Graduated, and then what? 'We want to make sure the network stays alive and well'
Alumni associations are there for both recent and older alumni to exchange experiences about the field and more. We spoke to Arla Mannersuo, board member of the International Studies Alumni Association, about the benefits of membership and what happens behind the scenes.
Mannersuo graduated from the bachelor's programme a few years ago, and immediately became active in the alumni association for one reason in particular: ‘I felt that something was missing when it came to the transition from student to professional field. The university and faculty do offer career services, but these do not address the unique study-specific needs of alumni after graduation, and International Studies is a very special programme because of its interdisciplinary nature.'
A new direction
The association was founded in 2015, when the first cohort graduated from the programme. Last spring, Mannersuo and her fellow board members took charge. 'We tried to come up with a new direction for the association. We realised that the audience we have is different from what you usually have in a traditional Dutch alumni association, because the student body of International Studies consists mostly of internationals,' she says. ‘That means we have alumni all over the world. A large number are still based in the Netherlands, but we also have many alumni in Geneva or Brussels, for example. We have to take that into account.’
Because of the association’s international character, in-person events in the Netherlands may not always be the best choice. Mannersuo: 'We want to get away from always organising physical events in The Hague. This year, for example, our annual reunion was online so people from all over the world could participate in the event and we were able to reach more people than if the event were held in person.'
But not all alumni activities take place online. 'We also want to set up local hubs in cities where we have a large presence, so that those people can gather there for informal drinks,' Mannersuo explains. Recently, we had an alumni meeting in Paris. We shared the event on social media and said: if you are an alumnus in Paris, please contact this person. From what I heard, it was great and they are doing it again soon.'
The focus therefore remains on networking in small groups in cities around the world. ‘By networking with people, you see what the possibilities are in our field. You can get really inspired by that and it helps to broaden your horizon,' she explains. But there is also another benefit to becoming involved in the association. 'Nostalgia,' exclaims Mannersuo. 'We have a certain culture at the programme and it's really a close-knit community. Many alumni appreciate that and it's also something people miss. We get messages from older alumni and they say they never had an experience like that after graduating.' So becoming a member of the association may be a way for some to bring that feeling back, she thinks.
Despite the fact that the association has only been active for a short time, the current board has great ambitions. ‘International Studies is a young programme, so at the moment our alumni are not really in a position to recommend you for a job, but that is something we are building towards,' admits Mannersuo. ‘Ideally, in ten or twenty years, we want to have a structure where older alumni can help younger alumni. But right now everyone is very young. That is why we are focusing on keeping the network alive.’