No noodles at the greasy spoon

Marc de Haan

Monica Preller

"Most Chinese students come to the Netherlands because the education is good and because nearly everyone speaks English. The Chinese government encourages students to go abroad, too", Jichao He (28), president of the Leiden branch of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars in the Netherlands (ACSSNL), explains. "You get a grant – that’s how the government is trying to fill up the gaps in China’s knowledge." He travelled to the Netherlands to work with his supervisor on his research into toxicology for his dissertation.

Not all the students return to their native country. "It depends on the individual", claims Weiwen Zhong (25, Industrial Ecology). "Some students want to do their bit for China while others go looking for a job here. One of our members has even married a Dutchman."

How to look for job in a country thousands of miles away and other essentials were explained on Saturday at a seminar hosted by ACSSNL. As three Chinese alumni gave some forty guests their tips for living in the Netherlands, Chinese, with a light sprinkling of English words such as "business", "analysis" and "traineeship", was the only language to be heard at the Pavilion of Museum Volkenkunde.

"I’m picking up some very useful things", says Mingming Gao (23, ICT in business). "Particularly the second speaker had some good stuff. It’s handy to know how to get your driver’s licence or find a GP here."

For Lin Jiang (28, PhD in chemistry), information about Dutch social values is crucial. "It’s important to have a connection with your fellow students or colleagues. Chinese students tend to be very focused on their work." However, for some people, social contact it wrought with difficulties. The slide on the screen shows the words "party" and "coffee break".

"Language is often a problem: English is more difficult for Chinese people than it is for Dutch. And in China, we don’t have the custom of getting together with your colleagues", 29-year-old physicist Yojei explains. "Some students find it so hard they avoid coffee breaks and don’t go to parties."

He himself enjoys the study climate here. "The balance between your private life and work is less stressful. And I’ve the impression that you can be more independent in the Netherlands, freer. The Dutch complain a lot, and they don’t hide their opinion of the government. In China, you have to be careful about that."

One thing he is less enthusiastic about is the food. "You have less choice when you go to a cafeteria. They don’t have noodles. They sell fried snacks, like croquettes, which I don’t really like."

Where can you get good Chinese food? Yojei: "There are a few places. Woo Ping, in particular, is good." Zhong says that language is the biggest challenge. "I’m doing a traineeship at Accenture, a consultancy firm. Everyone usually speaks Dutch there. I would like to learn Dutch too, but I have hardly any time for it."

However, the students are happy with the way the Dutch structure everything. "The Dutch are very organised. They work with schedules", Jiang adds. "There are at least two coffee breaks every working day. I think it’s interesting to see that, even though the Dutch working day doesn’t start early and people take coffee breaks, they still manage to do a lot of work."

There is even a break in the seminar, with tea, coffee, crisps and even pepernoten and stroopwafels put out on a table. "The sweet things are nice, but for the rest, I don’t really like Dutch cooking. I would like it if my canteen served more Asian food," Jiang sighs.

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