News - November 1, 2012

Small but strong

Wageningen student social life is flourishing and with rising students numbers, the largest student societies are doing better than ever. But what about the 'underdogs' among the student clubs? Are the small fry going to survive the scrapping of the basis student grant?

Wageningen students are a clubbable bunch. Whether they are looking for a weekly night out relaxing at the bar or bird-watching expeditions into the woods, they like to do their thing in a club. And Wageningen boasts more than 100 student clubs. The best-known are of course the big social societies: Ceres, KSV and SSR-W (in random order!) But there are also dozens of small societies, most of them focusing on sports or academic subject areas.
The university supports society life to the full with both facilities and financial compensation ('board months') for students who take on a time-consuming board post. This helps keep student life lively. And it compensates the students in this quiet provincial town for the lack of the dynamic city life you get in Amsterdam or Utrecht.
Dark clouds
But there are dark clouds on the horizon. The fine on slow students may have been scrapped but the disappearance of the basis grant will soon drain the purses of anyone embarking on a degree. Does this mean that in future Wageningen students will race through their degree programmes as fast as they can so as to keep their debts to a minimum? And if so, will they still have time for club activities? Or is this yet another prophecy of doom about the disappearance of clubs, and will students always find a way of keeping their social life going? 
Time will tell. But meanwhile, we took a look at a few of Wageningen's smaller clubs. To sample the atmosphere. And if it should all go very wrong, to have a historical record of how good things once were.
'Everyone is super-involved'
Hilbert Steenbeek, chair of WSSFS: 'Wageningsk Studinte Selskip foar Fryske Studzje'. Membership: about 30

'The WSSFS is a social club where Frisian is spoken. Membership is open to anyone who speaks Frisian. As a society we want to make sure Frisians feel at home in Wageningen. We speak the same language and have a similar mentality. Because we all come from Friesland there is automatically a special bond and we are really one big friendship group. We feel at home with each other, and indeed, our slogan is: "Om utens dochs thus", which means "home away from home".
Every Tuesday there is an activity organized by the committees or the board. We play pool, eat or drink together, watch a film, go swimming, paintballing, all sorts of things. And of course we drink Baerenburch, the authentic Frisian herbal liqueur. And once we went  fierljeppen.
The nice thing about our club is that everyone knows everyone. And everyone is super-involved. Almost every member is on one of our committees. One disadvantage of being small is that we don't have our own building. And with a small number of members it is hard to fill up your board. It was very difficult last year. But in the end we managed to form a good board and we had a good AID period. In November about 18 new members will be sworn in. Students who are far from home but who will soon feel right at home in Wageningen.'
'You know everybody personally'
Chair Anne-Matthea Otte and secretary Joanne Annot of 'Dei Gratia'. Membership: 95

'Dei Gratia is one of the four Christian societies in Wageningen. What differentiates us from the other three is that we have lots of traditions and rules of conduct, and that makes us more student-y than the others. The Wageningen Christian clubs sometimes play tricks on each other. Some time ago our chairperson was kidnapped by the Navigators. They lured him into the trap with an email saying they were from Resource and they wanted to interview him...
Dei Gratia has a studious side too. Our theme committee organizes lectures, for example about different religions or the relationship between faith, feeling and reason. We also have study groups, a bible study group and we organize sing-ins in which we praise God together.
We have a little bit of an initiation ceremony. New members have to take part in the VIT. They have to visit the houses of our members and they go through a bit of an initiation there. Exactly how it goes is a secret.
Dei Gratia is thriving. We are growing fast. Eight years ago we only had 55 members. About half our members are from Wageningen UR. The other half are students at the Christian Applied Sciences school in Ede. One disadvantage of being a small society is not having our own building. The bible study and other study groups meet at people's houses, our AGM and lectures are held in the church and we have our meals in the community hall in Bennekom. The advantage of being small is that you know almost everybody personally.'
'We don't fence to the death anymore'
Jan-Willem Lammers, chair of fencing club de Schermutselaers. Membership: about 17

'In the old days fencing was quite a different matter. You fenced with one foil to the death. That was all part of the game. In de Schermutselaers we have chucked out that rule, luckily - otherwise our membership would be decimated.
Fencing is not cheap. A full set of equipment easily sets you back about 500 euros. But in the club you can borrow a weapon, a suit and a mask free of charge. New members get a suit on and a weapon in their hands straightaway. That is very different to the way it goes in other clubs where you sometimes first have to spend two years learning the moves. 
The nice thing about a small society is that everyone knows everyone. Filling up the board is no problem. A disadvantage is that you notice it immediately when active members drop out. As a small society you often get overlooked as well.  We always have to watch out to make sure Thymos puts us in the schedule for sports events such as the 'Martial Arts Evening'. On the other hand, we do get good financial support through Thymos. We get 1000 euros a year to buy new equipment.
During the last AID we managed to recruit six new members. That is very nice. Our membership has stayed fairly steady over the last few years. We hope that Bas Verwijlen's sporting achievements in the Olympic Games will make fencing more popular. It would be nice to grow a bit.'
'Not a problem that we are a small society'
Emmy van Trijp, chaor of Licere, the study association for the MSc in Tourism, Leisure and Environment. Membership: over 30

'This year about 30 students started on our Master's. We have a super-enthusiastic year, and all the new students have joined. Licere's strong point is its international nature. There are 15 different nationalities in our year. At the start you saw people of the same nationality sticking together somewhat, but after the weekend excursion last week, everyone mixes with everyone else. We all went to the Veluwe to spend three days together. For students from Asia and Africa, the game of musical chairs we played really broke the ice. They had never done anything like it before. Now we really are a big, jolly friendship group. 
African and Asian students sometimes find the Dutch education system a bit hard. They find it difficult to work their way through the enormous numbers of articles you have to read, interpret and understand. They are used to learning things more by rote. We are now organizing study groups in which we help them by explaining and discussing articles together. We also help them create their DigiD, as this is impossible to do if you don't speak Dutch.
As an MLE student you learn a lot about issues in faraway countries. You learn a lot about yourself and about other people and you look at the world through a different lens. I don't mind at all that we are a small society. We don't have an office but then we don't really need one. We see each other almost every day in class.'