An ordinary winter evening in our favourite student house, H14. There is a Christmas tree in the kitchen and Jantje Smit's Christmas CD is playing. Aveee Marihiaaa sounds out. There is a smoky haze from burnt food. JJ is watching a film. Mohammed puts a vegetarian lasagne in the oven.
The Christmas tree is up, with a blond doll's head at the top. ‘Yeah yeah, "blonds on top"', smiles JJ. He looks pretty knackered. He has recently started working as a consultant but he is also still finishing his dissertation. ‘The idea was that I would have finished it by now, I even had two extra weeks. But I didn't manage it. So now I'm doing it on the side.' JJ loves his work though. Especially the perks. ‘I can use my pin card confidently now', he says happily. ‘And I have a company laptop and a lease car.' Is that good for your ego? ‘Ehm, it's perfect for in the city.'
Mohammed and JJ are reminiscing about the house party last month, the African party. They had deliberately not publicized it on Facebook. As they have 1,250 friends by now, it might have got a bit too full. JJ played disco jockey in military gear. ‘How did you like the music?' he asks proudly. Mohammed was especially happy with the guests. ‘We had decorated the place nicely, but the guests were dressed up too. The atmosphere was very open, everybody talked to each other.'
Just as the lasagne comes out of the over, Henrique comes into the kitchen. The Portuguese PhD student has been in the Netherlands for six years, four of them in Wageningen. ‘The town is friendly and small, but that sometimes means you have less privacy.' He loves to have his own place in H14 where he can be by himself. ‘But when I want to I can also sit in the common room and chat with housemates.'
Henrique talks freely about his life in the Netherlands. He feels at home, but he is still thoroughly Portuguese. ‘I have noticed that since I moved here. I like to talk to my Portuguese friends here. Just speaking my own language and talking about the country that I miss so much.' JJ recognizes that feeling because the same happened when he was in the Unites States. ‘People have a vague impression of your country, with details like Heineken, Máxima, soft drugs and Queens day. You tell them about your home and that gives a sense of pride about it.'
Mohammed, who grew up with his Moroccan parents in Belgium, doesn't recognize the feeling. ‘If I could choose a European passport, I would', he says. ‘Better than a Belgian or Moroccan one.' He wants to stay in the Netherlands after he graduates. ‘I believe there is such a thing as the Dutch Dream. You study and work hard, then you can become anything. Anyone can take the stage and say what they want. If people don't like it, they'll tell you. But you get an honest chance.'
Henrique also wants to stay, and he is job-hunting. He feels that studying abroad creates bridges between people. ‘It creates world citizens. I used to watch the cartoon Boes, just like Dutch people my age. It's funny to find how much we have in common.' And his parents in Portugal have benefitted too. ‘Because I invited friends from different countries to my home, my parents have also learned a lot. Their world has got bigger too.'
The lasagne has been eaten, and the tea is cold. Henrique disappears to his room. JJ's movie is over and he turns in for an early night. Mohammed calls his girlfriend. Just an average weeknight.