Eighteen students of Land and Water Management at Van Hall Larenstein were in Suriname for two months doing research. Not only the Dutch, but also the Chinese students, were able to use their mother tongues.
The minor course of River Delta Management had brought the group to Suriname for an assignment from the principal water management authority to examine water problems in Nickeri, a district in the northwest where rice is cultivated. 'One of the biggest problems is that the farmers need water at the same time, lowering the water level to such an extent that water pumps are needed. These are expensive', says Roel Toonen. Furthermore, responsibilities are dispersed among different organizations and government bodies which do not communicate well among themselves, the students contended.
The Chinese student Feng Miao finds that hospitality stood out. 'No matter how poor the rice farmers are, they always had something for us to drink.' One evening in Paramaribo, Roel heard music coming out of a house. 'A Hindu man came running out to invite us to his party. On the condition that we would have to dance. And we did that to the accompaniment of Indian music.' The students feel that the people there are more broadminded and open than those in the Netherlands. 'Various religions exist peacefully side by side. The mosque stands beside the church', says Tristan Bergsma.
A break-in at the abode in Parimaribo stuck out like a sore thumb during the trip. One of the students was awakened at night and saw a man in the room going through the pockets of a pair of pants. The burglar got away with 250 euros, but discarded documents such as a bank pass and a passport in the garden.
The stay in Suriname wasn't that adventurous in every aspect. The official language of Suriname is in fact Dutch. 'So you arrive in South America and you just speak your own language as usual', Tristan describes. 'You can even get hutspot there.' The Chinese students too could revert to their mother tongue in many Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.
The group comprised ten Chinese, six Dutch, a German and a Czech. Cultural differences surfaced when the group celebrated Sinterklaas together. 'A Chinese wouldn't give condoms or a fresh-up kit to a teacher', Miao says. Besides coupling a Dutch and a Chinese, the trip had given rise to cultural insight into oneself. Tristan: 'The Chinese are somewhat reserved. The Dutch, especially a group of young men together, can be rather boisterous and clumsy in action.'