News - November 2, 2017

‘My supervisor advised me to be myself’

Lieke de Kwant

For foreign researchers, doing a PhD at WUR is not only a scientific but also a cultural journey. As Yujie He well knows.

Yujie He (China) graduated with a PhD on 10 October for a study of the removal of pharmaceuticals from wastewater in constructed wetlands.

Proposition: Focusing on integrating limits one’s integration into another culture

‘During the four years that I spent in the Netherlands I saw some Chinese friends struggling with their wish to immerse themselves in Dutch culture. They wondered how they could do this without pretending, or losing their own cultural identity. This is quite difficult for PhD students, because we already have our own mindset and attitude towards the world when we come here.

By my proposition I don’t mean that you should give up on trying to integrate, just that you should not try too hard. It is like holding sand in your hand: if you hold it too tightly, it will run through your fingers. It is my belief that as a foreigner in a new country, you can appreciate the good in the new culture as well as the good in your own culture. That way you can combine the best of both worlds.

I struggled a little bit with the Dutch coffee culture. I really wanted to be sociable with my colleagues but I am also efficient in the morning and felt the daily morning coffee break made me lose valuable time. I discussed this with my supervisor and she advised me to be myself. So I did. If there was a special occasion and someone brought cake to celebrate something, I would join my colleagues. On other days, I followed my own routine.

I like the informality of Dutch culture. People keep their distance and do not judge you. There is less pressure here than in China. Luckily, I do not feel so much pressure in my family. I will go back home now to be with them and my boyfriend.’