”
In essense, the committee appears to have achieved precisely what the School as a whole is striving for – genuine intercultural cooperation. So will this kind of success translate to the wider SBE? “With regard to integration, the School’s task is much complexer than ours”, says Miscenko. “But I like the School’s approach, the way they’re implementing many different things. They should never stop trying and developing and improving.”