Science - August 30, 2007

‘I thought Wageningen was bigger’

‘Look at what I normally wear in summer,’ says Amy Lee from Beijing in China. She points at the shirt under her jersey. Indeed, the Dutch summer is rather chilly this year. But at the international evening during the Introduction Days in Wageningen, new MSc and VHL students kept warm with campfires and Latin dancing.

Students keep warm round a fire during the international evening at Argo
The event takes place by the river Rhine, at the clubhouse of the student rowing association Argo. While most students are dancing to keep warm, a few of them are sitting in a concrete box with a fixed boat and filled with water, to practise the movements for rowing fast. Amy Lee prefers to just watch, even though she’s a bit cold. But she’s happy to be here. ‘People I’ve met so far are very kind,’ she says.

Bijo Jose from India does join in the activities. ‘Dancing that intimately is a good way of getting to know each other.’ There are workshops for all kinds of swinging Latin-American dances, like salsa, merengue and reggaeton. At first, the square is filled with rows of students copying the dancing steps, facing the instructors. Later on most students have paired up. ‘Look into his eyes,’ the instructor says, ‘you have to know that the man is the boss on the dance floor.’ Some take off their jackets, and as the dance moves become more complex, they also become more intimate. ‘First look before you hurt anybody.’

In the meantime, Rosa Kashululu from Namibia talks to Femke van Dongen, her Dutch groupmate, about being here. ‘I thought Wageningen was bigger. On the internet at least, it looked bigger,’ she says. ‘But I like it. It’s easy to find things and besides, I’m from the countryside too.’ That’s where she learned to ride a bike, although the last time was almost twenty years ago. ‘Yes, it was a bit difficult at first, but I’m getting used to it again.’

Close to the Rhine, sitting on some couches round a campfire, some new students are playing a kind of quiz. The questions are on typically Dutch things, like: What is the meaning of ‘God created the earth, but the Dutch created Holland?’ There’s silence and finally a Dutch guy answers: ‘1Vanwege de dijken.’ ‘In English, please,’ goes the group. ‘Because of the dykes,’ the guy explains reluctantly.

Keeping a good eye on the crowd is Khaled Thabet. He is from Yemen, but as it turns out, he is not a student in Wageningen. Then he starts speaking in Dutch, and it becomes clear that he is one of two men taking care of security this evening. ‘In 2004 I was Dutch national champion in bodybuilding,’ he says smiling. He won’t need all that muscle power here. ‘The crowd is very relaxed,’ he agrees. ‘But of course, the real partying starts after eleven o’clock.’

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