Science - June 9, 2005

The Dutch experience / Not used to waiting

Mohammad Ali Nematollahi (38) came from Iran to the Netherlands nearly two years ago to do a PhD at the Agroforestry and Fishery group. His wife Farahnaz Ebrahimi (27) joined him four months later to do an MSc in Leisure, Tourism and Environment. Despite several issues they are enjoying their stay in the Netherlands.

As Mohammad came first, he had to arrange the residence permits. ‘It was difficult to get my permit quickly. At the Embassy in Iran they told me to report to the police department in the Netherlands within three days after arrival. Once I was here the first appointment I could get was almost nine months later. I was worried as I also had to apply for my wife. Later the IND took over and the process went a little bit faster, but it still took a long time. I think it would be better if there were a separate institution for students from abroad. Now we get mixed up with refugees.’

Farahnaz adds that waiting is typically Dutch. ‘Whether it is standing in line in front of a ticket machine at the train station or waiting for an appointment with the doctor, you always have to be patient. That is sometimes difficult for us, as we are not used to waiting. In Iran, when someone is too busy, you go to someone else. Here you have to make an appointment for everything and just have to wait, even when it takes about two or three weeks. Also, you should not arrive too late. Punctuality is very important to Dutch people. Even drinking coffee is set at a fixed time. But then, the connection between Dutch people and coffee is surprising. In Iran we only drink tea, but Dutch people seem to be addicted to coffee.’

Mohammad and Farahnaz live together in a small room of about 15 square metres. Farahnaz: ‘In Iran we have a big house. It is tradition to invite friends and family to your home to cook meals and enjoy being together. Here it is just too small. To compensate for our lack of space, we rent a special place once a month with all Iranian families in Wageningen where we spend a whole day and night cooking, eating and talking.’

Farahnaz is positive about the University. ‘My supervisor and fellow students are very kind and always helpful. The big difference is the use of technology here. One cannot do without a computer and most of the courses and presentations are given in PowerPoint. Also group work was new. Although difficult in the beginning, I now really appreciate it. It has made me a better listener and helped me to cope with other ideas and working together.’

One thing they find surprising is the lack of English signposts within the University buildings. ‘The University is very internationally orientated and has many foreign students, but still all signs are written in Dutch. Maybe we should learn Dutch , but it is difficult to motivate ourselves as everybody speaks such good English, even elderly people.’

In their free time, Mohammad and Farahnaz often go to special places. ‘We have been to the islands, to the beach, to national parks and several cities. We have to do this all by train as it is almost impossible for us to get a car here. Our driving licenses are not accepted and lessons are too expensive. We also enjoy riding our bikes. In Iran, we did it as a kid in special parks, but it is impossible to cycle through the streets there. Here everybody has a bike.’

Another thing they do during weekends is shopping. ‘It is great to see all those different brands. Even groceries are never boring. In Iran we only have one type of milk. Here there are so many different types like Milk&Fruit and karnemelk. We buy a different dairy product every week to try. Most of them we like, although some are less tasty.’ / LH

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