Monday, July 8, 2013

What I learned about the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Sweden

Officially, the end of my first year of European Master in Food Studies was over. With tears and hugs, byes and kisses, sweet and sour memories. Friendships developed - sometimes temporarily broken for reasons I could never comprehend - and memories woven. It was almost always lively around me, and I felt that I had a new family in Europe.

Now, let's put aside the emotional moments (because I'll start crying, alone in Rotterdam) and talk about things that I learned from staying in different countries throughout this one year. Just as an overview, our masters program involved being enrolled in four different universities in four different European countries, with students from all over the continents. In my edition, we have people from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Romania, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Hongkong/UK (dual citizenship), India, Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia.

You may agree or disagree with some points that I mentioned, but keep in mind that whatever is written here is merely of my perspectives, and I don't mean any harm when I write this.

Well, let's start with the Netherlands :)

1st stop: Wageningen University, The Netherlands
- The Dutch are super punctual, with the exception of a few. Some professors may decide to lock you out if you come late to class.
- Appointments are crucial, even when you lost your phone and wanted to make a police report.
- Similarly, when you are sick, you need to make a doctor's appointment. If you're lucky, you can see the doctor on the next day.
- If you can't bike, you seem like a handicapped person in the Netherlands.
- Consider yourself comparable to a Dutch when you know how to bike while drinking beer, dragging a luggage behind you, or some crazy stunts.
- 'Gratis' is a nice word.
- They put sate sauce (Indonesian peanut sauce) on fried rice and even French fries (they call it the French fries warfare). And I really still find it weird up till this day.
- Ketjap manis in the Netherlands doesn't taste really good.
- Words borrowed from Indonesian language seemed to be written in what we call "ejaan lama / Van Ophuijsen" or "old spellings" in Indonesia (use Google's translation function to read the article about Van Ophuijsen spellings - it's in Indonesian). After all, Indonesia was colonized for 300 years by the V.O.C.
- When washing dishes, the Dutch people do it like how the street food carts wash dishes in Indonesia: the same water with some dishwashing liquid, reused over and over again to wash and to rinse the plates (they don't use clean water to rinse the plates).
- You hear so much "khrrr" sounds in Dutch sentences, and you'd probably be interested to try mimicking that sound for a while (if you're not so used to it).
- The Dutch people have a different sense of humour that might be a little bit hard to understand. Sometimes, you might think it's a cruel joke, but you'll get used to it. They don't mean harm.
- If you don't want to eat insipid, cold sandwich with only either one slice of cheese or one slice of ham, with no tomatoes, lettuce, or sauces of any kinds, or eat fresh cucumbers during lunch, then you have not adapted well to the Dutch culture.
- You will get familiar with the smell of weeds.
- If you have a somewhat fair skin and eyes that are not as big as the Europeans or the Latins, random Dutch students on campus may shout "nihao" to you regardless of where you come from. And I still don't get why they find this amusing.
- Most Dutch people pronounce "idea" as "ID". At specific occasions, it can be pretty confusing until you get used to it.
- Kroket is eaten with a toast or bread. McDonald's in the Netherlands even sells McKroket, which is basically a burger with kroket inside.

2nd stop: University College Cork, Ireland
- The houses are colourful because it is almost always cloudy and gloomy.
- There is no special bike lanes, unlike in the Netherlands.
- The Irish are unbelievably nice. They are almost like saints, and I'm not joking. I wonder how this kind of nice culture can be developed. A bus driver stopping the bus in the middle of the road to show you directions, and no cars behind the bus honking in anger? Uber coolness.
- If you open a door first and you see someone coming from another side, open the door and let that person pass first.
- Paddy Wagon is the best friend of students who like to travel around Ireland.
- The English Market is super awesome, and chicken and pork meat are insanely cheap.
- Bailey's cheesecake is a must to try, especially when Bailey's originated in Ireland. Anyways, there are a lot of Bailey's product in Ireland that you should try, including this Bailey's chocolate sticks.
- Guinness ice cream is nice, even if you don't like Guinness (I think it tasted like medicine).
- It's quite difficult to understand the English accents and expressions of the Irish, but after 2-3 weeks you'll get used to it.
- Girls wear 15cm heels and dresses with ultra short skirts at night to the pub / club / bar. Very sexy.

3rd stop: AgroParis Tech, France
- The French are, in general, not so friendly to those who don't speak French. Of course there are exceptions.
- Speaking English is definitely not a plus point when you're in France.
- If you try your best to speak French, people are in general more willing to help you.
- Pickpockets are everywhere on the train and train stations. Always be alert.
- The trains in Paris smell bad. Most of the time.
- Paris is the heaven for food. Almost always you will find good food, although your wallet may hurt.
- Baguette is a student's best friend. It's cheap (80 cents each), it's long, and the best is the one that just came out of the oven. It's crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside. In Indonesia, a baguette can be used to hit a house burglar, just like a baseball bat.
- McDonald's in Paris sells baguette, too.
- Eating too much baguette may cause horizontal expansion of your body. Not kidding.
- 3 course meal for 3.10 euros from school cafetaria is awesome. But again, horizontal expansion of your body is inevitable.
- Lunch time is 1.5 hours.
- When you're under 25 and you're a student, go to as many museums as you can because they're free.
- Never go to Notre Dame du Paris during Easter if you want to pray properly. The tourists and their cameras will distract you, and prevent you from getting a seat.
- International mass at church means having the first reading in English, and the rest of the mass is a mix of Italian, Spanish and Latin.
- Macarons are everywhere. And Laduree is a little bit overrated.
- If you walk along Champs-Élysées, you will find Asians (especially from China and Indonesia) crowding expensive stores like Louis Vuitton and Long Champ.
- Arab Markets are great places to buy cheap, fresh fruits and veggies. And even your undies.

4th stop: Lund University, Sweden
- Fika (a break) is an essential part of the Swedish culture. No matter what, they always have fika every day without fail.
- Lagom is also an important word, which means "not too much, not too little".
- Once again, you will need a bike.
- Going to IKEA is always awesome, even though now it is owned by the Dutch.
- Swedish meatballs should be accompanied with lingonberry, and not cranberry. It's different.
- H&M is a Swedish brand, but the prices are not any cheaper. Still, they have good collections, especially when you go to Stockholm. There are at least 5 H&Ms around the city centre, one of those being called H&M Home (the 'headquarter' of H&M).
- Herrings, herrings and herrings of all types.
- Pickles in Sweden contain mostly sugar.
- Cheesecake in Sweden can be savoury, filled with seafood.
- Sweden is a safe country, but it doesn't mean that you can lower your guard down. 3 people, including me, had their phones stolen.
- Skåne is a region in south of Sweden.
- Everyone in Sweden is always ready for summer. Weekend + sunny weather = picnic.
- Good weather = barbecue time.
- Sometimes, when it says 10:00 on a schedule, it means 10:15.
- Travelling with Jojo card saves you 10% of travel cost.
- Buying duo-family ticket (works for 2 adults) saves you additional 20% of travel cost. Sadly, you have to travel in even numbers.
- You can pay tickets from the ticketing office with a combination of jojo card, cash or card.
- Getting a bike in early May is difficult because everyone graduates in late May.

And aside from this, I'm sure I have some learning points missing. This one year has been filled with a lot of learnings: in class and outside the class. The differences in cultures and perspectives can be somewhat a challenge, but this one year is the perfect time to not only notice the differences, but also to understand the differences and to learn to compromise. I have never been immersed in a group so rich in cultural differences, and I have to thank this masters program for it.

This one year has been very awesome, and even though it comes with a price of having to move almost every two months with all belongings, worrying about overweight luggages and shipments, with internship, where to stay next, an ongoing team project, classes and exams, financial spending... it's not as breezy as people think about this program. But it's definitely worth all the effort :)


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