Wetenschap - 6 november 1997

International Page

International Page

International Page
Out of sight but not out of mind
When I talk to her on the phone she asks when her daddy's coming home. It's seven months now since Alexander Baranovsky last saw his four year old daughter. His wife Larisse and daughter Yana were unable to accompany him when he came to work in Wageningen. Larisse has a good job at home, and besides, it takes a lot of paperwork.
Baranovsky follows his daughter's progress in the few photos his wife sends. She doesn't send many. The mail is not very reliable and sometimes letters go missing. His project finishes in February and then hell return home. He's looking forward to it: Im tired of being away from them.
The majority of international MSc and PhD students in Wageningen spends their time here separated from loved ones. Often it's just too expensive or not practical for a partner to come and live in the Netherlands. Going home at weekends, as many Dutch students do, is also out of the question
Extended
Arranging the right papers is no simple matter either, as Witec Grala found out. His family stayed at home in Poland when he was sent to Wageningen for six months by his institute. Then his stay was extended by another half year. Six months was manageable, but a whole year was less attractive. When I knew for sure that I would be here for longer my wife Anna and our two daughters came to Holland in the summer holiday. That meant Magda and Basia could start school at the beginning of the academic year.
However, when he got a position as a research assistant trainee (AIO) at the University his legal position changed. Grala and his family had to return to Poland to apply there for a residence permit. That meant that three months had already elapsed before his daughters could start at the international school in Arnhem
Mekuria Haile Fikre is counting the days till he can return to Ethiopia. Hell be finished here in February and then he can go back to the woman he plans to marry. He has photos she has sent on his desk. He misses her, but it's not the end of the world. It was my plan and it is our plan. We discussed it and both decided it was good for me to go to Wageningen. Sometimes things happen that way.
Sports
Italian Laura Cerni misses her boyfriend even less. It's not an official thing. She phones him once a week. It's too expensive to call more often. Sometimes I send a postcard to let him know Im alive. Even the lonely weekends in a deserted student flat don't bother Cerni. She goes biking. I don't need contact with people all the time. I just do what I want. I like sports.
Not all international students deal so well with their loneliness, as Dean Jeanine Hermans knows. Most accept the situation philosophically: Im feeling terrible now, but that's part of being away, and I accept it because Im here for a reason. On the other hand, if something happens either to a member of the family or to the student, then problems can arise. The International Student Organisation - Wageningen (ISOW) was set up so that international students have a place where they can share their problems with others in the same boat. The staff in the Dean's Office can also help when students have a personal problem
Problems often arise when studies are not going well. Isolation can lead to bad grades, but sometimes it's the other way round. Hermans continues, Sometimes people are so ashamed of their grades that they dare not tell their families. In some cases a student doesn't even dare to go to the supervisor.
Interfering
Everyone deals differently with the problems of loneliness. While some just bury themselves in their work and get on with it, others shut themselves up in their room and sink into depression. This last group is most difficult to help, according to Hermans. Here in the Netherlands we have a pinch and peep system. I don't go around checking up on whether people are feeling bad or not. That would be seen as interfering. But, if I don't know that someone has a problem I can't help. Where students don't seek help themselves, Hermans has to rely on the alertness of others. Sometimes I get an e-mail from a course director who hasn't seen a student for a long time. Usually it's a bad omen if someone shuts himself up in his room. The Dean's Office will then invite the student to come and talk. If necessary Hermans visits a student herself
Flatmates can also help to alleviate loneliness. Most students have a good relationship with their flatmates, but sometimes the signals that a lonely student sends out are not clear. If someone locks himself up in his room many interpret this as: He doesn't want to have anything to do with us. Steven Kaba from Ghana confirms this experience: My impression of the Dutch is generally a good one. But they talk too much of privacy. Sometimes they don't even get to know the people who live next door to them. You could easily get the impression they don't like people. However, he did find a solution. If you have the courage to talk to them, youll find they are quite lovely.
Poem
Twas the night before finals,
And all through the college,
The students were praying
For last minute knowledge
Most were quite sleepy,
But none touched their beds,
While visions of essays
Danced in their heads
Out in the taverns,
A few were still drinking,
and hoping that liquor
Would loosen up their thinking
In my own room,
I had been pacing,
And dreading exams
I soon would be facing
My roommate was speechless,
Her nose in her books,
And my comments to her
Drew unfriendly looks
I drained all the coffee,
And brewed a new pot,
No longer caring my nerves were shot
Stared at my notes,
But my thoughts were muddy,
My eyes went a blur,
I just couldn't study
Some pizza might help,
I said with a shiver,
But each place I called
Refused to deliver
Id nearly concluded
That life was too cruel,
With futures depending
On grades had in school
When all of a sudden,
Our door opened wide,
And Patron Saint Put It Off
Ambled inside
His spirit was careless,
His manner was mellow,
All of a sudden,
He started to bellow
On Cliff Notes, on Crib Notes
On Last Year Exams
On Wingit and Slingit
And Last Minute Crams.
His message delivered,
He vanished from sight
But we heard him laughing
Outside in the night
Your teachers have pegged you
So just do your best

Re:ageer