Family life in Wageningen
The paperwork is done... but more hurdles lie ahead
While the bureaucracy of getting the proper papers to bring your family or partner to Wageningen can be a nightmare, some issues are relatively simple. Finding alternative housing to the standard one-room student flat, for example. Ankie Lamberts: International students are really lucky in terms of housing. They are always placed on a priority list, if they apply through the Dean's office. International students can get a house in about four months. Dutch people normally have to wait for at least one or two years to get subsidised housing. Other aspects of adapting to Wageningen are not so easy
The Brazilian wives club
Talking to a group of Brazilian women who accompanied their husbands to Wageningen brings up a lot of the personal hurdles foreigners face when coming her
If you want to get anything out of being in Wageningen as the partner of a student, you have to make a lot of effort. Veridiana Melo arrived recently with her husband, when he came to work on a 4-year a PhD in Wageningen. Melo has been keeping as active as possible to fight against the do-nothing syndrome that seems to hit a lot of accompanying partners. She is planning on doing a PhD in Plant Breeding: If they accept me, I'm willing to work for the department even if I don't get a scholarship. I have to keep studying, or I'll end up having nothing to show for the four years I'll be here. Melo is lucky because she has an agricultural background, and so should be able to find something here relevant to her field. For Marta Correa, it has been more difficult. She works in a bank in Brazil. Her husband is now in his last year of his Sandwich PhD, and Correa has not managed to find anything meaningful to occupy her time in the two years that they have lived here. It is very difficult for spouses of students to get a work visa when in Holland, unless they can find a university-related job, or come with a position already organised. Melo: You have to make sure you get out of the house - if you stay at home, it's easy to become depressed by the lack of stimulation. It is also a big adjustment to have to depend on your spouse for money, especially when you have been earning your own living back home
For many Brazilians and other internationals, language is a double issue when coming to Wageningen: you not only have to learn Dutch, but also English. Which should you concentrate on studying first? Learning English is more important for once you leave Wageningen, but there is only one class a week at the University Language Centre CENTAS. If you want to follow a skill-upgrading course outside the university - for instance in computers - then you have to learn Dutch. This requires a lot of determination in internationally-oriented Wageningen. Correa: It is almost impossible to learn Dutch here because everyone can speak English, and some even Spanish. When I try to speak Dutch, people immediately start speaking English to me because of my poor pronunciation. When people come to Brazil, they have no choice but to learn Portuguese. Laura, another wife of a PhD student who prefers not to give her real name, has been living in Wageningen for four years and has still not learnt any Dutch, and only a little English. This situation has come about partly because she has a pre-school age son, and she and her husband were not prepared for the Dutch bureaucracy concerning day care
In Holland, people register for subsidised day care even before their baby is born, to be sure of getting a place. Unsubsidised day care costs an arm and a leg: 20,000 guilders a year; in contrast, a subsidised spot for students can be as low as 90 guilders per month, depending on income. Dean of International Students, Tineke de Boer, comments that the waiting list for subsidised positions is something that must be discussed soon by the University's Board of Directors. The pressure is rising for day care for families of international students. About ten children are on the waiting list and will not get places directly when they're needed. This pressure stems from the fact that more PhD students are coming, and especially if they are going to stay in Wageningen for the whole four years, they will bring their families along.
About ten international students per year bring their spouses along, and up to twenty more are accompanied by children as well, according to Ankie Lamberts
De Boer has found that foreign students do not realise that this may be a problem, because it is easy to find child carers in their home countries. Often students will come here with their families on the assumption that it won't be a problem, and then suddenly come knocking on my door for help. For people like Laura, this can become a very big problem. She found out that she would have to wait 1-2 years to get her son into day care, and in the meantime she stayed at home: I ended up giving up after a while, and I have not become integrated into Wageningen at all. However, she manages because the Brazilian community is so large in Wageningen: There must be over fifty Brazilians here now.
Once your child is four things change. At that age, children can start going to school. Public schools are free for children of four years old and up in Holland. Costa Rican Gabriela Zuñiga feels lucky about her experience of bringing her sons, who were 4 and 8 when she started her MSc. I'm really happy that I brought my children here. They were able to integrate easily. They also managed to master Dutch within about three months at school. Wageningen offers a lot of freedom to kids in a way that my sons don't get in the busy capital of Costa Rica. I always feel safe when they go out on their own here.
For Flavia Scorza, another Brazilian wife of a PhD student, the only way to keep from going crazy at home, was to devise a plan to do voluntary work. Since coming to Wageningen 17 months ago, she has followed three English courses. Since September she has been doing an intensive Dutch course at Educatie Wageningen. Now she volunteers at Wageningen's hospital a few days a week. It's not the same as at home of course. In Brazil I'm a certified nurse, and here I just help with general tasks. But at least it is keeping me in contact with my profession, and it is great for practising my Dutch. I'm finding it to be a good experience. Her advice is to get out of the house as much as possible. It was especially difficult in the beginning; you have to make a lot of effort to keep from being bored and lonely.
But Scorza and Melo are exceptions to the rule. Ethiopian Yewbdar Alemayehu's English is improving, but she has still not managed to find her niche in Wageningen. She has been accepted into a MSc programme, but has not managed to find funding. Her husband, Tesfeye, finds this the hardest part about doing his PhD: I feel like her capacities are being wasted here.
The Dean's office has been set up to help international students adjust to the University and to life in Wageningen, but they do not have the resources to provide therapy to their families as well. A booklet, Living in Wageningen is handed out when students arrive and gives information on groups and organisations elsewhere in the town. However, it is limited in what it offers to international partners. Since the WAU is interested in encouraging more international students to come here, it should start taking notice of the fact that more families will be accompanying them as well. Ankie Lamberts is well aware of the problem: We need to do something about this. For the partners of PhD students, it is lonelier because there is not a strong enough network of PhD students.
Photo's Guy Ackermans
Please contact Veridiana Melo at
verimelohotmail.com who is organising a support network
Geerte Bodenstaff, Huishoudstudies