News - October 18, 2018

‘Even finding food is a challenge’

Tessa Louwerens

When Ruth Ngadze came to the Netherlands from Zimbabwe as part of her sandwich PhD, she found there were quite a few thing she had to adapt to.

Ruth Ngadze graduated with a PhD in Food Quality and Design on 10 October, for her study on improving food security in sub-Saharan Africa by making use of indigenous fruits.

Proposition: Undertaking a sandwich PhD is like participating in a survival reality show.

‘As a sandwich PhD student you spend part of the time in your home country and part in the Netherlands. Just like in a survival reality show you are being taken out of your comfort zone, away from everything you are used to, and put somewhere completely different. Then you have to learn how to survive in this new environment.

Here I live in a tiny room on the Bornse Steeg, without my friends and family. I sometimes miss the comforts of home, where for example I can call my mum or sister and they will be with me when I need them. Also there were a lot of practical challenges I had to overcome. For instance riding a bike. In Zimbabwe cycling is not a common means of transport, but in the Netherlands everyone cycles. So I also bought a very good and expensive bike. Unfortunately it was stolen shortly after. I didn’t know yet that there was such a thing as a “stationsfiets”. Even simple things like finding food are a challenge, because in the supermarket everything is in Dutch and it is not always easy to determine what is what.

And at the academic level too, you have to learn how to survive. You have to be independent, especially when you are doing your field work abroad, because your supervisor will not be there to hold your hand.

It is not a bad thing, because these challenges also help you grow. For instance one skill I learned in the Netherlands is being punctual. I had to be, otherwise I would miss the bus or be late for a meeting. This skill is useful to have. So the question is: how do you meet the challenges so that you can be the survivor at the end of the show? Which in this case is graduation.’