A different side of Holland

After a week in Wageningen, blogger Nadya Karimasari concludes that not all stereotypes about this small, rural town are true. But some definitely are.

Wageningen, despite being the location of the best university in the Netherlands, is not always known by strangers. Before I came here, my non-Dutch fellows had said things along the line of: “It’s so quiet, there are more cows and sheep than humans in Wageningen. But it’s a great environment for your baby, it’s very child and family-friendly.” And one of the characters in the Indonesian box-office movie Negeri van Oranje, about student life in Holland, partly filmed in Wageningen, says to his friends: “Wageningen wouldn’t suit you guys, it’s going to be very boring for you as there’s no party life here as there is in Amsterdam.” Interestingly, a colleague who teaches at the Sociology of Development and Change group told me he chooses to commute from Amsterdam to Wageningen three days a week because he says he meets more interesting people there.

I have only been here for one week, but I can safely say that some of these stereotypes are not accurate. Firstly, I haven’t seen any cows. Secondly, I’ve seen some sheep grazing, but I had expected to see a lot more farmland. And thirdly, Wageningen is full of student apartments, more than what I had imagined. This means you see students everywhere and there are parties where students go to de-stress, although, of course, not as many as in Amsterdam.

It amazed me when I had to go to Arnhem to exchange money.

But Wageningen is undeniably different from the parts of the Netherlands I am more familiar with, such as Den Haag and Amsterdam. It is a rural side of Holland that was out of my radar. It amazed me when I had to go to Arnhem to exchange money. On my way there I saw lines of luxurious (for Dutch standards) farm houses with their large lawns. It was like a beautiful sight from the past and very different than my earlier experiences in the Netherlands. I still remember very vividly the very first time I set foot on Dutch soil, at Schipol in August 2010, when I saw two women in punk attire unabashedly kissing for what felt like a very long time. At that time, same-sex marriage was still mostly a taboo, except perhaps in the Netherlands. I couldn’t believe how my first experience was confirming the stereotypes and I said to myself: “Here I am. This is the Netherlands.”

At work I have also encountered some quirky situations that I think are typical of a town like Wageningen. For instance, a staff member in de Leeuwenborch told my friend, in all seriousness, “I can only fix this computer tomorrow. If you want me to do it today, you have to pay.” Of course it was his Dutch sense of humour. My friend didn’t understand it, but he and I laughed. Dutch peculiarities. No matter which part of Holland I am in, it’s always the Dutch people who make me feel at home.

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