Science - January 27, 2005

‘Fight for your own interests’

‘If you’re ready to extend your hand to someone you get the most friends,’ says Sanwen Huang, PhD student and former president of the Chinese Association of Students and Scholars in Wageningen. Next week he’ll defend his thesis and return to China.

Huang found his four years in Wageningen a valuable experience and not only because of his PhD research on the use of resistant genes for late blight control in potato. After two years in Wageningen, he became president of the association of Chinese students and scholars in Wageningen (CASSW).
Huang describes being a president of CASSW as ‘a flavour added to my PhD life. If you’re ready to extend your hand, you get the most friends.’ When he became president in December 2002, the main problem he encountered was the lack of communication between the association, the Chinese community and the university. ‘Communication is important because the more you communicate, the better your relation becomes. You have less fear and more confidence.’

Integration

A second important issue during his presidency was the lack of integration of Chinese students. ‘The image of Chinese students among Dutch teachers and students was that they were nice people who worked hard but were afraid to stand out and unwilling to take initiative. Most Chinese students also had few contacts with their Dutch class and corridor mates.’ Huang thinks that this has changed a bit over the past two years. ‘The current students are a little younger when they arrive, and they have been brought up in a slightly different environment than my generation was,’ says Huang (33). ‘Chinese students are now more individualistic and communicate more easily. I’m very pleased that there are currently two students from China on the student council. But, with some exceptions, English is still the major problem, and Chinese students have little experience with group work.’

Time management

Huang therefore pleads for a little special attention for Chinese students, compared to students from Western countries. ‘They have to get used to the education system here: the way of teaching, the group work and examinations. They also have to learn make good use of their time as study pressure is high. Further I think that the university should hire a few senior students who’ve taken the courses to help students get started.’

He’s still concerned about the number of Chinese students in one course. ‘If there are more than four or five students in a group of twenty, they tend to stick to each other. That’s not good for the other students, but it’s not good for the Chinese students either. They should take advantage of the international environment. China needs to conduct business with the broad international community. If Chinese students take advantage of the international culture here they will be of benefit to China. Education is important, but besides knowledge you should also get to know other cultures.’

Speak up

One of the things Huang liked here was the large amount of freedom that PhD students get. ‘People are generally treated as equals. I liked that aspect; in China the difference is bigger.’ Another thing he learned was that you need to fight for your own interests in Holland. ‘If you stay silent, others won’t know what your concerns are. I mostly got positive feedback. But it’s important to fight in a positive way: it’s good to protect your own interest, but you shouldn’t harm others.’

Huang will return to China in the first week of February with his wife and daughter Yike, who was born in Wageningen. ‘She’s my special gift from my stay in Holland.’ In Beijing Huang will return to his former employer to start up a laboratory. His departure is not forever though: ‘We’ll have close cooperation with Wageningen and I would be glad to host Dutch students for an internship. And because we cooperate, I’ll certainly return to Wageningen every once in a while,’ Huang decides. / YdH

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