OpenYourHeart International Students targets the support of international students from different cultures. It is precisely them who, because of the cultural and linguistic barriers, often already experience difficulty to find connection in the host country, and altogether are hit very hard by the contact restrictions that the corona crisis entails. Many now experience a double isolation: both regarding their studies and their host country. This requires use of their resilience.

Target audience
With OpenYourHeart International we focus on international HBO and WO students between 18 and 25 years old who want to expand social contacts; form meaningful relationships with oneself and others; decrease in social and/or emotional loneliness; normalize gloomy feelings; give insight into cultural differences; form structure and diverse their range of activities that make them feel more at home in the Netherlands.

Objectives OpenYourHeart International Students:

  • Normalizing feelings that often belong to changes in life and removing the barriers to talk about them.
  • The structural contact and the associated confidence built up make it possible to pay attention to any underlying and not directly observable problems.
  • Inclusion is a key concept. We want international students to feel welcome and experience that they are actively participating in society and belong in it.
  • Network expansion at an individual level, so that every participating student is part of a social network and has a safety net to fall back on during difficult moments – and vice versa, can also be of support to others. “To matter” is very effective with (preventing) loneliness.
  • Connecting to the facilities already offered by the educations. No matter how appealing the offer is, sometimes the threshold is too high to participate when you have no company. The neighbourhood sports coaches can also be involved in this.

Involvement of ambassadors
We also work with ambassadors to recruit young people. They are given an important role as the face of the project / targeted audience. In this way it becomes a concrete project FROM, FOR and BY young people. Naturally, the ambassadors are supported by the professionals at Bureau LWPC – we bear full responsibility for implementation. The ambassadors make clear in words and figure how OpenYourHeart International offers an answer to that which they are missing / missed in the Netherlands.

Collaboration with, and addition to an existing offer
Our view is that we are willing and able to work with everyone on common ground with this theme; we focus on concise relations, so that we can find each other within the network. Moreover, we connect with “what is already there” within the social domain, we use the existing range of activities and add to what is still missing.

Reason for the proposal

In 2019, three student organizations investigated how international students fare in the Netherlands. More than three quarters of the respondents indicated that they found it difficult to connect with Dutch peers and wanted more contact; a third reported having feelings of depression at some point.

When international students develop psychological problems, they are often more serious and find it harder to reach help and support. In addition, there are also all kinds of obstacles, such as the taboo on psychological problems and the fear that students will be expelled because of their problems.

Since 2020, corona has made the problem even more complex, also in a practical sense. For example, internationals do not have the choice to stay at home / move in with their parents. Also concerns about the situation in the home country and financial problems can affect them even more and contribute to their increase in isolation. Feelings of stress and loneliness have increased throughout all of society, especially among young people. Performance pressure also plays an important role. It is very likely that this is even more the case among international students. It’s especially at a time when the curriculum is mainly offered online and distraction outdoors is limited, that the chance of loneliness and the associated negative study experiences are increasing sharply. Students then appeal to care and run the risk of dropping out.