My first year experience as a master student in Wageningen
It’s already August which means the 2016 academic year is about to start. I can see that international students are gradually coming to Wageningen for the Annual Introduction Days (AID) which is arranged to welcome all the newcomers to this ‘city of life science’. This wonderful weather of the late summer reminds me of my first moment as a freshman in a master programme here. They say time goes by so fast when you are having fun. This is so true. Without realizing, it’s unbelievably been a year of studying abroad for me now!
My name is Chanoknun Wannasin. I’m called Mo and sometimes MiniMo (because of my height). I am originally from Thailand, and I came here with the scholarship for my master and PhD. I’m currently a master student in Earth and Environment program with the specialization in Hydrology and Water Resources.
I started my master in September 2015, and already finished the coursework in my first year. Now I’m enjoying my thesis project in the field of water science. I’m spending most of my working time running the hydrological models in my office space with the cup of hot chocolate in one hand.
From Thailand to the Netherlands
As an international student, I’m often asked, from all countries in the world, why and how did I decide to come to the Netherlands and this small town, Wageningen. I’m sure many other international students have got this question as well.
Firstly, I have to admit that I never imagine my future like this when I decided to study abroad. I knew only a little about the Netherlands, not more than the tulips and windmills. Among Thai people, the most popular countries for studying abroad are definitely the United State, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is known for its beautiful sceneries, and thus for travelling on the holidays. Honestly, I was planning to head to London…
However, since it would be 6 years abroad for me, I wanted the best for myself. I did some searches online and asked my bachelor teachers for advice about the graduated program in hydrology which was my interest. At some point, I figured out that the Netherlands is very popular for water science. Considering its flat landscape below the sea level and the Dutch history in water management since the 9th century, I learned that this country has survived several flood disasters and developed knowledge and technology in the study field for a long time. That was when I realized that this unexpected country would be the right place for me to study abroad. My plans had changed. I caught the last chance. And here I am. Isn’t it the best opportunity to learn from the real experts?
The challenges in the study
When I started my course here, everything in classes seemed to be difficult at first, but that wasn’t a bad thing at all. In contrast, it was very challenging (and still is) and kept me going on and on. With some helps from my study advisor, teachers and friends, I have been improved and enjoyed the study a lot.
The first challenge for me was the study program itself. The courses were totally new to me since I decided to change my study field from Nature Conservation (which was about wildlife and forest) in my bachelor to Hydrology (which is now using physics and mathematics ) for my master. It could make me stressful sometimes, especially on the exam weeks. However, after getting familiar with the new topics, it began to be fun and fascinating. Now I’m happy with this study and never regret that I changed my field.
The second challenge was the language difficulty. My bachelor degree was done in Thai language, so it took me some time to get used to the different accents and scientific language in this master program. In the first period, I had to review the lectures every evening so that I could follow up on the next day. Many international students have experienced this strain. If you are worried about your language skills, trust me it will be okay in time. English is not our mother language, so it’s okay not to be perfect. In fact, most students here speak English as the second language, including Dutch students. So just keep practicing and don’t give up. Soon you will enjoy the accent variety of the students from all around the world.
The other challenge was the difference in the education systems and styles. In Thailand, we have 2 semesters per an academic year, whereas here in Wageningen the courses are provided in 6 periods a year which seems to be more intensive. The interactions between the lecturers and students during the classes are also different. I love how we can discuss and express our thoughts and opinions actively here.
The Life Outside The Classrooms
Even though it was a year full of coursework and exams, I also enjoyed my life after studying. I have joined the university’s activities, participated in a student community, met up with other Thai students, and made international friends.
- The Annual Introduction Days (AID)
This’s the very first activity I joined and the first friend group I have got after arriving Wageningen in August, 2015. It was a great week even though we faced some ‘welcome rains’ almost every day. We went to parties, had a Chinese dinner, Dutch tea, and Spanish language hour together. The mixed cultures were beautiful.
- The Ice Skating Session
I have been a member of the Study Association Pyrus (the association for students of the BSc Soil, Water, Atmosphere, the MSc Earth and Environment and the MSc Geo-information Science at the Wageningen University). With the other 4 students, I’m responsible for the Integration Committee (IntegratCie) which is willing to keep the contacts between Dutch and foreign students in the programs. Last February, we organized the night out for ice skating in Nijmegen. It was the very first time in my life. From the picture below, I can’t say that I could play it perfectly or that it went smooth, but it was totally fun and full of laughs!
My Dutch friend was teaching and helping me with my first ice skating
(Photo by my Indonesian friend, Pramudita Mahyastuti)
- The One World Week
At this yearly event you can express your nationality with your international friends. During the One World Week last April, the Thai student community arranged the Thai kitchen with the Thai Chicken Soup during lunch at Orion for free. About 70 students could enjoy our soup and it was all gone in 30 minutes!
In the evening, we participated in some sport events, such as table tennis, volleyball, running, and rugby. Not that we won, but we really had fun participating.
- The Bike
For my first year in Wageningen, all I really needed was a raincoat and a nice bike. I was surprised by the fact that how the Dutch could cycle at the same speed as the Thais riding motorbikes in Thailand. They could even ride a bike easily while both hands texting the phone. The biggest surprise, was the bicycle jams 10 minutes before the classes start in the every weekday morning…which are really environmentally-friendly jams, contrasting to those traffic jams in Bangkok.
If lesson one to survive in the Netherlands is learning how to ride a bike, I would say lesson two is learning how to fix it. Going to a bike store for having a bike fixed, is quite expensive here. You can easily buy some bike stuff and equipment from the local stores. Maybe I was too greedy, but I did fix my bike by myself and it was actually fun to learn. Survival skills: levelled up!
From my first year here, I’ve learned that studying abroad doesn’t only mean achieving good grades and the higher degree. Of course, that’s the main reason why you came here. However, don’t forget to take some time for relaxing and exploring the life outside the concrete boxes. From my own experience, I can assure you that time flows like a river and never comes back. I hope you enjoy every moment in Wageningen, so that in the next year when you look back at your past, you will be happy with all the new experiences you have gained. Stay active, seek for new thing, and good luck with the upcoming academic year!