Toafik, Anne van den Ban Student - Blog #1

I arrived here in Wageningen – the Harvard of Life sciences as I like to call it - this summer, to study Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management and boy It has been quite an experience!
I have always wanted to share my stories but I was never able to grow the guts to get something written –  something other people than myself might find at least amusing if not insightful. I mean I sometimes write a personal journal but it’s often bullocks. So this is actually my first public journal and it is exciting that I get to write it for my scholarship board – the Anne van de Ban Fonds. Now that the excuse is out, forgive me if after reading you find a lack of  style, amusement or insight. Also I promise that if you  just manage to read this one to the end, I will endeavour to improve and get better at the second attempt.

A little about Taofik

I am Taofik, a first year masters students from Lagos, Nigeria. I am a beneficiary of the Wageningen Fellowship Program – Anne van de Ban fonds scholarship, 2018. I arrived here in Wageningen – the Harvard of Life sciences as I like to call it - this summer, to study Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management and boy It has been quite an experience!

Coming to the Netherlands

I had just left an interview with a multinational in Lagos, Nigeria, when I got the email that I had been considered for the scholarship. It was my third meeting with the top management of the firm and for reasons I couldn’t understand we were having a hard time coming to an agreement. So at that point, scholarship to finally study in Wageningen was the best that could have happened, I mean it was the second time I had been offered the admission but I was not considered for a scholarship the first time. This was a dream come true, a little too good to believe. I still remember the joyful expression on the faces of my parents when I shared the news. I remember my mother trying to sneak some local food items into my bag without minding the baggage limit. Now that I think about it all, I probably should have pretended I didn’t see her, how I crave for some Tapioca and moimoi for breakfast or  garri and smoked fish for lunch or wheat flour and egusi soup for dinner. Then the day I finally had to leave home, the trip to the airport was the shortest trip ever despite the traffic. It was a mixed feeling of joy and nostalgia, seeing me to the airport were some of the most important people in my life and I knew I was going to miss them - I knew I was going to miss home.

My first experiences

The flight was a direct one from Lagos to Amsterdam, only 7 hours so I was not too jet lagged thankfully. The first thing that struck me upon arrival in Schipol was the efficiency of everything, the precise direction signs at every turn, the swiftness of immigration checks and the smooth ride to campus. It was the same efficiency that greeted me on the day of the registration. Luckily I had made some friends of fellow Nigerian scholars, and we left our various student housings early to arrive at the venue on time because of course we expected to see a long queue. After all, there ought to be about a crowd of 2000 new students, but to our pleasant surprise there were only a few people and a lot of smiling administrative staff eager to “hello” you and ask about your ride to the city. Registration was very tidy and lasted less than 30 minutes. The only times I got an idea of how many new students there were was during the AID parties.

One of the things that strikes you as an international student when you first get to Wageningen is the serenity, the greenness lining both sides of the street, and the close romance with nature. Then there was getting into the bike culture. I find it amusingly strange that even rich people use bicycles here, for a moment I imagined my dean of faculty from my bachelors riding on a bicycle and I remember how it made me chuckle – what a sight that would have been. It is quite nice escaping the bustle of a busy city like Lagos, or Accra or Mumbai with the endless hooting of car horns to a nice little academic village. Although, I am still trying to figure out how the Dutch show their wealth because there is no obvious social class system one can readily identify.

Studying in Wageningen

Eventually the AID ended and I got into the real business of why we are here. The study structure and the work load are something I could never have imagined, you literally hit the ground running. The teachers don’t joke, they are already at full throttle from day one. Found myself shuffling between lecture, practical and tutorials before I could even understand how things were structured. The system is designed such that you figure most of it out as you go. And just at the moment I felt I could start to settle in and start to understand the lectures, 7 weeks were over and exams were here. I mean I was used to long semesters where I  only wrote exams at the end of 4 months and usually with one or two assessments done in between for all the courses taken that semester, so this was totally new territory.

The Social life

One of the most beautiful things about Wageningen is its international outlook. I remember thinking I was going to be lonely here before I left home. It was a huge comfort to get here and find that international students from different nationalities have organizations that tend to the welfare of their new members and help through the process of adjusting to the new culture and system. I will remain eternally grateful to the United Community of African Students (UCAS) and the Nigerian students association for providing a core support system for me upon arrival. It is really heart-warming that of about every 10 students you meet, one is an international student. More interesting is the fact that our experiences are so similar, and you just need to strike a conversation with someone to learn that there are just so many parallels in our backgrounds and the way we perceive the new environment. So perhaps, you are one of those still struggling with adjusting, I implore you to talk to someone – it might just turn out that the other international you see nodding to everything the professor says during the lectures is just as confused as you are, it might be that be that the Asian guy across the hall you wouldn’t talk to misses home as much as you and is just looking for someone to talk to. At the end day, you can only feel better afterwards.

End note

It might interest you to know that I struggled with the words to start this blog and only got inspiration as I attended an Indian event - Dillawi (the Festival of Lights). It was Bollywood come to Wageningen, with a lot of colour, and happy people stomping their feet and dancing with utter abandon - something that only a feeling of home can evoke. Another beautiful thing about the evening was that it wasn’t just Indian students at the event, but every continent was represented. The Indians do know how to throw a party and the Chinese know how to rock one. I think we all need that release from time to time.