Student - August 15, 2013

Memories of highfliers

Albert Sikkema

They are ministers, writers, editors-in-chief or top athletes, but they all have one thing in common: their careers started in Wageningen. Four prominent ex-students look back for Resource on their own student days. ‘I held endless discussions about my studies and social injustice.’

I only started to work in my fourth year
Jeroen Dijsselbloem

Jeroen Dijsselbloem Job: as Minister of Finance. Degree: Agricultural Economics from 1985 to 1991 ‘I hadn’t actually planned to go to Wageningen at all. But because I didn’t get a place to do veterinary science at Utrecht I ended up on the Wageningen Animal Sciences programme. It quickly became clear that livestock wasn’t my thing so I switched to Agricultural Economics and liked it straightaway. I was lucky with fi nding a room. My sister was already studying in Wageningen and I could sub-rent her room. Then I went to Bowlespark 28, also known as Heesteroord, which was the nicest student house I stayed in. When it was sold I moved into the student house at number 32 Oude Eekmolenweg. In the fi rst few years I didn’t do nearly enough studying. Far too many distractions, a busy social life. I never joined a society but went to all the end-of-first-year parties. My favourite café was Loburg, where the barkeeper Ronald always knew what you wanted to drink before you got inside. I had a job cleaning at the café ’t Gat. I wasn’t particularly sporty but I did always join in the Veluwe race, doing the 8.7 kilometre lap. I only started to work in my fourth year. Which aspect of my studies is useful to me in my day-to-day work now? In terms of courses, monetary economics scores high at the moment… But in all seriousness, I still benefit a lot from the broad academic training with courses in public administration, law and socio-economic history. One of the nicest things about Wageningen was its international fl avour. Everyone travelled around the world for internships and research. And they brought the culture back with them. In my case I immersed myself in the Latin American atmosphere and we still have some good friends in Nicaragua as a result.’

Wageningen leaves you with an outwardlooking orientation
Frank Westerman

Frank Westerman Job: as writer and journalist for the Volkskrant and NRC national newspapers. Degree: Tropical Irrigation from 1983 to 1989 ‘It started when a group of secondary school students from Assen went to an open day in Wageningen. One student invited us to tag along with him and see what student life was really like. We were introduced to a commune and went to the macrobiotic restaurant Pee Pastinakel, where we ate pumpkin soup. In the evening we went to the café Troost. We also saw how lovely the surroundings were, on the edge of the Wageningen ‘mountain’ and the water meadows by the Rhine. On the strength of this a lot of us, me included, decided to register for a Wageningen degree course. I lived at the Dijkgraaf for three months, then moved to Nieuwstraat 1. That was a stately town house in the town centre where seven of us lived. It was an antisocial house according to the norms of the time, because everyone had their own kitchen and we didn’t do everything together. No lists for signing up for supper, and no joint shopping. That was fi ne by me. The teaching was project-oriented and we were always at someone’s house doing course projects. On the pavement in front of our house we chatted about Bolivia and Guinea-Bissau as if we were talking about Arnhem. I was in the Central America workgroup, which organized evenings with guest speakers. We were aware of abuses in distant lands, such as the dictator Rios Montt in Guatemala, who massacred whole villages. Nobody believed us then but it was true: Montt is being tried for genocide this year. We did fund-raising for the oppressed of the world as well. There were often heated discussions beforehand. Should we give money to the armed resistance in El Salvador or should it only be spent on blankets for the homeless? We couldn’t decide conclusively on that one. Troost was my café, where I went to discuss and to dance. It only ever started up at one thirty in the night. Then I would sit in my room in the evening and wonder how to pass the time till then. When Troost went under, I’d go to Unitas and ’t Gat. During the day I often went walking in the water meadows, which was really great. And at night we sometimes went skinny-dipping in the pool by the dike, illegally. Wageningen was a sheltered little world, but oh-so worldly-wise. It leaves you with an outward-looking orientation. It was an idealistic time and maybe we weren’t very good at keeping things in perspective. But in my books I often return to Wageningen. It is one of the sources I still draw on.’

It’s nice and small-scale, with a lot of practicals
Annemiek van Vleuten
Annemiek van Vleuten Job: as a professional cyclist. Degree: Animal Sciences from 2002 to 2007 ‘When I started in Wageningen I was doing Organic Production Sciences: alternative agriculture with alternative students. I wasn’t sure if I would fi t in there so I switched to Livestock. But I was happy from the start in Wageningen. It’s nice and small-scale, with a lot of practicals. A relief after my experience of Business Studies in Nijmegen, where you are in a lecture hall with 500 other students. I spent six to eight hours a day on my studies and got all the points I needed. My student home is above Intersport on the Churchillweg. I still live there with fi ve fl atmates. It’s a very nice group and we went to a lot of parties together, like the open parties at Ceres. I liked the swimming pool party the best, jumping into a swimming pool in a pub, with armbands on. I never joined Ceres but I did do the AID over again every year. When I started at university I was pretty shy, and I didn’t go to many parties during the AID. Once I had found my feet I caught up though. I only started cycling during my last year, after a knee injury from football. At fi rst it was just part of the rehabilitation programme, then I joined the Wageningen touring club and after that it started getting serious. I now lead a totally different life, a monk’s life - no drinking, early to bed. I am happy that I experienced the student’s life with a lot of going out, but now I live for my sport. I can earn a living from it now. I don’t do anything with my Animal Sciences degree. The world of science is not for me and I don’t want an offi ce job. I want to do something practical that is related to sport, perhaps as a coach or a nutritionist. If I go for nutrition, my Wageningen education will come in


There was one thing we always agreed about: the beer was lousy, Stella Artois
Willem Schoonen

Willem Schoonen Job: as editor-in-chief of Trouw newspaper. Degree: Environmental Health from 1976 to 1983 ‘I came from Apeldoorn and I really wanted to study medicine but I didn’t get a place. So I went to Wageningen because you could do Environmental Health there; it was a new degree course. I ended up in a little fl at for three students on the Olympiaplein above a sweet shop. The fi rst year was hard going really. We had to study from 9 to 5, our days were completely full and there was no sign of the freedom I had dreamed of. Only in the ‘doctoraal’ phase of your studies after three years could you do your own research, and to me that was the most interesting period. And that was when the big advantage of Wageningen came into play – you could choose whatever courses you liked. I combined environmental studies with socio-economics courses. I did a project on labour conditions in printing works, for example. My place in Wageningen was café Troost. I got into endless discussion about my studies and social injustice. There was one thing we always agreed about: the beer was lousy, Stella Artois. But the people you wanted to meet came to Troost. There were very few women students in those days; only 3 percent of my year were women. So we really fought over them. I wasn’t handsome so I always lost. They were exciting times with a lot of confl ict. There were squats in Wageningen and the fi rst coffee shops opened. I myself was actively involved in the Environmental Health student association and in the WSO, which protested against education cuts. I was a true leftie. After graduating I was unemployed for two years – nearly everyone was out unemployed after university, just like now. I became politically active in the city council as a Communist Party member and signed up with De Waarheid [Communist party newspaper The Truth] as a volunteer journalist. Only when I joined Trouw did I get my fi rst real job and I have never left since. I gained a lot from Wageningen’s broad approach.’