Asian students look after themselves
Last week two Chinese and two Taiwanese students were awarded their PhDs at the university here. Jian Chen from China and Ching-Shyung Hwu from Taiwan have both been working at the Department of Environmental Technology on waste water treatment. The Dutch don't always say what they mean, says Hwu, while Chen found that, It's quite socialist here.
Ching-Shyung Hwu (34) is one of the five Taiwanese students living in Wageningen. A group this size is one of the reasons why newcomers from Taiwan are taken care of from the moment they arrive at the airport by students who have already been here for a longer period. Contact between the various Asian groups of students is minimal, Hwu tells, partly due to the language problem: It's not like the Latin Americans, although I do have some contact with the Chinese, no problem.
Because there is no such thing as an Asian club in Wageningen, the Taiwanese have their own social network. The forty or so Taiwanese spread throughout the Netherlands come together for common activities like Chinese New Year celebrations and excursions to the Keukenhof and the windmills near Zaandam. Locally they gather almost weekly in their homes. Hwu: We talk about our experiences, about living in Wageningen. For example, my flat was once nearly broken into, so I was able to warn people that they should lock their door properly.
Taiwanese students who are awarded a scholarship to study abroad can choose which country they want to go, Hwu explains. The majority heads for the USA, while Europe is second on the list and Japan third. Those who decide to do their PhD in Europe often choose Great-Britain because of the language. People don't know that in the Netherlands you are allowed to write your thesis in English. That's one of the reasons why there are so few Taiwanese here. Hwu heard about Wageningen because of Professor Lettinga. Before I came he was the godfather of anaerobic waste water treatment for me, and now he's even more than that.
Hwu was already 30 by the time he came to Wageningen and started off in the Asserpark student flats. Hwu was surprised of finding himself living together with ten people on one floor. In Taiwan the maximum is eight, but most students live in units of four. Hwu was the only foreigner on his corridor and didn't really feel at home. Most people actually seemed afraid of speaking English, but I must have someone to talk to otherwise I go crazy. Even during dinner I couldn't participate in the conversation. On the other hand I had to pay for the newspaper, which I wasn't able to read. The fact that he was much older and took his cleaning responsibilities more seriously than the others, prompted his move to the Bornsesteeg. When his wife came over to live in Wageningen too, he got himself a flat in the Nude. Since then their first son has been born. My wife had studied as well and was intending to follow an MSc course, but because of the pregnancy that didn't go through. Sometimes she complains and asks me if we could exchange jobs.
Although he has some Dutch friends, Hwu does not feel particularly close to the Dutch in general. A gap exists between me and the people in Holland even on individual level. I think it's because Dutch people are very polite, so they don't always say what they mean. I'm more straightforward, I show my anger if I get upset. Still Hwu says he is enjoying his stay: On a scale from zero to ten I'd give it an eight. It's not perfect but it's pretty good. He will stay in Wageningen till December. Since July Hwu has been working on a totally different topic: soil pollution. I want to get an academic job when I go back home. The competition is hard, so you need to specialize.
Hwu's colleague Jian Chen from China works on the other side of the 7th floor of the Biotechnion building. This morning he had X-rays taken because he broke his foot last year doing sport. Chen is enthusiastic about Holland partly due to his hospital experience. It's quite socialist here: your government takes care of the people very well.
A Chinese character hangs on the wall above his computer: a dagger and a heart. It means to have patience, Chen explains. Next to it there's a picture of a motorcycle. Chen has his own 750cc here. Unfortunately I can't take it back to China, it's too powerful. 250cc is the maximum allowed. Chen (40) has already spent seven years abroad as a sandwich student at WAU, of which four years were in North-Carolina in the US. This is the most difficult period in his life, Chen states in his thesis, because his wife has remained in China for the whole period except for the holidays. Still Chen intends to spend one more year here doing an MBA course in Utrecht (if he can get financing), but not without going home for several weeks first. Persistence is the way to success is one of the propositions at the start of his thesis
Chen believes that many avenues will be open to him when he returns. With the booming Chinese economy, pollution is a hot issue. Chen wants to combine the different techniques for waste water treatment - anaerobic, aerobic and physicochemical - and introduce them to his home country. He would like to run his own consultancy company in the future. Chen talks about rivers with brown bubbles and shirts which are dirty within a day from the dust. We badly need technology to improve the environment in China.
Chen estimates the number of Chinese in Wageningen at around 10 PhD and 25 MSc students. They have their own organization: the Wageningen Chinese Student Association. We have lots of celebrations like Independence Day on October 1st and New Year. Three times a year people from the embassy visit us and bring along new Chinese movies. Festivities usually start with Chinese food and afterwards there's dancing, which by the way is quite different from yours, it's more classical. When newcomers arrive they are immediately well looked-after, just like the Taiwanese. They come often to me for advice, Chen smiles, Because I've been here for a pretty long time.
The Chinese community in Wageningen appears to be a close one. Chen lives in the Bornsesteeg, where everyone has his own kitchen, but he never eats alone. When I cook it's always for two or three friends. We are used to less privacy and like to be together. It's a Chinese custom. Besides Chinese bread has to be baked large.
Table tennis tournament
The 2nd ISOW table tennis tournament started this Tuesday and will continue through next week: first round is 16th to 20th September, second round 22nd to 24th September and the final round 25th to 27th of September. The matches take place in the ISOW building during the usual opening times: 19.30 - 22.00. Come along and see if the Chinese will be champions a second time round. (GDu)