Life in Wageningen can take a bit of getting used to for foreign students. They never cease to be amazed by the locals’ preference for cycling, their astonishing directness and their bread-and cheese lunches. But how can new foreign students find their way around in the local culture? A few of their forerunners explain what you need to know about Wageningen and its residents.
Charles M. Kariuki
PhD student from Kenya
‘The Dutch can always find an excuse for a party. A teacher can invite a class out to eat just because they came to his lectures, and there is cake on birthdays and when people get published. And if someone has a baby, they come in to show it off at work at teatime – with cake of course.’
Erasmus student from Turkey
‘Take it from me that it is important to put out your hand if you want to turn left or right on your bike. I ended up flat out on the asphalt recently because someone didn’t do that. The good thing about Wageningen is that as a woman it is safe to walk around the streets; nobody will bother you. I keep a little notebook in which I write down Dutch words with the Turkish translation, because I really want to learn Dutch.’
MSc student from China
‘I live on a corridor with seven Dutch students. We eat together in the evenings, sharing the costs. That is a good way to get to know Dutch students and their habits, and they make life easier for me. I could hardly cook but they have taught me to cook spaghetti and lasagna in the oven – which is very tasty. I study like a Dutch person nowadays as well: much more efficiently than I was used to doing, which means there is time for fun stuff in the evenings. So don’t shut yourself up in your room or the library, but have lunch with your classmates, buy a sports pass and take part in as many activities as you can so as to make friends. Friendships make life a lot easier.’
MSc student from Greece
‘The Dutch live by a strict schedule. There are fixed times for meeting up and at five thirty they swap work for their private lives. If you email someone after seven o’clock you should realize they won’t read it till the next day. The Dutch are also very direct because they want to be honest right from the start, rather than wanting to stay friends with everyone, the way I am used to. But they do not mean to offend you, so don’t take their blunt remarks personally.’
Just graduated, from China
‘I still don’t understand how the Dutch got so tall and strong on those two ham and cheese sandwiches they eat for lunch. But it’s no problem to take along your own, different, lunch. Just buy a nice plastic lunchbox, cook a bit extra in the evening and take that with you. I myself sometimes have cheese sandwiches for lunch now too. If your English isn’t good, look up the lecture on the internet straight afterwards or before the next lecture. That always helped me a lot. And don’t be shy. If you want to get anywhere in the Netherlands you have to make yourself heard. After lectures you can ask teachers questions too. Just have the courage.’
PhD student from Ghana
‘What still surprises me is that the Dutch can’t answer with a simple yes or no. If you ask something in a shop, or you hire something, they say: ‘that’s possible.’ Then you are still not sure. If you don’t speak Dutch and you need some help, look for someone with a smile on their face. People who smile are more open to others. On the streets and in the shops you mainly see people with serious, straight faces.’
MSc student from Afghanistan
‘During the first few months I couldn’t tell from Dutch people’s faces whether they were in a good or a bad mood. Because of that I was quite often confused. Later on it got better, once I made Dutch friends with whom I spent a lot of time outside class. They are open to other cultures and my friends now speak a few words of my language, which is very unusual.
Eating during a lecture is quite normal here, by the way. The first time someone was eating an apple next to me I completely lost track of the lecture, but now I have got used to it and sometimes if I am hungry I even have something to eat too.
MSc student from Rwanda
‘The teaching at Wageningen is very different to what I was used to. Dutch students work harder and you sometimes have to read an awful lot. I can say from experience that you shouldn’t neglect that reading. If you do, it will be hard to understand the lectures and it really is too much to catch up just before the exams. I cope with my studies by regularly playing a game of football after afternoon classes. That refreshes the mind. A shower and some food, and then I can pick up my books again.’