Nieuws - 7 september 1995

Reinventing the Dutch wheel, more than buying a bicycle

Reinventing the Dutch wheel, more than buying a bicycle

The Induction programme for new MSc students, organised by the Dean's Office for foreign students, took place between August 17th and September 1st. The purpose of this programme was to assist the students in getting to know each other and in finding their way in Wageningen. Second hand bicycles were on sale, and visits to various University facilities were laid on. As part of this general introduction period the Dean's office organised an Intercultural Communication Workshop in cooperation with the department of Agricultural Education.

An intensive three day programme of lectures, discussions and group assignments was offered in order to familiarize the incoming students with various aspects of Dutch culture and with differences between cultures in general. There were enough themes for discussion, bearing in mind that the new arrivals here come from over 50 different countries. In one of the sessions Ms Deirdre Atkinson, consultant in inter & cross cultural information, drew attention to the phenomenon of culture shock. As she pointed out, Culture shock is not just something frightening, it is something which makes you grow as well. You are so often acting on a kind of automatic pilot that it is good to be confronted with yourself and with your own habits. When leaving your own culture you will have to leave your safety blanket behind and step into another new culture. Somehow you feel like having to reinvent the wheel again. How to behave, how and when to approach people, where to buy your daily nee


Most of the people in the audience had already experienced had their first taste of Dutch culture. Shock number one turned out to be that you can not go anywhere without first making an appointment. Unexpected visits to a Dutch family, especially at dinner time, are out of the question. The Dutch are fond of their privacy. A second point was that there is a lot of skin showing and that couples can often be seen kissing openly in public. Finally, cyclists in the Netherlands are king of the road and police presence is virtually invisible compared with some of the home countries.

Ms Atkinson defined culture as the collective programming of the human mind. She continued, All of a sudden you are confronted with a different collective programming. When you leave your home country your expectations are high and you feel great about the new adventure. It is a feeling I would call the honeymoon period. You are thrilled about all the new experiences of the first few weeks. However, after a certain lapse of time you will reach a yo-yo period. This is the time when you are really adjusting or trying to adjust. In this period you will have your ups and downs, with a larger deviation than usual. Ms Atkinson advised people to pamper themselves and to take some time off regularly. It depends on what you like. You can shop till you drop or visit other countries in Europe during long weekends, but it is very important that you devote some time to yourself."

Using five key words Mr Marcel Oomen, an international consultant, explained some essential features of Dutch culture. From a historical perspective he described how the collective planning of the Dutch mind has developed. Dutch people appear to be a very organized, punctual, thrifty and somewhat bland people. They do not beat around the bush, and tend to be fairly direct, which often comes across as tactlessness. However, they expect foreigners to act likewise. Although Mr Oomen emphasized the importance of the word gezellig (sociable, enjoyable) in Dutch society, the Dutch people present in the audience were beginning to feel somewhat embarrassed by this stage!


On the final day of the workshop Mr Toni Kofi a trainer in cross cultural communication gave numerous examples of differences in communication between cultures. Originating from Ghana and living in the Netherlands for some years now, he was able to draw upon his own experiences. Mr Kofi made full use of the audience during a lively presentation, addressing them often in a Dutch way in order to elicit reactions. He explained, As a foreigner you will try to understand and explain communication from your own frame of references, which often fails in a different cultural setting. You should not automatically blame yourself."

Mr Kofi continued, When travelling by train in the Netherlands for the first time I noticed that everybody passed by my compartment although I only occupied one of the four seats available. At first I thought that it was because I was black and that either they were racists or frightened. After some time I discovered that it really had not much to do with me but that Dutch people often want to create some space around them in order to be left alone, whereas in Ghana trains are the place for heated debates and where you make friends for life." Mr Kofi summarized his contribution by reading out a selection of the statements made by the audience: If you do not stick to your own habits and give others a chance as well, you will realize that a lot of apparently cultural differences are merely differences between individuals, no matter where they originate from." At the closing session of the workshop the different working groups presented their mission statements for their
stay in Wageningen. The least serious statement might, however, prove to be the best advice: Don't worry, be happy and enjoy your studies and life in Wageningen.