At the beginning of March, I received the following mail from my colleague Peter van Kollenburg:
“At Engineering we have approximately 8 exchange students. To get an idea about where we stand as Fontys Engineering, maybe it would be nice if you could have lunch with these students. This is also a great and honorable gesture towards these students! They are people from all over the world. See it as ‘just an idea’ from me. Just an idea? A great idea! Last week the moment was there. We had agreed to meet at noon. With a typical Dutch lunch: buns, currant buns, milk and buttermilk. Slowly they walked in: Trevat, Ayse Betul, Cemre, Rafat, Mohammed Emin, Tero Risto Johannes, Anna, Mansahej Singh, Gonzalo, Krasimira, Gwenc’hlan, Akash and Jesus. Eventually there were 13 students: from Spain, Italy, Turkey, India, France, Bulgaria and Finland; 8 men and 4 women. Let me explain: exchange students are students who study at a different university or college and go abroad for 6 months for their studies. These students have started in February and will return home in June.
I grew up in Belgium, and eventhough I have been living in the Netherlands for years now, I still cannot get used to the Dutch lunch. I ask if the food is the greatest culture shock? That remark hit the bull’s eye: Gwenc’lan from France jokes that he has already lost 6 kilos. Or is he serious? On Wednesday evening (amongst each other Gwensday, because it is an initiative from Gwenc’lan), they get together and cook for each other. Food connects. Reminds me of the book “Teacher Man” by Frank McCourt, who tempts his students to English poetry by having them read recipies to each other. But fortunately they are more positive about their studies: the project work and the practical subjects are very educational. For all of them it is a totally new experience. Though the level of mathematics is for some of them at a higher level at their own university. They are full of praise of our teachers. They have heard that all of our teachers, including the ones who have been active in the trade and industry, have to follow a didactics course. Several times they emphasize that we need to keep that practice. Our teachers are very good at explaining! Much better than at their own universities, where it is usually a “one way street”. I glisten.
At the end, when I ask them what their best tip is for our organisations, they tell me that a lot of the information on the website is only available in Dutch. They all have a list with them which states where to look for information: klassen, roosters,… But other things they cannot read. I am imagining studying in Bulgaria and getting a change of my class schedule… in Bulgarian. Completely handicapped of course. I would be so miserable I wouldn’t come out of my Bulgarian student room. But these students remain friendly, this is just a ‘minor’ issue. They are happy that we are listening to them and will improve the information based on their remarks. Such stars! They will make it in the future.
At the end of the lunch – the buns are almost all eaten – Peter suggest a group photo. Another colleague takes the picture so that Peter can be in the picture as well. “Are you ready?” our colleague asks: “cheese….Fontys”. Everybody smiles and we all go our own way. They go to class, I go to our lab where our Council of our mayor and aldermen is waiting for a short tour. Also nice, but the conversation with our foreign students is definitely the highlight of the week.
Thank you, students. Thank you, Peter.
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