The Daily Herald reports that the Antillean students enjoyed a warm welcome by the St. Maarten Student Support Services (S4) in the Netherlands on Monday.
A total of eighty students arrived in the early hours of Monday morning at Schiphol Airport. In the afternoon, the students from St. Maarten attended a formal welcome with speeches and a dinner at the nearby Schiphol Van der Valk Hotel. At the same time, the 16 students from Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba had a meeting in a much smaller room on the same floor of the hotel. They had to cross the parking lot in front of the hotel for a dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
Both events were organised by S4. The event for the St. Maarten students was organised on behalf of the St. Maarten government, and the one for the students of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba on behalf of the Dutch government as these islands are part of the Netherlands.
“Before leaving St. Maarten, you already made important decisions by deciding to further your studies. The moment you stepped from the plane, you became responsible for your own actions. The steps you will take from
now on will be life changing,’’ said S4’s new Chairman Rinaldo Hassell. “There will be tough times and rough moments, but S4 will be there to guide and advise you,’’ he said.
In addressing the students, Minister Plenipotentiary of St. Maarten Mathias Voges mentioned that his office was located in the same building as S4. He said that students were welcome to pay him a visit. “The Netherlands is different from St. Maarten. It might rain, it might snow and you will meet a lot of new people. Try to change any negative experience into something positive,’’ he said.
Voges provided some practical advice. He told the students to find a quiet place to study, refrain from skipping any classes, seek a balance between a social life and academic obligations and spend limited financial resources wisely.
New Interim Director of S4 Ben Brown mostly prepared the students for a busy day on Tuesday, when they will have an intensive introduction to life in the Netherlands. Role-playing exercises will be part of the introduction. “The key word is building bridges: building a bridge as an ambassador for St. Maarten in the Netherlands, but also building a bridge between yourself and other students.’’ Afterwards, the students will leave for their respective cities, where they will live and study.
Apart from the speeches, there were special thanks for S4 Manager Roos Leerdam-Bulo and all the mentors who guide and support the new students.
The highlight was the presentation of S4’s new logo and marketing campaign. Information was provided on the rebranding of S4 and its future plans. S4 announced that it will be making more of social media to provide information and advice to the students.
S4 had arranged live streaming of the welcome reception so the parents, family members and friends of the departed students could feel part of this special time. Head of Study Financing, St. Maarten, Antonio Aventurin
and Study Financing Officer Yolanda Martina had travelled along with the students.
Also present to welcome the students and offer them support was cofounder of the Unified St. Maarten Connection USC in the Netherlands Melissa Gumbs. She said she was “happy and surprised” to see that there were so many volunteers – 13 in total – present at the arrival day of the students. “In the past, I had heard that it
had been a struggle to recruit them. To see so many today was a positive experience,” said Gumbs, who was part of the preparatory workshop in St. Maarten.
The students had two days of the workshop, including a session on budgeting. USC gave Universal Serial Bus (USB) keys to the students as a welcome gift, preloaded with the USC student manual A Survival Guide to Living in the Netherlands, as well as promotional information on two upcoming events:
- the Dutch Caribbean All-Star Athletics Sports day, and
- “Operation Gouda Cheese,” an event especially tailored to newcomers.
Both events have previously been touted as successes, and this year will be the first year that other Dutch Caribbean islands are integrated into the sports day.