Science - June 23, 2005

The Dutch experience / Thinking outside the box

Mahmoud Abdel-Nabby (27) came from Egypt to the Netherlands just two weeks ago to do a course at the International Agricultural Centre (IAC). He did a short course before, last year. This year, it felt a little bit like coming home.

According to Mahmoud, it is a dream for many Egyptians to study in the Netherlands, as the agriculture is so well developed. ‘I have been to other countries, but the Netherlands is kind of different because of its agricultural skills. I have the feeling I am fulfilling a dream.’

It is not the first time that Mahmoud is taking a course at IAC. Last year he came for a short period with a friend from Egypt. Then, their arrival was not without problems. ‘The first time I arrived I lost my way. The public transport system is very difficult when you are not familiar with it, especially when you have to change trains. It took me five hours to get from Schiphol airport to Wageningen. My friend even had two bags and her passport stolen at the Duivendrecht train station.’

This year he received better information about which train to take and which platform he had to go to, and it also helped that he had been to the Netherlands before. ‘Back in Egypt, I stayed in touch with my former course-coordinator. When I arrived here for the second time it felt a little bit like home. The country is not strange to me anymore.’ Especially The Hague reminds him of Egypt. ‘I love this city. It reminds me of the Egyptian city Alexandria. It has the same kind of boulevard along the beach, the same kind of trams and restaurants.’

About fourteen people from several countries are taking the IAC course ‘Integrated Pest Management’. The aim is not to learn more theory, but to look at how each participant can use their own information efficiently in a way that fits the circumstances in their own country.

For Mahmoud, the first course already changed his life he says. ‘In Egypt we mainly have theory and an exam. There is no money for things like group work and excursions. Here we learn how to use the theoretical information and also how to exchange it with other countries. In the beginning this way of teaching was new to me and I found it strange. However, by the end of the course I had got the idea.’

When Mahmoud first came to the Netherlands he was surprised at how green everything was. ‘In Egypt only a small area is green. Most of the land consists of desert.’ The differences in seasons are also a strange experience for Mahmoud. ‘In Egypt winter is winter and summer is summer. Here you sometimes experience four seaons in one day! It’s a bit like watching a Donald Duck cartoon. He looks out of the window and sees that the sun is shining. Once he gets outside, it’s started raining. Also the days are very long and it is still light at ten or eleven o’clock. The following day it is already light at five in the morning. I find it difficult to get enough sleep as I have trouble sleeping when it is still light.’

During the course Mahmoud has learned ‘to think outside the box’. ‘We learned how to ask the right questions for identifying problems and solutions. It is not only about the kind of fertilizer or the market; it is also about mentality and things like the effect of the economy. Making a process happen does not depend on the resources alone. I believe this thinking outside the box is quite typical of the way Dutch people think. I have been to other countries as well, but this I learned here. Last year I had to get used to it, but this year I took to it immediately and noticed that I could also perform better in the course. It has changed my general way of thinking and I can even say my life.’/LH

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