Hello! My name is Benjamin, I’m a 4th year Environmental Biology student at Ryerson and I’m on exchange at Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands! In this post I’m going to share some of my experiences on exchange so far.
I will admit, prior to arrival I was on edge – the process of applying, sending documents, obtaining a residency permit, finding housing etc. was a little bit stressful. Communication with WUR was difficult due to the time change and part-time hours of the exchange coordinators. It seemed like everything was done very last minute and at the time, I was a little freaked out. Now that I am here I can see this reflects the laid-back lifestyle lead here in the Netherlands. Although stressful, it all worked out in the end and I’m glad I stuck with it!
Arrival and Adjusting to Dutch Life
I arrived to Wageningen on January 2, 2017 – what a way to start the new year! I moved into my room in “Stadsbrink”, one of the many student housing complexes here, without a hitch! Here I have a private room sharing kitchen/living facilities with 11 other students with a variety of nationalities (Chilean, German, Indonesian and Mexican to name a few). My building is only a few minutes walk to the historic Wageningen city centre. The city centre is very compact, centred around a pedestrian only cobblestone street (“Hoogstraat”). Although small, the centre has anything you could need: restaurants, grocery stores, retail etc. Twice a week there is a farmers market in the market square surrounding the “Grote Kerk” (translated to literally “Big Church”).
The Dutch language has posed a bit of a challenge. For instance, bus and train announcements are often only in Dutch and I only know what I am buying at the grocery store 50% of the time (I’ve been looking for salted butter for 2 months). My attempts of learning Dutch have been pretty fruitless. Pronunciation for me is proving nearly impossible. It took me a few weeks to even say “Wageningen” properly (kind of like “va-ha-ning-a” with a toothpick caught in your throat). Luckily everyone under the age of 50 speaks practically perfect English! That being said, being surrounded by the language I have picked some up subconsciously – I can now travel no problem and can read most menus. It’s a strange language, but its growing on me!
Being an Exchange Student
Before arrival, the university assigns you into a “Buddy Group” of about 10 international students and 2-3 “Buddy Leaders”. My buddy leaders were great about organizing events within the first weeks of arrival so that we could make connections with other exchange students right away! They were also very helpful answering any questions I had about life in Wageningen, school, travelling and more. Also, the International Exchange Erasmus Student Network (IxESN) hosted many events in the first weeks for all buddy groups including dinners, dancing, karaoke, day trips etc. which were always fun and very inclusive. Even a few months in, there are still events for exchange students at least once a week. With over 25% international students at WUR, being an exchange student is a breeze!
Academics at WUR
The most common question I get asked both by students here and friends back home is how does education compare between WUR and Ryerson. Overall I think it is very comparable; however, it is hard to judge as the WUR system is quite a bit different than Ryerson’s. Instead of semesters, the year is split into 6 periods which are 4 or 7 weeks, where students take 1 or 2 classes at a time. Classes typically have a lecture, group work and practical component. This means even if you are taking only one class you can expect to have 3-6 hours of class per day. “Excursions” (or field trips) are also very common here, some classes having weekly outings. This is a great opportunity to see how what you are learning could be applied in the community.
The facilities at WUR are incredible – most buildings are very new with state of the art equipment and labs. Wageningen is nicknamed “city of life sciences” as WUR (and other companies) is heavily focused on environmental and agricultural studies. This also means a wide variety of course options and experts in these fields teaching at WUR. So far I have completed the class “Insects as food and feed” where I was taught all about insect farming; something I didn’t know I was interested in. And no, I didn’t eat any bugs but I might try them now! Currently I’m taking the class “Water Quality” which looks at issues surrounding fresh water systems. This course is very calculation heavy but it’s interesting getting to dive into real world water issues and try modelling software I’ve not yet been exposed to.
Overall I am very happy with my exchange so far in Wageningen and can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!
Until next time,