Where to start? That’s what I’ve asked myself when I began writing this column, and it’s also what I was wondering when I first moved to Wageningen — for a brand new life.
People arrive in Wageningen from all kinds of places, with thousands of different stories and varied backgrounds. So we all experience Wageningen in a different way. Here follows the unpretentious and unrepresentative experience and advice of a Southern Italian who moved to Wageningen two years ago to study Agroecology.
When I left for the Netherlands, I was thrilled, totally excited, but also so, so scared. It was my first time away from the comfort of my parental home. And I was moving to a new country, to switch to a foreign language in daily life, to build a completely new something, although I had no idea what it would be. But Wageningen is a welcoming and warm town where it’s easy to find your way. You just have to get used to a few things:
· Bikes can be a bit of a drama for internationals. Before arriving, I couldn’t believe it: you bike all the time. You bike at night, when it rains, when it freezes, when you’re drunk coming back from a party. Plus you’ll have to carry pretty much any object by bike too, from chairs to bedside tables. The final level is transporting beer crates: the ultimate Dutch experience. I still haven’t managed that.
· Everybody, including the Dutch, complains about the weather. Yes, it rains and it is grey. But, hey, not all the time. Coming from a sunny, dry place, I was so surprised to see that when the sun comes out, it’s always time to celebrate. Everybody goes outside. Even meetings get moved outdoors! Winter is long and can get you pretty down. But with warm clothes and double-layer gloves you’re good to go (biking, of course). Fortunately, winter does eventually end. And when spring explodes, flowers make up for all the colours you’ve missed.
· knew the student community was going to be amazingly international. But still it surprises me how many connections I have made with people. The world now feels so small and close by for me. I have met so many friends of friends that I feel I’m a citizen of the world now. In Wageningen, I have learnt to appreciate the great value of diversity — but I also now understand that regardless of where they come from, humans are pretty much the same bundle of emotions, experiences, memories, ambitions, dreams and vulnerabilities everywhere.
Tips and tricks for daily survival
But let’s talk about practicalities. There are a few tips that are worth sharing with new Wageningers. So here follows an undoubtedly incomplete list of my favourite must-knows:
1. I love Wageningen’s second-hand shops. You can totally furnish your new room for very little money with cool stuff. Or buy all the sweaters you need to survive the winter. Sustainable, cheap, unique.
2. Besides plenty of supermarkets, Wageningen offers alternatives for your groceries. If you, like me, want to avoid plastics or prefer local, organic food, explore the market and the farm shops in and around town.
3. Campus is way more than just Forum and Orion. It is huge and there’s plenty of other nice, quiet places to study or have a break. Check out Impulse, Gaia or Lumen, my personal favourite.
4. Keep an eye on the Campus Calendar and the narrowcasting screens. A lot happens here and you’ll probably quickly find something you really like.
5. Get involved! There’s an association or a group for basically everything. And if your hobby or activity is still not represented, talk with people and start something. In Wageningen, you can make stuff happen.
6. But don’t get involved too much! I struggled during my first months with the ‘fear of missing out’. That’s not worth it. Make sure you preserve some time for yourself. Or just to finish the book you stopped reading when you started your Master’s…
7. Go recharge your batteries in nature. There are many pretty spots around Wageningen. The Rhine and its beaches, the woods surrounding town, De Blauwe Kamer with its (too) friendly horses, the arboretums… My favourite? A walk in the forest in autumn, when everything turns red and yellow.
I love this place. Looking back, I realize I have found myself a home. I have found like-minded friends, I have organized my favourite kinds of events, I have built an incredible network of inspiring people in the many areas that interest me. When I left home, I was afraid of losing my contacts and all the things I was involved in. But I was able to find so much more here, well beyond the normal student life. That’s my final tip: seize the opportunity, do what you enjoy with the people you like. This place offers the chance for that!!
Donatella Gasparro is a Master’s student from Italy who is studying Organic Agriculture. She writes blogs for Resource about her life as a student in Wageningen..