Science - September 13, 2007

Do as the Dutch do

International students wanting to learn how to fix a puncture or arrange their residence permit found they’d come to the right place at the ‘Introduction to Wageningen (UR)’ on Saturday 8 September. About 60 students showed up and got lots of practical information and learned about Dutch culture and study methods during the workshops organised by Wageningen student union WSO.

The bicycle repair workshop
‘Keep your distance. Don’t stand too close when you’re talking with Dutch people. And avoid personal questions about income and whether a person is married or not,’ warns Elke Klaassen from the International Student Organisation Wageningen (ISOW). ‘But it is quite common to ask your name and your age here. In the UK that is not considered normal,’ comments a British student. A small group of international students is attending the workshop on Dutch social life.

‘Although they are fairly reserved, the Dutch are very direct: no means no and yes means yes,’ Elke explains. ‘You can express your opinion, without having to worry that people won’t like you anymore. Even in a discussion with a professor you can say that you don’t agree with them.’ An Ethiopian student later tells how different it is in his country. ‘It is forbidden to comment on a teacher. If you ask questions in the class, the teacher sees it as personal challenge and it will cause you many problems.’

From the high level of equality between professors and students, men and women, rich and poor, we move on to punctuality, food and family life. And of course the liberal soft drugs policy and the habit of cycling –and stealing bikes – are brought up. We also receive important advice on our love lives: Dutch girls don’t like macho behaviour and want to feel independent. ‘However, they do like gentlemanly behaviour. Dutch guys are not masters of this, so there you have an advantage,’ Elke gives the guys a tip. The other way around though, it’s not a problem if girls make the first move towards a Dutch guy. Elke adds: ‘Especially with Dutch guys you might need to do that.’

The social workshop is one of three workshops that international students can attend during the ‘Introduction to Wageningen (UR). The others are focused on educational and practical information, from residence permits to fixing punctures. Nadya from Bulgaria says she got very useful information. ‘It is good to know how to fix a flat tyre, although I don’t know if I can really do it by myself now. And I already noticed that people here eat dinner very early. But the Dutch don’t seem to keep that much distance. Actually they are very warm.’

Petunia from South-Africa has learned a lot of new things in Wageningen already. ‘I’m coping with cycling, coping with the weather.’ She laughs, and leaves for the educational workshop to get to know more about Dutch study methods.

‘When I first came to Holland three years ago, I had many problems with Eduweb and the e-mail programme. I was not used to group work either, but now I really appreciate the advantages,’ explains Chick Tassi Yunga from Cameroon. He has finished his master’s in Environmental Science and is now working on the WSO education committee. He finds it important to create respect for the values of each other’s cultures.

WSO organised this day for international students in cooperation with ISOW and Otherwise, a small NGO that aims to create a dialogue on development. The day was financed by the Wageningen University Fund. ‘We’ve only planned the one day of workshops, but it’s been well attended. A lot of international students just got here. They don’t know how the Dutch health insurance system works, how to deal with the immigration organisation IND or how to visit a family doctor’, says Charlotte van Erp Taalman Kip from the WSO-board.

‘It is remarkable that such an international university does not seriously address these issues during the introduction week,’ Charlotte continues. ‘There are more than a hundred nationalities at Wageningen University. A quarter of the master’s students and half of the PhD students come from abroad. Especially now that a lot of international students no longer have Dutch flatmates to help them find their way, the university should take its responsibility.’.

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