Passing on the torch of Dutch student life

When international student Daniel Triana first arrived on campus halfway through the semester, he felt lost and lonely. That all changed when a mentor at international student organization I*ESN took Daniel up in his group, introducing him to Tilburg’s vibrant student life. One year and lots of unforgettable times later, Daniel decided to pass on his experience by becoming a mentor himself.

The word ‘mentor’ typically conjures up visions of someone old and wise, solemnly overseeing the progress of a young and unpolished protégé. But at Tilburg University’s international student organization I*ESN, mentors are not gray-haired paragons of wisdom. They’re students like Daniel Triana, who are paving the way for incoming internationals to make the most of their university experience by offering guidance that is as practical as it is powerful.

Daniel is a Colombia-born New Yorker, currently completing his master’s in supply chain management at Tilburg University. Univers caught up with him on campus to ask him what it means to be a student mentor, what it takes, and what it brings. And, also, how his group got its somewhat unusual name.

Why did you want to become a mentor?

“When I first arrived here, I felt out of place. I arrived mid-semester, so I had missed the introduction weeks. I consider myself an outgoing person, but I really started getting lonely. That’s when I met an I*ESN mentor, Zico Sanders, who reached out to me and took me up in his group. That was an incredibly positive experience. It made such a big difference in my life that I didn’t need time to think when I was asked to apply as a mentor. I immediately said yes.”

What was it like to meet your group of mentees?

“Ah, I loved it. I got my group at the start of the academic year. It was about twenty kids. I could tell by the looks on their faces they were just as lost as I once was, which just made me want to give them so much information — how to get a bike, how to choose their classes, just basic things. I developed a really good bond with them over the first few weeks. We went on several trips together. The vibe and the atmosphere were great.”

Why do mentors matter?

“If you’re new here, I think you really need someone to kind of guide you. Especially if you’re coming from a different place with a different cultural and language climate.”

What makes a good mentor?

“I think it’s good that the I*ESN board chooses people who are really social, because that’s key to being a mentor. Your job as a mentor is to make everyone feel like they’re part of the group. You have to be able to see the balance in the whole group and pick up on everyone’s specific needs. Not everybody wants to go to parties all the time. Some people want to go on nature walks or just spend some time together as a group with dinner and a movie.”

What does a typical get-together look like for your group?

“We don’t really have a typical activity, because it’s always so different. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we often meet at my apartment, have some drinks, play some games, hang out, and maybe go into the city later on. During our Sunday afternoon activities, we go see a movie or plan a different activity. It varies quite a bit.”

Your group has an unusual name. How did that happen?

“Yeah, that’s a pretty funny story. Our group was originally named Group 6. When we were chanting it during an introduction activity, someone misheard and asked whether we just said ‘group sex’. So from that point on, that was our name: Group Sex.”

If you had to pick one moment that you’ll cherish most from your time as a student mentor, what would it be?

“In the beginning of October, we had planned a boat trip through Utrecht. I used to sail back in New Jersey, so I was really looking forward to it. But on the day of the trip, it was pouring. We ended up canceling, we couldn’t get a refund and everyone was so disappointed. A week later, we decided to give it another try. It turned out to be one of the last nice days of the year. We sailed all the way through Utrecht. The sun was shining, we brought snacks — it was such a good day.”

Any regrets?

“For me, the most difficult part was that a few people stopped coming out after the first few weeks. I guess because they were really focused on studying. You can’t reach out to everybody, but maybe I could have made more of an effort to keep them involved. Of course you need to focus on passing your courses, I respect that, but building a social life in Tilburg is an important part of your abroad experience too. As a mentor, I wanted everybody to come along and have that full exchange experience. Especially because that experience has been so fulfilling for me.”Are you a seasoned Tilburg University student and would you like to shepherd a group of newly arrived internationals? For the spring semester, I*ESN is looking for new mentors. You can apply here until the end of the week.

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