Chen Zhang (22) is a first-year MSc Organic Agriculture (MOA) student. She’s having a bite to eat at Orion whilst planning an upcoming gathering for her degree programme’s MOA café.
‘MOA cafes are organized by students in the programme, and we take a different theme every time. We’ve just come back to campus from the holidays, so the theme this time is how different cultures celebrate the New Year via food, and how culture plays a part in how people relate to food. It’s going to be one interesting potluck! We’re also going to have a bonfire.’
Chen is from Nanjing in China, and she came to the Netherlands in August last year. ‘I noticed that people have a different relationship with food here, compared to where I’m from. Lunch is a very straightforward affair in the Netherlands, and my friends think my lunchbox with two dishes is “fancy”. It feels like food here is more about survival,’ she laughs.
‘Last week I went to Utrecht with some friends and we had some amazing Vietnamese noodles there. It was a small shop; the setting and the palate of flavours really reminded me of the roadside eateries I’m used to in Nanjing. I felt moved! It’s funny how human beings connect with food emotionally too.’
Besides food, Chen also notices how culture impacts on learning styles. ‘In my old university in Nanjing, we also had group work but it made up a lot less of the course. Usually, at least 70 per cent of the course result would be based on an exam. Here, we have a lot of group work and the learning process feels less systematic. But the good thing about it is that you’re more inspired to find your own materials that are driven by the directions the project is taking. It’s more organic to learn this way and I do get more motivated to read something after I searched for it.’