Science - September 6, 2007

Compulsory relaxation in holiday bungalows

A group of international students is standing in front of the Forum building, a number of them carrying supermarket carrier bags. ‘If we don’t get a move on this meat will go off,’ says Birhanu Biazin from Ethiopia. The bus that will take him to his temporary housing is late. Destination: a bungalow park eighty kilometres from Wageningen.

International students relax in their temporary accommodation, a bungalow at Landgoed ’t Loo holiday park.
That they would have to make such a long journey each day was not something the students had expected as they made their way to the Netherlands a few days earlier. Now they’ve finished their first working day and are waiting for a coach. ‘The shops in the park are closed by the time we get there,’ says Christopher Mahonge from Tanzania. ‘Once we get busier with our study it’s going to be a rush to get the shopping done.’

Nevertheless they are happy with the solution that the university has come up with to deal with accommodation office Idealis’ temporary shortage of rooms. Zhuozen Sun from China sits down in the coach and explains that he stayed one night at a friend’s, but doesn’t want to abuse his hospitality. ‘I think this is a reasonable solution, although of course I hope that things will be sorted out properly soon.’

In the seat in front of him sits Purabi from India, quietly leafing through some brochures. ‘I'm happy with the house they’ve put us in,’ she says, ‘but it’s a nuisance that we keep having to pack and unpack our things.’ In two weeks’ time they’ll move to a different bungalow park and around November they hope to have a room in Wageningen. But she’s more than happy with her PhD supervisor, Freerk Wiersum. ‘Thanks to him I have faith that things will turn out ok. He said to me: if you miss the bus you can always call me.’

As the bus drives past the Veluwe national park the driver asks if someone can count the number of people on board. ‘Eight? Is that all?’ The university had drawn up plans for seventy people. ‘Maybe the rest are in the first bus,’ he says. ‘Or in the aeroplane,’ someone suggests. After an hour’s drive the bus arrives at Landal Landgoed ’t Loo. ‘This driver’s really good,’ says Biazin. ‘This morning it took longer than an hour and a half because there was so much traffic on the road.’

The holiday houses are dotted about in the woods; most are occupied by Dutch families watching TV. At the end of a long path, past the tennis courts, stands the house that Biazin and Mahonge are staying in. They share it with Tanzanian Josiah Katani and Pierpaolo Falcicchio from Italy. Biazin hands round Ethiopian snacks and stretches out on the sofa. The US Open is on TV. In the kitchen someone starts making supper. ‘It’ll probably be a mix of Ethiopian, Tanzanian and Italian,’ laughs Mahonge.

Everyone is clearly happy with what they are getting for ten euros a day, but Biazin still finds the distance a problem. ‘Usually I’d work through until eight in the office and then go and relax with a beer.’ Mahonge would really like to prepare some work this evening, but there’s no internet connection. Falcicchio said he’s heard that the university was going to arrange free internet access. ‘But I don’t know why it hasn’t happened yet,’ he says.

Relaxation is the only alternative. After all, the guys have to get up early the next morning, at least if they want to be on the first bus, which leaves at seven o’clock. ‘Maybe we’ll go swimming at the weekend,’ says Birhanu.