ISP tackles language problems
How could I know that the building with the impossible name that none of us will be able to pronounce correctly, even after a stay of several years, scheikundegebouw, means chemistry building? Una May Gordon, member of the International Students Panel (ISP), is fired by the memory of the linguistic problems she encountered when she first came to Wageningen
Until last year all signs in the university buildings were in Dutch only. You could have been looking for the library for quite a while before someone told you that it was the building you just walked past three times.
The ISP is recognized by the University as the official representative body of the international students in Wageningen. Last week, August 28, a group of twenty new students was introduced to the workings of the ISP. In theory all the MSc programmes have a representative on the ISP board, and all international students are automatically members of ISP. The members of the board meet regularly with the Rector to discuss problems affecting international students. Eddy Agbo, vice chairman of ISP, is satisfied with the way the university treats the international students. He feels that the issues raised by ISP are taken seriously by the University Board
A major achievement last year was having signs put up in both English and Dutch in all the university buildings. The main problem was finding the money, explains Agbo. The final decision was delayed for several months because no one was prepared to pay for the new signs. Then Rector Cees Karssen found the money somewhere and now most of the signs are bilingual.
Language problems formed the bulk of ISP's work last year, and not just in the form of signs in buildings. Official letters from the University and the student housing office (SSHW) used to be written in the, for many, incomprehensible local language. It cost considerable effort on the part of ISP but now at least the SSHW is able to make clear to its foreign tenants when the window cleaner is coming. That kind of thing is handy to know and avoids a potentially uncomfortable situation where you emerge dripping from the shower to see someone working away on the other side of the window, says Una May Gordon. It can also be really embarrassing to have to ask someone to translate a letter in which it transpires that you are behind with the rent.
Gordon herself had difficulties with the amount of rent she had to pay for such a small room. When I read the brochure at home my reaction was OK, that's nice, a room twelve by twelve metres, that's about the size of my bedroom. It was quite a shock when I saw my room in Wageningen: twelve square metres is really very different from twelve by twelve.
Another language problem presented itself in the form of the quality of the English course readers. Some of these are written in a bizarre combination of English and Dutch. Do not be surprised if you come across constructions such as Land- and Zeebreeze in your reader. The organization of the MSc courses also leaves much to be desired. Last year I was told by a lecturer that he had not prepared a course in English, although it was mentioned in the course book, because no international students had shown interest in the course the year before, complains Gordon. According to American-Dutch ISP member Fern Terris-Prestholt these relatively minor problems can be solved fairly easily . It's largely a question of attitude: I'm quite aggressive when asking questions and I've noticed that that works well. You don't have to be rude or impolite, but just ask your teachers or programme director when you have a problem with a course or whatever. Most of them are really friendly and will help you as best they can. If they don't, come to ISP and we will see what we can do.
ISP's successes last year were not confined to overcoming language problems. The Panel also acquired its own building for international students. The accommodation in Duivendaal is home to the International Students Organization Wageningen (ISOW), which organizes a variety of activities. It is a popular venue and the small hall is regularly filled to bursting at parties. Chairman of the ISOW Board Mazen El Tamir paints a welcoming picture. We organize all kinds of activities. Every Thursday night we show a movie, we have salsa evenings, dinners and also room for religious activities. All in all, a home away from home for international students.
More emergency loans
WAU gave help to more students with financial problems in 1996 than in the previous year. Thirty four students received an interest free loan from the University last year, compared with twenty two in 1995
The University has an emergency fund for students who run into financial difficulties through no fault of their own. The fund is used to provide interest free loans. According to treasurer Andries Onderstal, approximately half of the funds goes to international students. The increase in the number of loans requested, however, comes largely from Dutch students
International students who find themselves short of money due to unforeseen circumstances can ask for help through the Dean for International Students, Jeanine Hermans. When evaluating the request the most important criterion is that the situation involves a genuine emergency. One example is dental costs. It is almost impossible for international students to get dental insurance because you need to provide a bill of health. Hermans continues, That's almost impossible for students from developing countries, so they can suddenly be confronted with an astronomically high dentist's bill. In such a case we can advance a loan. A student is usually required to repay the loan before graduation
Sometimes students only discover upon arrival in the Netherlands that cashing a foreign cheque can take up to three weeks. At the beginning of your stay you often have higher expenditures, like furnishing a room. In this situation we can sometimes help with a bridging loan to tide a student over until the money comes through. The main issue for us is that there must be a genuine, acute financial emergency. If students come to us with a story of all the financial commitments at home that they can't live up to, then I'm afraid we can't help. (KVe)