The busy life of students with children
Seven-year old Aalekh Dahal from Nepal is playing chess with the computer, while his mother Anita gives an account of life in Wageningen. Meanwhile husband Khem is trying to get son Anisch, eighteen months, to go to sleep. It's half past seven and time for both children to go to bed. Khem will spend the rest of the evening working on his thesis. Both Anita and Khem are MSc students. Anita is doing the Ecological Agriculture programme and Khem has nearly finished Crop Science, which he started in August 1995
It is difficult to combine children with study, explains Anita, But it's not impossible. It's just a matter of managing your time very well. From eight in the morning to six in the evening Aalekh is at school and Anisch at daycare. Anita follows her courses and Khem spends his time writing up his thesis. After six o'clock life changes gear: the cooking has to be done and the children demand attention, especially little Anisch. In the period between supper and bedtime the parents take it in turns to look after the children. On Friday the daycare is closed so Khem stays at home. They are now more or less used to Dutch life, also because Khem has already been here for a year and a half. This was an advantage for Anita, because by the time she arrived he had got most things sorted out. Life is busy, but they are glad they did it this way. Anita: I'm a wife, student and mother at the same time, but I'm doing quite well.
While the Dahal family can study and cope with children together, 34-year old Gabriela Zuniga from Costa Rica has to deal with everything alone. Although I've learnt that it's hard, I would bring them with me again. Family is very important to us Latin Americans, even if it costs a lot of money. Her sons, Alejandro (8) and Andres (4) go to de Nude school, and Gabriela herself is following a MAKS course; she arrived in Wageningen last September. I'm very busy from when I come home, preparing supper, doing the laundry and the dishes. By the time they go to bed at nine I'm very tired, but I still have to study.
She has received a lot of help in Wageningen, especially from the Dean's Office. They provided housing, daycare, everything. Gabriela arrived alone and the children came in November. By then I'd already found a school for them, and from the booklet Be our guest in Wageningen I'd found out about doctors and that sort of thing. According to Gabriela, once you are here the University offers a lot of help. Any problems she had were more in the period before she arrived. Communication between herself and the University was difficult. She was advised by the Dean's Office to leave the children behind, and she encountered problems with the visa. However, I understand the policy of not pushing to bring the family. It's also a reason for some people not to come and study here.
Now seven months later Gabriela is on schedule with her studies, even though she has had flu twice. I'm not worried about my performance. I've also had a lot of support from the Latin community. When I was ill they came to cook for me, took the children to school and cleaned the house - incredible! Things are also going well with the children at school. There are a lot of international people in this area and it's amazing how fast the children adapt and learn Dutch.
Jeanine Hermans from the Dean's Office agrees that her office does not encourage prospective students to bring their children along. If their mind is made up, we advise them to come first alone. Give yourself time to organize things. The reason why we try to limit the number of families here is simple: we are unable to deal with a situation in which five or six families arrive unannounced. Once students have let us know we do our best to arrange as much as possible for them, but we can't make guarantees.
This reticent attitude towards families has nothing to do with study performance. Hermans: I don't know about that. Sometimes it works the other way, some students do badly precisely because their worried about their family back home. The main problems are limited accommodation, daycare and financial aid. A minimum income of 1800 guilders per month makes it difficult to make ends meet. The University has four houses available, but they are really meant for short-term emergency cases. Visa procedures are lengthy since the introduction of the new bill on marriages of convenience. Proof of marital status has to be provided and often disappears into the bureaucratic jungle. It appears to be the Latin Americans in particular who come with their families. According to Hermans: It's not a cultural matter, but a financial one. Latin Americans generally have more money.
Marcelo Teixeira has just celebrated his 40th birthday, so his wife Sandra gives me cake with the coffee. The three Teixeira sons, Gustavo (11), Marcelo (10) and Philippe (5) are sitting next to him on the couch. Teixeira had already come to Wageningen for short periods in 1991 and 1994, the second time with his wife. This time I decided to bring the whole family. Luckily we already knew a bit about the country. Teixeira, an agricultural engineer from Brazil, works in irrigation at home. He's here to follow a MAKS course in order to learn more about social aspects. His wife left a job behind, but is not studying here
The first months were hard for everybody, Teixeira tells, But that's not surprising when you are trying to build up a life. Bringing the family maintains a certain level of stability. His wife agrees: Emotional support is important. We like to stay together as much as possible. I missed him a lot when he was gone. The fact that Teixeira has lost a lot of weight has nothing to do with the hard life he is now leading. He laughs: In Brazil I was totally car dependent, and now I cycle everywhere! The Teixeira family participates in many aspects of Dutch life. The children go to the Montessori school and all three play football at WAVV. We've also got very good Dutch neighbours. For example, when I have bills or letters in Dutch, I can go to them.
Teixeira was also advised by the Dean's Office not to bring his family with him. Luckily getting a visa was not too much of a problem: I had documents that proved I could support them. The family followed father to Europe one week later. At first we had no place to stay, but the University provided a furnished apartment. They told me I'd have to move out within four months, but luckily we were able to stay on. Teixeira also praises the University for how it has dealt with other matters. The only problem was the lack of information before coming here.