Exchange coordinator Kelly enjoys being part of students’ journeys: ‘They gain so much self-confidence’

If you are planning to go abroad, the HAN has exchange coordinators to help you on your way. Like Kelly Vellinga-Chan at the School of Applied Biosciences and Chemistry. From both professional and personal experience, Kelly knows how much you can learn from an experience abroad.

Kelly Vellinga-Chan is minorcoördinator en houdt zich bezig met studeren in het buitenland voor ATBC-studenten

“International experience is valuable in so many ways. You can’t underestimate it. Students who come back, can’t stop talking about it. I ask them to give a presentation and they always come up with more than what I asked for. Like offering their personal contact details to everyone!”

'Part of my life'

It was love that brought Kelly from Australia to the Netherlands 22 years ago, and she has never left since. “Of course I miss Australia, but you get used to it”, she says. “That’s the thing when you live abroad, you learn to co-exist with that other part of you. I’ll always call Australia home, but I’m also very happy and feel very much at home here.”

Kelly was born in Malaysia and grew up in Australia, where she completed a Master of Science. She also lived in Western Samoa for a year. “Moving around has been a huge part of, and influence on my life”, she says. So who better than her to help students who are planning to go abroad?

Gaining self-confindence

As both minor and exchange coordinator at SABC, Kelly aids students to prepare for, and get the most out of their experience abroad. “Whether it’s for an exchange semester, an internship, or a graduation assignment. I really enjoy being part of their journey, even if it’s just a little part. Because I see how much it adds to their lives. They achieve more than they thought themselves capable of.”

Research shows the overwhelming positive impact of studying abroad on both personal and professional life, Kelly states. “Most importantly, students learn about themselves. Sometimes I talk to students who have never left home, never even did their own laundry! Then the first time they do this is in another country. And when they succeed in that, they gain so much self-confidence. It’s amazing to see.”

Practical tips

For students who are considering going abroad, Kelly has some advice. “First of all, start preparing for it early on. Because it’s a lot to organize. From small things like arranging a SIM card and what kind of clothes to pack, to larger things like visas, financing and finding housing. The earlier you know you’d like to go abroad, the sooner you can start preparing.”

“There are some scholarships you might be eligible for, but for that it’s also important that you apply in time. And if you are looking to follow classes or find an internship in a particular area, it’s always good to talk to teachers who are experts in that area. Use your network!”

Overcoming challenges

Of course, things don’t always run smoothly. It can be quite overwhelming to arrive in a foreign country all by yourself. “Together with the international office we try to guide the students and keep in touch with them. We inform them that it might be difficult in the beginning, that there may be some culture shocks. But in my experience, once they get through the start, they enjoy it so much. By the time their exchange finishes, they’re almost always sad to go back.”

And that is what makes an experience abroad so valuable, Kelly states. “When you live abroad, the unfamiliar becomes familiar. We learn to be curious and more confident when faced with change, and foreign cultures. Which, I think, is incredibly relevant in society today. So to everyone who’s contemplating an international experience, I say: go for it.”

For more information, email Kelly at

Photo David van Haren