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Laura Kamsma wants to make the International Office more visible: ‘Knock on our door’

Laura Kamsma (31) has been coordinating the International Office (IO) of FGGA for a few months now. An introduction to the ambitious Nijmegen native, who has set herself the goal of making the International Office more visible: 'Knock on our door if you have an internationalisation issue. Now you can come to us virtually, but soon we want to be a place for everyone to meet.'

Laura (second from right back row) during her 2010 exchange in China

Kamsma has been connected to Leiden University for some time now. In fact, she has studied there and worked at almost all faculties. She studied Sinology (now China Studies) and went on an exchange to Beijing for a year during her bachelor's degree. ‘That was a culture shock. I had no idea where I was getting to. I would have loved to have had an international office there to show me the ropes and help me out. I got lost on the campus, didn't know enough Chinese and didn't know what to do. After six weeks it got better and I had a great time, but the start was difficult.’

International Office continues to attract

Through her experiences in Beijing, Kamsma knows better than anyone what it's like for foreign students to come to a foreign country and vice versa what it's like for Dutch people to suddenly study in a foreign country. It is therefore not surprising that after her studies and a year's work at the University Library, she started working as an assistant in the International Relations - Mobility team of SOZ. After a short excursion as an event manager at FSW, international work still attracted her and she started working as an exchange officer at SOZ and later as an internationalisation officer at the faculty of Science. When the vacancy for a team leader at FGGA comes along, she moves to the faculty in The Hague.

High tempo

It was a conscious choice to transfer to a faculty she did not yet know, Kamsma says, laughing. ‘It was exciting, because I heard that the pace in The Hague is high. That you are stepping onto a train that keeps on going and that is exactly what I wanted. I want to move forward and develop things further and here I have found a group of people who want that too. There's a lot of drive, it's happening here and I want to be part of it.’  

Uncertainty prevails

Many people think that the IO now has hardly anything to do, at a time when no exchanges are taking place. The opposite is true. As team leader, Kamsma is responsible for contact with the institutes, the faculty board and the partner universities. But since 2020, crisis management has also been part of her portfolio. For her and her colleagues Daria and Gina, the uncertainty about whether students will be able to go on an exchange from September onwards is a major issue. ‘You have to see that an exchange is preceded by about a year of preparation. So we are now in the middle of preparing the batch that should go on exchange in September, and the batch of incoming students who want to come and study at FGGA for a semester. But we don't know if that will happen. Are there any alternatives? What can we do for the students who might miss out for the second time? That is quite complicated.'

Crisis manager

In terms of crisis management, Kamsma has in any case learned a lot in the past few months. ‘Of course, we were not used to repatriating students on such a large scale. It is good to see that the processes and protocols with all international offices have now been tightened.’

Kamsma believes it is important to help students as best as possible. Both the students who come to Leiden and The Hague and the students who go abroad. 'I also see it as one of my goals to draw partner contracts for specific study programmes to the faculty level. In addition, we are working with the other Leiden study programmes on Campus The Hague (of FSW and FGW) on so-called Campus The Hague contracts, to make the entire Campus The Hague more presentable for students who come to us, so not only study programmes of FGGA. That there is something to choose from, that you offer several options and that you can distribute the students more over the study programmes.’ 

Laura at work from her home office

Working on visibility

Although working online works well for her, Kamsma still hopes to see her colleagues in the office soon. ‘We have a great time as a team, but it is difficult to build up a bond online. It's also much harder to see how someone really feels about a student on a screen. In the long run it certainly makes sense to see each other in real life again. I also hope that we as International Office will become more visible and that everyone will know how to find us. That is of course possible right now. Feel free to knock on our door if you have a question about internationalisation in education. See us as a starting point, an easy way to get started. Then we will come further together.’

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