New students meet up for informative USC session

THE HAGUE–Fifty newly arrived St. Maarten students gathered at the St. Maarten House in The Hague on Friday for presentations, mini workshops and motivational talks, but also to have the opportunity to catch up with each other and to pose any question that they had about their new life in the Netherlands.

The full-day event was organised by the Unified St. Maarten Connection (USC) which is in charge of this year’s guidance of the 34 new students from St. Maarten. USC had also invited 16 free movers, those who moved to the Netherlands on their own, to participate; together the students formed a sizeable and enthusiastic group.

St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran-York extended a warm welcome to everyone in the new, spacious conference room of the St. Maarten House and thanked USC for organising the event. She referred to the USC as a “powerful team” and assured that the St. Maarten House was there for every St. Maartener and most willing to assist.


Lissa Carter of the St. Maarten Division of Study Financing, who together with her colleague Laurel Marin travelled to the Netherlands with the students, looked back at the past few days as a positive experience despite the few hiccups that were successfully addressed.

Carter complimented the students and the USC volunteers who have been coaching the new students since Monday. “We are impressed with your hard work and your dedication. We acknowledge and applaud that.” She recognised that it was hard to get adjusted in a new country far away from home, but that there was help in doing so and that giving up was not part of their DNA.

Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary Hasani Ellis gave a motivational talk in which he addressed his own study time in the Netherlands, the importance of making the right choices, and some of the issues affecting daily life in the Netherlands. “Don’t ever run on an icy street during a cold winter because you will fall down like I did,” and “The Netherlands has a lot of opportunities, make use of them. It is all about making the right choices.”

Following a presentation of the four guidance counsellors who will guide the students for the next two years on behalf of the Division Study Financing, the students participated in a mini workshop hosted by USC members Edwina Hodge and Nikita Udhwani about the importance of communicating effectively, how to be assertive, but also how seek help when you feel vulnerable.

Breaking the habit of prejudice and assumptions was one of the more important aspects of this mini workshop, said Udhwani. “You should not assume that things here are the same as back home. Things work differently in the Netherlands. Be open to that,” she said. Hodge urged the new students to “speak up” and make sure that their voices are heard. “Dutch people are very direct and vocal. It is important that you speak up. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion.”

Two representatives of the students’ insurance broker Insure to Study shared information about the students’ insurance policy which has a wide coverage from medical insurance to liability, travel, household and accident insurance. Students made use of the opportunity to pose several questions. A representative of the Dutch study financing agency DUO gave a presentation.

There was also time for fun: students took part in a marshmallow challenge and a beach volley ball contest. The students enjoyed a meal featuring Caribbean food. Today, Saturday will be the last day of the full-time guidance of the 34 students by the 18 USC volunteers. Fun activities will be organised in the different cities.

All in all it was a good, but tiring week, said USC Netherlands Chapter Director Christella Garard. “It was intense, but that is mostly because we care a lot about our students whom we extensively helped to get accustomed and to help fix their practical issues. We invest a lot in them, but it is for a great cause because we too want these young people to succeed,” she said.

Aside from the official aspects such as the registration at their municipality and the opening of a bank count, the new students, during their first few days went to check on their school; they went to Ikea to furnish their room; got introduced to the public transportation system and the new places where they live.

This was the first time that USC was contracted by the St. Maarten Government to organise the orientation week for the new students. Garard said USC would love to do this again next year. “But, we would also like to facilitate workshops on St. Maarten way before the students leave for the Netherlands to have an extensive preparation phase.” Garard said she was happy with the positive feedback from the new students. “It is nice to see that they really appreciate the USC and the volunteers.” Udhwani specifically thanked the volunteers whom she called “fantastic.”          

Siddhart Jethwani, who will take up his political sciences study at the Amsterdam UVA University next month, was very positive about his first few days in the Netherlands since he arrived with the group of new St. Maarten students on Monday.

“The experience has been indescribable. The USC volunteers have been very supportive and helped a lot. This makes the transition from a small island to a big city a lot easier. I am grateful and I definitely recommend everyone to come with the study financing group,” said Jethwani.

On Monday, shortly after the students’ arrival, Minister Plenipotentiary Doran-York spoke encouraging words at the hotel where the newcomers had gathered before proceeding to their consecutive cities. The Minister Plenipotentiary and the members of her cabinet had also been at Schiphol Airport to personally welcome the students.

Doran-York, in her speech, said that she was very proud of the students and she called on them to pursue their studies “with great confidence and determination,” not only when the road is smooth, but also when it becomes rocky and turbulent.

“You have now decided to spread your wings and soar to higher heights. You are at the beginning of a complete new challenge. You may encounter some frustrations and challenges which can lead to disappointments, but as with most things in life this comes with the territory, and with great effort, discipline and determination, you will overcome them.”

Doran-York urged the students to handle both the frustrations and the opportunities. “Having left the comfort of your parents’ home, you will suddenly find yourself with what may be termed as NFF: New Found Freedom; handle this freedom wisely. Manage your time well.”

The Minister Plenipotentiary pressed on the students to choose well with whom they associate, to stay away from negative company, to stay close to positively inspiring persons, to stay away from illegal drugs and to not excessively use alcohol.

Students were encouraged not to procrastinate and to execute the expected tasks right away. Risky behaviour should be avoided and intimate relationships carefully managed in a responsible manner. Stressing the great importance of spending their monies wisely, Doran-York announced that budgeting advice sessions would soon be organised by the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary.

Source: The Daily Herald