A place of its own for the international community in OpenX: 'Everyone should feel at home at Avans'

With the opening of OpenX on 30 October, a long cherished wish of the Avans International Community (AIC) has been fulfilled: a physical home base. The second floor of OpenX in Breda is completely dedicated to the international community. Joost van Hilst, project leader of AIC, is delighted with the location: “It says a lot about the emphasis that Avans places on internationalisation.”

Avans International Community in OpenX

“At Avans, we have hundreds of international students doing full-time bachelor’s degree programmes and minors”, says Joost. “But the international community is much more than that. It comprises all the students and staff who make up our international programmes: we have five bachelor’s and two master’s which are internationally focused – and therefore taught in English – and dozens of international minors. So we are talking about not several hundred but several thousand colleagues and students.”

Welcome and at home at Avans

Joost was one of the instigators of AIC, which was set up in 2021. “Research showed that international students and staff did feel welcome at Avans, but they didn’t always feel at home”, he explains. “And secondly, we saw that many of our international activities were taking place in a fragmented manner, within departments or academies. That meant there was much less cross-pollination of knowledge and expertise. Which is a shame, because their perspectives are so valuable.”

A diverse, inclusive organisation is a key priority within Avans Ambition 2025, says Joost: “We want everyone to feel welcome and at home. Avans’ strength is that a lot is organised on a small scale, but as an international you want to meet people. You want to explore, acquire knowledge. That’s hard to do if you stay within your own department. For internationals, a physical home base is important, a place where you can come into contact with others. And where you feel seen and heard. That place now exists in OpenX. I am so proud of all the staff who have made this happen.”

Valuable international knowledge

“The fact that the international community has a physical space at such a prominent location is no accident”, he continues. “It says a lot about the emphasis Avans chooses to place on internationalisation. I think it’s brilliant that there is now a place where all our international knowledge and expertise comes together. Where we can learn with and from each other. And that we are going to be establishing connections between study programmes and research. That is so important, especially in view of all the big issues currently facing society.”

The space is divided into three sections. Joost: “There is a room to meet each other, informally on a sofa or in the caravan. In the open educational space, students and staff meet, project-based education takes place and activities are held – for example, Dutch language courses for internationals, extracurricular activities, guest speakers, kick-offs. And there is a room where students can find Student Support.”

Sense of belonging

“Between 16.00 and 18.00 on Thursday 16 November, we will be holding informal drinks for everyone who is interested in this physical space. You are very welcome if you want to meet international students and staff, or if you are just curious. And yes, that will involve speaking English”, he laughs.

Joost is convinced that having its own home base will give the international community a huge boost: “Together with business, lecturers and students, we are creating something really special. It’s about that sense of belonging, of feeling at home.”