A lone international and her trusty translator

Without her fast-typing translator, Alexandra Crisan from Romania would be lost. Alexandra represents international students at University Council meetings, but she hardly speaks any Dutch.

Alexandra en Melanie U-raad - Reyerkl

Melanie Peters (l) and Alexandra Crisan (r) / Photo Reyer Boxem

‘I didn’t realise that all the meetings would be in Dutch before I applied and my Dutch is far from perfect!’ says Alexandra Crisan. ‘So yes, I was a little worried at first.’

The Council has all documents and summaries translated into English, so International and European Law student Crisan can form her own opinion about various subjects. Nevertheless, taking part in discussions is hard when you can’t understand what’s being said.

A solution came in the form of International Relations and Organization student Melanie Peters (20), who has been hired by the University to act as her personal translator during Council meetings.

‘The President of SOG asked a friend of mine if they knew of anyone suitable for the job’, Peters says. ‘They suggested me and I was immediately offered the post.’

Inner circle

Crisan sits behind her nameplate in the room’s inner circle while the agenda is being discussed by Council members. Peters listens from outside the circle, furiously typing away on her laptop. ‘It’s by far the most difficult job I’ve ever had’, she says. ‘It takes a lot of concentration’.

Crisan’s iPad and Peters’s laptop are connected, so Crisan receives real-time translations on the iPad screen in front of her. ‘Melanie is really fast and I wouldn’t be able to follow the discussions without her’, she claims.

The linked document also allows the two to communicate, so she can ask Peters for clarification if necessary. ‘It’s all live’, Peters says, so she tries to copy out as much of the agenda as possible before the meeting begins.

Losing Wi-Fi

And last year…

Using a translator during University Council meetings may not be ideal, as Alexandra Crisan points out, but the situation has improved over the past year.

Ritwik Swain was the first international student on the University Council. In June he demanded English summaries of Dutch documents, as they weren’t provided at that time. He had to work without a translator too and was kept up to date by his fellow Council members.

Keeping up with discussions is not the only difficulty the duo face, though. ‘Sometimes I lose the Wi-Fi connection and because we work in Google Docs, I can then no longer communicate with Alexandra’, reveals Peters.

It requires enormous concentration from Peters to keep up with the fast-paced deliberations unfolding in front of her. She explains: ‘I try to write down the main arguments people are making, but because I never read the documents beforehand, it can be confusing. Sometimes I cannot give Alexandra clarification if she needs it.’

Just as smoke starts to pour from the keys on Peters’ laptop, Crisan is asked to present her item on the agenda. As soon as she does, Peters stops typing and dashes for a cup of coffee. She can take a short break because when Crisan’s item is being discussed, everyone speaks English. ‘It’s really nice that I am addressed in English by the other members. I really appreciate it’, she says.

Then conversations resume in Dutch and Peters has to get back to work.


The University also offered Crisan free Dutch language courses to help her do the best job possible at meetings. ‘I can follow bits of the discussions now and my Dutch is improving greatly’, Crisan says.

Peters starts to laugh. ‘Don’t get too good or I’ll lose my job!’ she says.

It would be better for international students if the meetings were held in English, though. ‘I prefer speaking English as I’m there to represent international students, not to transform them into Dutch students!’ says Crisan.


‘There seems to be a lack of willingness to internationalize things at the University and although members of the University Council speak near-perfect English, they feel more comfortable and more able to discuss issues at a higher level in Dutch. However, I am more than happy with Melanie for now and am fully aware that my understanding and contribution within the Council would be severely limited without her.’

To keep up to date with the progress of international issues within the Council, ‘Like’ Alexandra Crisan on Facebook.