Nieuws - 19 december 1996

Eating, biking and the art of being happy

Eating, biking and the art of being happy

In November, some twenty international students conducted a survey among 79 fellow students on their adaptation to life in Wageningen. They formulated the questions for the survey themselves, emphasizing Dutch food habits and the art of riding a bicycle. However, loneliness, the Dutch way of greeting and how the Dutch pamper their pets were also subjects reviewed.

Nine percent of the international students never go out to socialize with friends, do some kind of sport or attend religious events and at the same time report feeling lonely now and then. Another interesting result of the survey is that in general male students feel lonely more often than their female colleagues.

The adaption of international students to life in Wageningen is the general focus of the survey which forms part of the course Methods and Techniques of Social Scientific Research. For the third time students, the majority of whom are in the MAKS programme, scrutinized each other and their colleagues studying at WAU. Loes Maas, from the Department of Sociology and the lecturer responsible for this course, explains that the sample is representative of the total group of international MSc students. The percentages of men and women and the geographical origin in the sample match the total group. Half of the international students are married. The average age is 31 years, about 10 years older than the average Dutch student.

The results of the survey show that 37% of the international students experience feelings of loneliness every now and then. However, it turns out that this percentage is significantly higher for men than for women. While processing the results on her computer, Maas relates that this difference between men and women is not correlated to marital status or any of the other personal characteristics.


Maas explains that she overheard several explanations during discussions among students. She herself offers the hypothesis that female international students are strong women and fighters. They have managed to go abroad for their study and arrange scholarships, which is probably easier for men than for women. Another explanation is that men are less used to taking care of themselves, and usually rely on their wives or mothers when it comes to basic things like shopping and cooking. Having to do all this all on your own can lead to a feeling of bewilderment. Charles Etse, one of the course participants, feels that there is a genetic difference. Women are emotionally more stable and cope better with stress than men." The Ghanaian illustrates his statement with how the different sexes react to love at first sight. Etse argues that when a man sees a beautiful woman, he is immediately attracted and gets all flustered. Women do not get carried away so easily.

Another interesting result of the survey is the opinion of the students about the Dutch directness when it comes to communicating. Two years ago international students' replies to this question were overwhelmingly negative. At that time, Dutch directness was described as blunt and was often interpreted as tactlessness. This year 80% even seem to like it.

The punctuality of the Dutch is highly appreciated by 92% of the respondents. Luckily, in order to be punctual, 100% of the respondents regard the use of a bike as acceptable for them here in Wageningen. The majority knew how to ride a bike before arriving here, but often only used it for sport or recreation, or had not been on one since they were young. Topography, social status and unsafe traffic are the main reasons for not using a bicycle at home. According to the survey African and Asian students have the least difficulties when it comes to biking. Only 2% indicated that they still do not know how to ride a bike.


Not only were some of the results of the survey surprising, a number of the questions are also interesting.

The students' opinion on how pets were treated in the Netherlands was one of them. Gabriela Zuniga explains that for her this is one of the amazing features in Dutch society. Here domestic animals are treated as human beings, like babies." Etse believes that Dutch people even pay more attention to their pets than to fellow human beings, and more money is spent on them as well. Other students refer to the enormous choice of dog and cat food in the supermarkets.

Another question in the survey requiring explanation is What do you think of the Dutch way of greeting? This was brought up by the African students in the group. Etse explains that for Africans the way of greeting in the Netherlands is quite astonishing. In Africa you need to take time to greet someone even if you do not know the person. You have to ask how his wife is doing, his kids, the animals and so on. Not greeting is worse than slapping someone's face." Etse relates that by far the weirdest thing about the Dutch in this respect is that they do not say anything whatsoever when entering an elevator, but do say goodbye when leaving it.