Science - May 26, 2005

The Dutch experience / Jian Zhou

‘This summer I’ll finish my thesis and when I look back at my time here, it’s with a good feeling. I’m glad I came here, not only because I’ve learned a lot from the study, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. In Wageningen I learned to open up and I think that’s very valuable.’ Jian Zhou (25) is doing her thesis on urban environmental management.

Jian came to Holland two years ago to do her master’s here. ‘Wageningen wasn’t the only option for me; I could have gone to a university in Australia. But the advantage of Holland is that you can travel through Europe and visit neighbouring countries. I’m glad I chose Holland because I like the environment and the people here. It’s a beautiful country in my opinion, but that’s also because the Dutch tulip is my favourite flower.

When Jian first arrived, she was very shy. ‘In the beginning I found it tough here. I was afraid to be open towards other people. When I came back to my apartment, I would always go straight to my room and close the door. I was hesitant about meeting other corridor mates. The main reason for my behaviour was my bad English. I couldn’t have a normal conversation in English.’ For the coming Chinese students, the level of English required has been raised. ‘I think that’s a good development. Starting in a different country is already hard, but when you also have trouble with the language it’s twice as difficult.’

Jian had done her bachelor’s in urban planning in China before she came to Wageningen. ‘The biggest difference between working at the university in China or in Wageningen is the large amount of group work here. I wasn’t used to doing assignments with a group. In China we do just about everything on our own. At first it was very hard for me, because I was afraid to say something in the group. Later I learned to really get involved with the work and the people in a group. I think it’s just a process of learning.’

Jian was a mentor for international students during the AID last year. ‘It was a great experience, I learned a lot from the other students and especially from the other mentors. When international students come to Wageningen, they can feel lost having to cope with many expected and unexpected problems and they struggle to find their way here. I think it’s really necessary to help these students. The main reason is that international students need to have a connection with a group who can help them, with practical questions or social issues. I think the mentor groups do valuable work and it’s also a chance for the mentors to learn themselves. That is why I regret that they are having a hard time finding mentors for this year. I hope people will see the need for mentors during the AID soon.

Experiencing cultural differences in a foreign country, like the ways people communicate, is ‘pretty interesting’ says Jian. ‘For example, we eastern people always think it is polite and modest not to ask directly for help. This also makes us more sensitive to others’ feelings, and we immediately offer to help someone. If you practise this form of communication in the Netherlands it doesn’t work. Dutch people aren’t so sensitive that they notice when someone needs help. That doesn’t mean the Dutch aren’t willing to help, they are always willing, but first you need to tell them clearly what you need.’

The Dutch sense of humour isn’t world famous, but it is a phenomenon according to Jian. ‘You guys are very humorous. It seems like all Dutch people have the ability to make jokes. In China some people are funny, but not everyone. Dutch people even make jokes about themselves; that’s not normal in China. In Holland most of the people seem happy and satisfied with the things they have. That’s one of the reasons that Holland is a good place to live. When I go back to China I will never forget what I learned from the people here.’ / RK

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