Business & pleasure combined for new students
If the market is only held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, why on earth is this square called market seven days a week?" sighs one of the new MSc students, looking somewhat desperately at parked cars instead of market stalls. Fair enough, while abroad things don't always turn out to be what they seem at first glance. For that reason the Dean's Office for International Students organises an intensive fortnight's introduction programme at the beginning of each academic year for the new students. The purpose is to help the newcomers get to know each other and find their way around. Many of the necessary but tedious practical matters are also settled, combining business with pleasure.
Around the middle of August the bulk of the new international students arrive in Wageningen from all over the world. The majority arrive by plane, a group of 18 Ethiopian and Eritrean students were all on the same flight. Others come by train, bus or car, all arriving in time for the first item on the agenda: buying a second hand bicycle at a sale organised by the Dean's Office in order to be equipped with this vital means of transport for the coming months.
A Caribbean student admits that she had never ridden a bicycle in her life: I always moved around in a car." Soon, however, she reveals herself as a self-taught woman, ready to be taken round in town by a member of the reception committee. This committee consists of PhD and second term MSc students, who have volunteered to help the new students out in their new environment. They point out where the post office, banks, cafes and shops are located and will also explain when the market really is a market.
Having mastered the art of cycling, the students continue their programme at de Leeuwenborch, where the three day Intercultural Communication Workshop takes place. A set of lectures, group assignments and plenary discussions is designed to familiarize the participants with Dutch culture, cultural differences, cultural prejudices and how to cope with them. One of the group assignments is to describe the people on the sets of three photos given to each group. Discussions on the person's looks, age, profession and so on, reveal differences in frames of reference.
Poor Winnie Sorgdrager, Dutch Minister of Justice, was taken for a journalist, a schoolteacher and even an actress of Asian origin. Queen Beatrix was recognized, mainly due to her starched hair but it was regarded as a little odd that, apart from a brooch, she was not wearing any jewellery at all. Irrigation Professor Linden Vincent might qualify as a professor, on the basis of the fact that she was wearing a watch. However, Teun Klein-Essink, a retired study advisor, was the only one definitely earmarked as a professor. He also has a watch but his glasses and grey hair were the decisive factors. Hitze Gorter, head of WAU's Legal Affairs department, is definitely not a professor: Far too young, he is probably a real estate agent." In another session, African students portrayed an African class with an authoritarian professor. Later on, one of them discloses in despair: They should not think that they will ever convince a Ghanaian here to call a university professor
by his first name."
Friday, August 23rd, is a hectic day, with no time to horse around. In a tightly organised rotating schedule students have to register with the University, Alien Police, Wageningen Municipality and sign tenancy contracts with the Social Housing Foundation (SSHW). Visits to the Centre for Language Education and the Student Chaplaincy are also planned.
While Muslim students are saying their Friday prayers in the community centre De Nude, university chaplains Hinne Wagenaar and Thomas Murray are basking in the sun outside De Wereld. They are waiting for the last group of international students. Father Murray, successor to Father Beemster, is as new to Wageningen as the students, who finally come trickling in. All together they listen to Wagenaar's introduction to the religious spectrum of Wageningen. However, the students have to rush off to a mobile X-ray unit, to have another picture taken, this time of their insides. A lung X-ray photo is required for the obligatory health insurance. Saturday is also devoted to the students' health: a sports day and a chance to further improve one's - cross cultural -condition before the start of the lectures.