Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes Fotografie
The 36 German students interviewed for the series Grüsse aus Holland have more in common than their nationality: they were strikingly polite and friendly and all are taking their studies seriously. Here, Observant draws up the balance.
The main question in every interview was: Do you feel integrated? Most of the interviewees said they did feel more or less integrated, though all differentiated between UM, Maastricht and the Netherlands. “UM is a microcosm: the university is not that integrated in the city. I’m integrated in UM, but not in Maastricht’s society, nor in Dutch society”, says Claire Leifert, a student of European Studies. But Matheus Dyczynski, a second-year student of Molecular Life Sciences and president of study association Helix, has a Dutch girlfriend, reads de Volkskrant online and speaks fluent Dutch; he feels integrated in Dutch society.
What’s the best way to integrate? “Learn Dutch” is the advice of almost all the students we interviewed. It’s not only polite to speak the language of the country you’re staying in; it also makes you feel at home. One problem: it’s not easy to practise Dutch because everybody switches over to English if they hear your Dutch isn’t that great.
But there’s one very good way learn the language very quickly – just ask Stefan Flörkemeier and Nina Lucia Stephan, both members of the rowing club Saurus. Join a student society, they say. Or study medicine, says Leonard Föhr, who learned the language during a summer course. “We have 340 first-year students, and only four of them are German. So it’s easy to integrate; it happens very fast.”
There was one striking issue that almost everybody mentioned: the difference in age between the Dutch and the German students. As UCM student Charlotte Wagner put it: “The Dutch students are a lot younger. We start studying when we’re twenty. Most of us have already been abroad, had a job. For most Dutch students it’s their first experience standing on their own feet, without their parents. They still have to find out things like: how long can I stay up without collapsing? And the two groups have a different kind of ambition. I think that’s the reason why in my first year the entire three-percent group [the best three percent of students from each programme get their tuition fees back –ed.] was German, except for Marie Zwetsloot, the only Dutch winner.”
And for the rest? Some of them love bitterballen, while others never eat the typical Dutch herring and drop. Few of them like the Dutch bread: “It’s awful, it tastes like nothing and you can squeeze it.” But almost all of them are enthusiastic about that specific attitude of the Dutch: “The people are so friendly and open”, explains Hannah Wegner. Less serious than the average German citizen and more relaxed, the majority agrees.