Science - February 16, 2006

Hutspot with chopsticks

Knives, forks and spoons, side by side with Chinese chopsticks. Big pans of Dutch hutspot next to pots of rice and bowls full of dumplings. These were the ingredients at a successful integration dinner for Dutch and Chinese biotechnology students, Wednesday evening 8 February in the International Club. The most important components however were the people present.

Over eighty students, one third of all Biotechnologists, had signed up for the dinner. ‘We even had to turn a few people away, as we had no space left,’ told fourth-year student Corine Nieuwenhuijsen. She organised the evening, together with two Dutch and three Chinese students. It was the first activity undertaken by a new committee which has been given the appropriate name Integrase. ‘Our aim is to promote contact between Dutch and Chinese biotechnology students. Things are much better than a couple of years ago, but there are still two distinct groups.’
Study supervisor Dr Marian Vermuë has the same impression. ‘The first group of Chinese students who came three years ago to join the Wageningen bachelor’s programme were a bit of a disappointment. The academic quality of some of these students was not up to scratch, and this overshadowed the performance of the students who were capable of following the programme adequately. As a result, the groups who arrived in following years found themselves in an environment with a lot of prejudice. But in terms of capacity, these students are certainly no worse than their Dutch colleagues. Nevertheless you notice that they always have to overcome the impression that has remained in people’s memories.’
During the dinner the prejudices seemed to have disappeared. From the moment that the first students started to trickle in – sometimes literally, as it was a rainy evening – the mainly Chinese and Dutch students mixed well and the atmosphere was animated. And once seated at table, the chopsticks provided a new topic of conversation. With a bit of help from experienced users, most of the non-Chinese soon got the hang of eating with chopsticks. Some even used them for the Dutch hutspot (mashed potatoes and carrots).
Despite the fact that the students still often divide into two groups during lectures, contact has improved in the last few years. Vermuë: ‘There is still some hesitation about working together. But what I’m now starting to see, is that students no longer grumble if they are divided into mixed groups. And when I see how much fun they have with each other at a dinner like this one, it’s a real pleasure.’ Nieuwenhuijsen has also seen the relations between the students change. ‘All first-year biotechnology students were present at the dinner. They are already used to seeing a lot of Chinese students, and when the new lot arrive next year to join them in the second year, it will seem quite normal to them.’ She recommends that other study associations with large numbers of foreign students to do the same. Integrase is already planning more activities, including sport and karaoke.
As far as Vermuë and Nieuwenhuijsen are concerned, the arrival of the Chinese students has enriched Wageningen student life. Nieuwenhuijsen: ‘I really hope that another ten Chinese come next year. That would be great.’ / JH

Join discussion at wesp.wur.nl

Re:act