To accommodate her, the only non-Dutch student, all the Dutch attendees of an event switched to English. Situations like this make Kristina feel extremely self-conscious.
Last week I attended a talk organised by my study association. Facebook event and all the emailing about it were in English, so I didn’t give it a second thought. Before the talk, however, I was approached and asked if maybe I did speak Dutch. I assume I probably was the only foreigner present and so they would have given the talk in Dutch if not for me. They had been preparing to do it in English anyways and didn’t seem to mind, but every time something like this happens I can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.
I calculated that since August 2014 I’ve lived in the Netherlands for about 12 months in total. So I should be speaking Dutch by now, right? But as the majority of international students in Wageningen will confirm, it’s a very hard thing to do when there’s basically no need to! Why bother when all the classes are in English and everyone everywhere speaks English. I can’t recall a situation where I had a problem because of not knowing the language (except for some hilarious grocery shopping mishaps). And even my Dutch friends don’t understand why I worry myself so much about this.
I don't have a choice but to always speak English, since there’s no Lithuanians in my circle of friends here in Wageningen. I sometimes get fed up with it (especially when I’m homesick), but otherwise it's such a part of me now that I usually don't even have to think about it.
But I often think about other people and that speaking in a language that’s not your own can be tiring. I know it's silly but I do feel a bit bad when I join the conversation and people have to switch to English. They do it seamlessly, without skipping a beat, but I still see it as an inconvenience. They could just not bother about me or other international people at all! But they do! And maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, but it still is. And every time I receive an email that starts with “Sorry, Dutch only” I find it so endearing – it’s the senders now who are self-conscious.
Should university encourage its international students to learn Dutch? I don’t know. If they did though, I probably would have found time for language classes in my busy schedule. Yes, accommodating another person for their language is probably one of the easiest things to do, especially in such pro-English country as the Netherlands. I just wish I wouldn’t feel so guilty and embarrassed when I’m singled out in front of the whole room, again.
Kristina is a second year student MSc Forest and Nature Conservation.