I’m now almost at the end of my semester here in Nijmegen. I came here to study intercultural social work at HAN University of applied sciences. Soon I’m leaving here with a better understanding of cultures and intercultural communication. Now I have more ways of dealing with cultural misunderstandings and conflicts and I’ve opened my eyes to many problems considering racism and social exclusion.
My study program is called Intercultural social professional. Our schedule includes three days of internship every week and two days of school, so the program does keep me busy. Teachers like to keep us moving, so the classes fill up from different method exercises and practical assignments. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down in a chair and just listened the teacher even for an hour. I ended up doing my intenship in a primary school, where the children don’t speak English. Even without shared language, I’ve learned a lot in my internship and the Dutch hospitality has really shown there. Doing an internship has given me a way to really work with local people and get to know the culture on a deeper lever. Still I’m happy that I didn’t choose to do just an internship abroad, because with the studies I’ve gotten a huge community around me and I feel like I’m getting the whole Erasmus-experience.
HAN seems to have a lot in common with TAMK and actually on a quick visit to HAN, you might think you’ve come to a Finnish University. The differences are there, but deeper. Compared to our studies in Finland, teachers here expect more from you. I’m not talking about knowledge or actual skills, but the expectation is that students handle their studies independently and if they need help, they will get it from other students. I like this mentality that you’re an adult and you have the responsibility of your studies, but for an exchange student that can be hard. It’s not so easy to get support, information or help with figuring out everything here. The working mentality is a little bit different, since the students pay for the studies. They expect to get great teachers and they say directly if they’re not pleased with it. Sometimes I’m terrified of how students speak to teachers, but it seems to be fine to them. Dutchies work hard and play hard and they don’t mix those together. Free time is appreciated and it’s not a shame if you end your school day enjoying a beer in the school’s restaurant.
Soooo, moving on to the free time. I was lucky enough to get to live in Vossenveld, which is a student complex for mostly international students. This complex has made it easier to get friends and keep in touch. There’s always someone banging on my door or texting me to go outside, so if you don’t want to, you’re never alone here. We often say that Vossenveld is our own little village. It’s extremely easy to travel in the Netherlands by train, so I’ve seen a lot. I’ve also got to know the neighbors Germany and Belgium pretty well. Nijmegen itself offers everything you could ever need. It’s beautiful, old and a really alive city with a lot to do and see. Nightlife here is also pretty great, since this is a big student city! Dutch people are helpful, open and generally nice, but they’re also busy, so making real friends is a task. Don’t put your hope on “let’s hang out sometime”, no you won’t. Make up a date.
My experience in the Netherlands has been amazing. Besides getting a bunch of new, life-long friendships and unforgettable memories, I’ve learned and grown as a professional and as a person. This is a country and a culture I could honestly picture myself living in. Although then I would have to build my own sauna and find forests somewhere.
Beste wensen, Jenni