International students dive into local language and culture at UGent


Students from 27 countries have been immersing themselves in the Dutch language and Flemish culture at a summer course at Ghent University

Why learn Dutch?

A group of 114 students from 27 countries has just completed a special summer course at Ghent University (UGent). To attend it, some have travelled from as far as China, Argentina, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Russia, while others came from western and eastern Europe.

The focus of the course: to immerse yourself in the Dutch language and grasp the meaning of Flemish culture. Now in its 61st year, the two-week Taalunie Summer Course covers traditional areas like language, art and literature, but was re-designed this summer to concentrate more on how students can use it to enhance their careers.

“All kinds of people are interested in the course, and we are now more focused on the professional side,” says course leader Els Verschuere. “Many of the students are following Dutch classes at their home university and may want to become translators. Others are interested in our history or art, or perhaps economics and politics.”

Though Dutch isn’t a large-scale language like English or French, “for some people there are more opportunities in the economic market if they speak a language like Dutch,” Verschuere explains. “Whether that’s teaching, translating or working for a company.”

Valuable assets

Participants in this year's programme – run jointly with the Dutch language union Taalunie – chose to follow one of four themes, depending on their interests or the subjects they are already studying at home. 

The themes included media and politics, art and literature, linguistics and literature and translation and publishing and included sessions with guest speakers such as journalists and translators. Each topic was presented by a Flemish teacher and a tutor from the Netherlands, in order to have an “equilibrium between the Dutch language in both places,” says Verschuere.

It’s a lot easier to find a good job in Kiev with such a rare language

- Student Olena Kretska

Students were taken on tours of Ghent and The Hague and, in the final two days, completed internships at a range of businesses and organisations, including Flemish public service broadcaster VRT, newspaper NRC Handelsblad and the Ghent-based digital research institute iMinds.

Olena Kretska, who studies Dutch language and literature at Kiev National Linguistic University in her home country of Ukraine, chose the course because of her interests in art and culture. “And, of course, because it’s a lot easier to find a good job in Kiev with such a rare language,” says the 20-year-old. “The programme in Ghent was a good opportunity to travel to a Dutch-speaking area, especially as it can be difficult to get a visa.”

Kretska has already done some translating from Dutch and hopes to eventually work in the tourism sector and make full use of the language. During the course, she participated in a workshop at Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts and attended a performance by author, illustrator and cabaret artist Joke van Leeuwen.

Lessons on culture

Did anything in particular surprise her about Flanders’ culture? “I was shocked that so many places in the city close at 19.00,” she says.

In a series of blogs the students posted about their experiences, Eszter Kovács, from Hungary, and Saurabh Pal, from India, wrote about their two-day internship at Flemish-Dutch heritage journal Ons Erfdeel in Menen, West Flanders.

Kovács said that when she travelled here from Hungary she hadn’t expected Belgium to play such an important role in her life, but added: “I already know that I want to come back here.”

Pal commented that in two days at the publication he had learned “more about the culture of Belgium and the Netherlands than in the one-and-a-half years I spent learning Dutch”.

Photo: Isabelle Pateer

Ghent University

Ghent University (UGent) is one of Flanders’ most pluralistic and liberal institutions of higher education, and its motto has long been “dare to think”. UGent is renowned for its research in bio and life sciences.
Latin - UGent was originally founded as a Latin-speaking state university by the Dutch king William I.
Nobel - Corneel Heymans, the only Fleming to have won a Nobel Prize, studied at the university.
Autonomy - UGent is the largest employer in East Flanders.

million euros in annual revenue

1 882

first female student admitted

1 930

Dutch becomes university’s official language