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Saturday 19 April  
Students at Wageningen University
Philip Smet's picture
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Wageningen, Netherlands
Wageningen, Netherlands

Dutch and foreign students: working together, socialising separately

Published on : 6 February 2012 - 12:36pm | By Philip Smet (Photo: RNW)
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"We work well together, but they are different." So say Dutch students about their foreign peers. And they're talking about a sizable group: there are over 30,000 foreign students enrolled at universities and colleges in the Netherlands.

It is lunchtime at Wageningen University. Students from all over the world gather in the restaurant. Apart from Dutch, a visitor might hear Chinese, Spanish, German, Indonesian, lots of English, and even African languages.

International reputation
Wageningen University has an international reputation in the field of Life Sciences: studies in the field of food and agriculture, plant diseases, clean energy, biology and nature and landscape. So it's no surprise that the school attracts students from all over the world - especially at the Master's and PhD level - and that the higher-level courses are taught primarily in English.


Quick facts:

Ten percent of the students at Dutch universities come from abroad.

At the polytechnic level, non-Dutch students account for about 6.5 percent.

After Germans, the Chinese form the largest non-Dutch group.

After graduation, most foreign students leave the Netherlands; the government wants to encourage them to stay.

Links:
Erasmus Exchange Network
Wageningen University


The students often work together in groups, often including people from many different backgrounds and cultures. Sometimes that take a little getting used to - not only because of the language barrier, but also because of cultural differences.

"There are several foreign students on the student council, and there's always at least one chinese student,"says student Willemijn Sneller. "All our meetings are in English, because we want transparency."

Confrontation
Dutch students are quite fast and direct, Sneller notes. "The Dutch prefer to take a direct approach. But international students are often much more polite. They come up with very formal plans of action, even though you can also arrange something casually. Sometimes this shocks them; hopefully they can learn from it."

Arrogant
Different cultures seem struck by different things about the Dutch students. For example, Depi Susilawati from Indonesia says the Dutch are helpful but too direct, too confrontational. "And some are so arrogant," she says.

On the other hand, Surinamese-Dutch student Noushka Poerschka noticed that Dutch people are quicker to speak up if things aren't going the way they want. "In other countries it is the culture to think longer before you speak."

Meanwhile, Wu Ronghao from China says the Dutch often switch to their own language when the topic gets too complicated. "Then I have to say: 'Can we do this in English, please?'"

Teachers
Teachers and professors have to take special care to ensure that the nationalities in groups are mixed. Statistics professor Gerrit Gort sees no problems between Dutch and foreign students. But he notes that foreign students are often better motivated and ask more questions.

"They come to the Netherlands specifically to get their education. They really want to succeed. Dutch students are sometimes less motivated... I like to work with foreign students."

Buddies
Foreign students from Wageningen University can participate in a special 'buddy project' where Dutch students take groups of 15 foreign students and go on outings together or cook for each other.

"In my group there were people from France, Poland, Brazil, and China," says Mirthe Groothuis who has only just started as a buddy. "They become a kind of 'buddy family' - brothers and sisters that they hang out with."

The buddy approach comes from the Erasmus Exchange Network, a club which organises social activities for international students in 36 European countries. Board member Jan Huskens: "It is absolutely enriching to have experience with and an understanding of people from different cultures. The Netherlands is very small, so at some point you often end up working with foreigners. It is also useful to have contacts abroad."

Friends
That enthusiasm is shared by the graduate students at Wageningen University. Yet, it's clear to everyone that Dutch stick together, especially during leisure time. Much like the other main group at Wageningen, the Chinese students.

And Lina Lasithiotaki, from Greece, knows every other Greek student at the school, just like all the other Mediterranean students. She knows some Dutch students too, but they don't often hang out or socialise together.

It seems that working together might be fine, but when it comes to making real friends, students from around the world prefer people from their own culture.

(ae/imm)

Discussion

ADEGOKE SAHEED IBRAHEEM 16 December 2012 - 10:47am / NIGERIA

Am Ibraheem Adegoke Saheed from Nigeria, Please i want to apply for dutch class in your college with are the procedure and how much is the school fees......

S 16 February 2012 - 11:17pm / Netherlands

Well I read this as a foreign student who has live in the Netherlands for three years and who can speak Dutch. I don't think it matters if you are black, white, asian or purple, many (and not all of course) dutch students are near impossible to socialise with. Or whether or not you can speak dutch for that matter, if you are foreign you have a permanent brand on your forehead that only dutch people can read "buitenlander". Most wouldn't give mother theresa the time of day, little own us normal non- Dutch folk. No matter what we do, how we try, they shut us out continuously, rub it in our faces, and then are rude to us to boot. i know the African and Asian students speak truth, as i have seen it happen. Its ridiculous but there are some serious cultural issues going on in Wageningen. The African students and the Asian students are one of the smartest groups, they worked hardest to get here, but because they have different social rules in group communication they become the scapegoat. Dutch students need to learn how to play nice with others, include them and enjoy multiculturalism, it truly is the thread that enriches the fabric of our lives....it would also do a lot to brighten the lives of us lonely buitenlanders

S 16 February 2012 - 11:17pm / Netherlands

Well I read this as a foreign student who has live in the Netherlands for three years and who can speak Dutch. I don't think it matters if you are black, white, asian or purple, many (and not all of course) dutch students are near impossible to socialise with. Or whether or not you can speak dutch for that matter, if you are foreign you have a permanent brand on your forehead that only dutch people can read "buitenlander". Most wouldn't give mother theresa the time of day, little own us normal non- Dutch folk. No matter what we do, how we try, they shut us out continuously, rub it in our faces, and then are rude to us to boot. i know the African and Asian students speak truth, as i have seen it happen. Its ridiculous but there are some serious cultural issues going on in Wageningen. The African students and the Asian students are one of the smartest groups, they worked hardest to get here, but because they have different social rules in group communication they become the scapegoat. Dutch students need to learn how to play nice with others, include them and enjoy multiculturalism, it truly is the thread that enriches the fabric of our lives....it would also do a lot to brighten the lives of us lonely buitenlanders

NM 15 February 2012 - 5:34pm / Portugal

I truly believe it is the other way around. I find it much harder to get close to dutch students and develop a friendship than it is to establish bonds with international people. But that is totally understandable since Dutch people already have their whole life and relationships settled here. Therefore, creating a friendship (and eventually regularly socializing) with a dutch person will take much longer than it would with an international. Furthermore, the majority of dutch people head back home during the weekend, which leaves little room for going out, having a beer, having dinner, etc.

Anonymous 15 February 2012 - 11:35am / Kenya

At times foreign students especially those from African nations feel like we dont belong. As said before, the Dutch actually view them as parasites who benefit from their tax and make them miss accommodation within the university proxy. All in all i had Dutch friends and they seemed O.K. and very dedicated to work. However, they lack a sense of priorities: can leave in a middle of a group discussion to go meet their lovers, then later tell their lecturer how you African did nothing in the group. You end up having problems with the Lecturers who also take the word of their children seriously. I have seen cases where foreign students get less marks than their Dutch counterparts based on a word from one Dutch student to the Lectuter. Indeed such students will not want anything to do with a second Dutch friend !! they will just hope for days to fly by and they finish their studies and go back home. The international society plays a very important role in research and rankings of most institutions, Wageningen being a good example, and it will be of great benefit id they strategize on how they work together as a community full of foreigners.

BK 15 February 2012 - 11:17am / Netherlands

Its sad really. I am a Dutch student at wageningen myself and have tried to interact with foreign students. But they seem very secluded and will not be easily convinced to hang out after class or get a beer. Most of them seem kind enough to me. But I do notice there is a cultural difference.

To all those foreign students, don't be afraid. The Dutch might seem very rude and direct but they are friendly in nature and they will not mind it if foreign students would come along to go out or have some fun in general!

Anonymous 11 February 2012 - 4:42pm / Ghana

I dont completely agree with your last statement that students from other countries prefer to make friends with others from their own culture. I have seen alot of dutch people in my country before coming to the Netherlands and they have been very nice people.I also see my friends from especially the social sciences group really having good dutch friends that they hung around with. However, I have a totally different experience with the dutch colleagues.In class, as soon as you an international student, especially from Asia or Africa sit in a particular row, no dutch student will come there and I have even had an ugly experience when I sat by one and she chnaged a seat. With group, it even amazes me, that you work so well with people and after that period, you will even see the person and sile at the person or even say hi and the person ignores you. It hurts alot an sometimes I even wonder if such people ever find their way into government whether the generosity of the dutch governtment to less endowed students in Africa and Asis will survive. I have tried but it just looks like I have a different set of duthies around me. I think the student council and the university authority needs to do more to build a more inegrated student society, since some of us ineternational students feel so lonely and hardly know nothing about the dutch people, which should not be the case. Its true we are here to study, but socialising is also important.

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