Toafik, Anne van den Ban Student - Blog #2

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” - Søren Kierkegaard.
I found this saying quite apt as it resonates with all I’ve been trying to do these past weeks – looking back at everything through retrospective lens, and trying to figure out my next moves. This reflection was spurred partly by a meeting I had with my thesis supervisor who challenged me to draw out a career plan, and partly because six months of Wageningen seems like a milestone. Whoa! I actually cannot get over the fact that its been that long here already, I marvel at how time went by so quick yet each day seem to go only slowly. I would like to tell you about my journey so far here at Wageningen.

Not a walk through the park at all

There is a popular believe in my country that if you graduate from a Nigerian University, studying anywhere else in the world will be like a walk through the park.  This narrative is often rehashed when you meet Nigerian students from the UK and US who have come back home. They tell you “everything is super chilled over there man” in their newly acquired concocted accents. So for the longest time I yearned to have that experience too. I was soon to be disillusioned. Don’t get me wrong, Wageningen University remains the school of my dreams, and I will forever recognize coming here as the turning point of my life. However, while all the opportunities are available for extracurricular activities - with an even flexible program design - they still seem somewhat unattainable for most African students. As one who had come from a system where you are taught 100% to one in which you are only “guided in learning”, it could be tough.

First exam

It was in October and I remember making several notes beforehand, and burning the proverbial midnight oil to prepare. I had a point to prove. The two courses I had taken were introductory courses for my master and I was quite confident that I could smash them. While I had spent the whole time trying to cram figures and memorize the language of the concepts, the questions turned out to be more about the tiny bits of information that held everything else together - the connecting pieces that made it all make sense. I kept saying to myself that I can’t come all the way from across the Mediterranean to this city to fail. I left the exam feeling defeated, almost teary eyed, not sure if I had answered them correctly. When the results finally came it felt like my heart was going to explode just before I checked, I did check and I passed quite well – yay! Right after I took a modular skills course called “learning to learn’’, learning has become quite easier. Most importantly I learnt that learning is a skill that can be mastered, and failing an exam is not failing in life.

The subtle art of making sandwiches

In my opinion, one of the best things about programs in Wageningen is the inclusion of group work, because I believe that the challenges of modern society are not going to be addressed by working in isolation. I try to put my best into them and also embrace the opportunity for integration that they present. For one of my courses, I was in a group of European and American students. We had a really tight deadline so we’d usually work over lunch while we had bites. On one of the days, we decided to have sandwiches and everyone had brought some food items. When my turn came to make my sandwich, first I laced a slice of bread with jam, the other with peanut butter, then I went on to put a slice of cheese between it. Worst move ever! One of my group mates was completely mortified, she looked at me like I had murdered a lamb. I learnt that sandwiches are actually British and the Americans are only being extra with their mountainous layers of fillings. I learnt that sweet lubrication should only go with sweet and savory with savory. Most interestingly, we had an afternoon discussing how food are an important indication of cultural differences, social structures, cosmopolitanism and globalization.

Winter blues

The one-month intense periods, where all the lectures of one course are given in one month, is the true definition of pressure. On these days, I wake up at 7, rush to the shower, grab a quick bite while I listen to the latest podcast about developments at home (one has to stay informed somehow) and then I am out at 8. I spend the whole day jumping from lecture to tutorials, to group discussions, a day of instructions that doesn’t end until 5:20. Additionally, I had to deal with this intense period during winter with zero hours of sunshine. I mean winter itself wasn’t so bad - I had my share of cold and running nostrils, fell off my bike riding in the snow at least twice, survived the dreaded winter blues and was popping vitamin D daily for some sunshine within – yeah it wasn’t so bad

The silver lining

But hey, it has not all been pressure, it’s been quite fun and I dare say that I have grown a lot in person and character too. Since I learnt to integrate, I have sought and found at least some modicum of balance, I am facing my fears of public engagement by taking up more roles within my master program and the organization of African students in Wageningen (UCAS). I joined the program committee for my MSc program and jointly organized an evaluation session to get feedback about the program directly from the students. I am learning to speak Dutch and I try to volunteer for charitable courses whenever the opportunities are present. I met a fellow Nigerian student, born and raised in Europe and she has helped to make the transition even easier by literally pulling me along everywhere - from the gym to swimming lessons, to group study on the weekends and occasional Friday night outs with her amazing friends. Now, I have made plans to visit the Keukenhof, explore the streets of Amsterdam during the Koninginnedag and learn to salsa and visit more European cities.