Science - February 5, 2009


In the old Arion building where the Wageningen Student Union (WSO) is housed, the new board members are gathered in a large, chilly room with a high roof. They are seated on couches, drinking warm herbal tea. Empty tables and chairs, shoved to one side, bear the memory of the intercultural Nepalese dinner the evening before. Asia is one of five continents represented on the new board of the WSO.

The new WSO-board gathered in their meeting room at Arion. From left to right: Kaiyi Zhang (China, facility coordinator), Andrew Ofstehage (USA, chair), Bossman Owusu (Ghana, education coordinator), Kim van Groningen (The Netherlands, secretary) and Clifton Sabajo (Surinam, treasurer).
Like all other student associations and organisations, WSO has had difficulties finding new board members. One of the ways in which the WSO tries to resolve the shortage is to take on part-time board members.
Andrew Ofstehage from the USA, the new chair, spends half his days studying and the other half working for WSO. ‘By the time it gets to Saturday I am very tired. But keeping busy is the only thing I can do to keep myself from putting things off. And I meet lots of people. Life on campus is much more fun like this.'
New board member Kaiyi Zhang from China is coordinator of facilities and organizes activities like the intercultural dinners. ‘It is a good opportunity to build skills that you don't learn at the university.' She wants to build a bridge between the WSO and the three hundred or so Chinese students in Wageningen. ‘Many of these students are quite isolated. I hope to bring them into this bigger group.'
A big goal of the new board is to bring students together, including students at Van Hall Larenstein. Andrew: ‘One of the points in our new policy plan is to get VHL students involved. And we would like to have a VHL board member next year.'
WSO also wants to organise more activities, both serious and fun, like the successful trainings on effective meetings, and the intercultural dinners.
The boards used to be all-Dutch, but last year it was made up of three foreign and two Dutch students. Now the only Dutch board member is Kim van Groningen, who started her fulltime work as secretary for WSO in September. According to Kim, most of the Dutch students are afraid to suspend their studies for a year. ‘The Dutch government has been pushing them more and more to finish their studies as soon as possible.'
Although Kim gets an allowance of a few hundred Euros a month, it is not a lot. ‘I don't want to know my salary on an hourly base', she laughs. ‘You have to be an idealist to do this.'
For foreign students, the compensation is more attractive. ‘‘If you are a board member you pay the EU tuition fees instead of the non-EU fees. You save about 7000 euro', Andrew explains. ‘Sometimes it is difficult to know if people apply for that reason. But in the selection process it becomes clear soon enough.'
Kaiyi, Kim and Andrew believe that the international character of the board serves to represent more students. But Kim does worry a bit about the continuity. Foreign students usually leave within a year after they have stopped working for the WSO. ‘Their knowledge gets lost', says Kim.
And what about the representation of Dutch students? ‘Subconsciously, I probably represent international students more. Sometimes it is hard to see the perspective of Dutch students', admits Andrew. ‘For example, the ‘harde knip' - a strict division between the BSc and the MSc. We already have that in the USA, so it is difficult to understand why it is such a big problem here. But then I ask someone for an explanation.'
The different cultural backgrounds also cause some hilarious situations. Kim remembers how one of the old board members, Gary from Zimbabwe, just could not believe his eyes when he saw the mayor of Wageningen passing by on his bicycle. And how to explain the annual skinny dipping of forestry students in the Rhine, captured on a photo in Resource last week?
Andrew was a bit dumbfounded by pole dancing Ceres members, practising in Arion the other day. ‘They were walking around in their underwear, or what do you call that?' ‘But that was strange to me too', Kim admits.
WSO is already on the lookout for new candidates for the board in September. If you are interested, contact the WSO through or 0317-411012 or drop by at the Arion on Niemeijerstraat 6.