Science - December 9, 2004

Dean: ‘Talk about your problems’

International students who have personal problems should not hesitate to turn to the Dean. A Chinese student now regrets she didn’t look for help earlier, ‘But in our culture you try to be tolerant.’

The life of the Chinese student, who will not be mentioned by name for reasons of privacy, was made miserable by two Dutch people on her corridor over the past year. ‘I tried to understand them, obey their rules. But they were impolite to me. For example, they called me names in Dutch, started slamming doors when I was eating, disapproved of the way I cleaned the kitchen table, shouted at me and complained about the smell of my food.’ After a few months she contacted the caretaker of her flat, but his visit didn’t help much. ‘I hesitated to complain again because I didn’t want to give a negative impression. I’m foreign here. In principle I think the Dutch and Chinese are alike. They are polite, neat, reserved and friendly. But the Dutch are more organised and they know where to go to complain. In our culture you are expected to be tolerant. You don’t hassle other people. I also feared their reaction.’
She was also hesitant about moving because she feared that, due to the increase in rent for SSHW-flats, a new room would be more expensive. Finally she stayed with friends as much as possible. ‘I got stressed when I was working at my computer in my room because I didn’t know when they would knock on my door and start shouting again.’ Two weeks ago she had had enough and started looking for help again. ‘People from ISP en PSF advised me to contact the Dean, Jan van Bommel. He was very helpful. He contacted the SSHW to help me get another room.’
This is not the first case Van Bommel has seen of friction between people on a corridor. ‘Cultural aspects are often involved. International students are not familiar with Dutch habits, they try to stay polite and think they are the problem. Not everybody can deal with the Dutch directness.’ The dean stresses that his office has a lot of experience with and knowledge of other cultures. He advises students with individual problems not to keep the problem to themselves for too long. ‘You can come here and get things off your chest. And we can often help out.’
The Chinese student is happy a solution is nearby. Nevertheless she regrets she is leaving. ‘It feels like losing. I still want them to apologise.’ / YdH