A Dutchman In Sheffield - A Minority Perspective
Peter-Ben Smit, Holland
Something that struck me in both the various International Student newsletters and my contacts with fellow students, is that there is an enormous variety of nationalities. A quick glance at the back of November's International Student* tells me that there are, for instance, 393 students from Malaysia, 204 from China, 167 from Greece, 81 from Mexico and 7 from The Netherlands, of whom I'm one.
Since there's such an overwhelming number of students who are – from my perspective – from quite exotic parts of the globe, I'd like to share my experiences with you. I'm even more inclined to do this since the contributors of the previous International Student who wrote about their experiences are mainly from outside Europe. I value that highly and therefore want to add my European and Dutch experiences.
As you can see in the numbers I quoted above, I'm a member of a minority group in the University. This is a strange experience, since before I came to Sheffield to do a Masters in Biblical Studies, I studied in Holland at the University of Amsterdam and the Old Catholic Seminary. It speaks for itself that, as a native of the Netherlands, I was part of the majority there. Because of this the perspective of a member of a minority is very helpful and enriching. For instance: nobody speaks my language around here (ok, I have to admit, the students of the Department of Germanic Studies whom I meet in the conversation classes are a notable exception). Next to no one knows more about Amsterdam, where I studied, than that there's a famous red light district with a very liberal drugs culture. Which, as a matter of fact, is true. Actually, I even used to live at the border of this area in Amsterdam. And only here I realise what an exception this 'City of Sin' (as the Guardian wrote a couple of month ago) in fact is.
In addition to this, I learned as well how limited my own perspective was as a member of the dominant cultural group in Holland. I held, and still hold, my stereotypical view of British culture, but I've learned to be open for surprises, trying not to be too naive and believe everyone. A strange experience was for me some time ago the preparation (i.e. rehearsals) of the Singing Society for the Carol Concert. Everyone seems to know these songs very well. I don't of course, which is actually very funny, since I even studied church music in the Netherlands at the Conservatory of Amsterdam...
What else? From a more academic point of view, I have to say that I find the difference, in fact the watershed, between post- and undergraduate students is very difficult for me. Sometimes – but this might be my own fault as well, of course – we really seem to be two separate communities instead of one scholarly community in one department. In Holland this quite hierarchical atmosphere doesn't exist (as far as the places I've studied are concerned) and I must admit that I'm still not really used to it here. But who knows, I still have time to go!
Peter-Ben Smit, Holland
* The regular newsletter for international students.