Science - June 2, 2005

The Dutch experience / Dirk Vervloet

Dirk Vervloet (30) comes from Flanders, the part of Belgium where Dutch is spoken. Despite its many historic links with the Netherlands, Vervloet, who is doing an MSc in environmental sciences, was surprised to encounter so many differences between the Netherlands and his home country.

‘On Koninginnedag I was surprised to see so many Dutch flags and the colour orange everywhere. The Dutch like to show their national emblems. During national holidays in Belgium you are lucky if you see one national flag in a town. There are not many ‘proud’ Belgians. Some say we lost the last ‘real’ Belgian when King Boudewijn died. To give another example: I remember an incident during a cycling race when a Belgian supporter with our national flag in his hand obstructed the leader of the race. The reaction of the commentator on Belgian television was ‘here we have an idiot with a rag in his hand’.’

National holidays aside, Vervloet’s experiences have not all been positive in the Netherlands. Take public transport. ‘Before I came to the Netherlands I thought of it as a country where bus and train were promoted, but public transport is actually very expensive. In Belgium, thanks to the Socialist Party, public transport has become even cheaper. In some Belgian cities buses are free of charge. The separate bus lanes here would never stand a chance in Belgium. Car drivers would just use the bus lanes. We Belgians try to get around rules. Dutch people on the other hand have an almost blind faith in authority and have a strong belief that rules are to be obeyed.

Mind you, this is not always the case, as Vervloet discovered during exams at Wageningen University. ‘When I take an exam here I often hear students talking to each other at the back of the room. The examiners who are supposed to keep an eye on the students sit at the front and remain there apparently not noticing anything. At Leuven University, where I studied political sciences and public administration and worked for eighteen months as a researcher, I invigilated exams myself. But we made sure that students who were cheating were caught by positioning ourselves in the front, middle and back of the room and walking around.

Studying in Wageningen is easy in other ways as well, says Vervloet. ‘Students are really led by the hand like schoolchildren. You can fail an exam three times and still get another chance. At Leuven University you only get two chances in one year, and if you fail a certain number of courses you have to repeat the whole year again. It’s also pretty special to get a degree from Leuven as only about thirty percent of the students achieve this. ‘Especially the group work here takes up much more time when you have to cope with free riders in the group.’

Having lived in Wageningen now for eighteen months, Vervloet relaxes by doing salsa and yoga at ISOW, and enjoying the natural surroundings of Wageningen. ‘I appreciate it in this country that when you are outside a city or village, you are immediately in the countryside. In Belgium this is not the case; people build houses wherever they want to.’

Despite the healthy environment Vervloet has had to make use of the Dutch health care system, and was not satisfied. ‘If you are ill here and visit a doctor it seems you need his permission to be ill. They are not very helpful, and neither are dentists. I once had terrible toothache and had to wait four days to be treated. In the meantime I just got painkillers. In Belgium they would help you the same day. Belgian doctors are on call from eight in the morning to nine in the evening, and when you call them in the middle of the night they come.’ / HB

Re:act