Oriëntering at Wageningen

As a way of introducing new students to the university and city, Wageningen University holds a five day long orientation before the 1st period begins. This is called AID – the Annual Introduction Days. It includes a plethora of activities such as concerts, info markets, dinners, speakers, facility tours, games, and more!

Before AID begins, you get assigned to a “family”. Each family loosely consists of two experienced mentors and ten clueless students. My group members came from around the world – Canada, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, and (of course) the Netherlands. Throughout the week, you participate in everything with these people and therefore grow pretty close with them.

Probably the coolest part of this entire experience is learning about everybody’s different background and culture, but finding that we are all passionate for the same life sciences topics that surround our courses (and the daily life of every single person around the world). After all, Wageningen University is the number one agricultural school in the world!

For those of you wondering why I decided to come to Wageningen, there are many components. But probably one of the top influences is the fact that Wageningen is ranked 1st in agricultural schools (as I just told you ten seconds ago, but am reiterating again because it is SO cool), whereas UW-Madison is tied for 5th. Getting to experience a campus/school/city/country that is focused entirely on the life sciences really appealed to me when I was researching my options last year. Additionally, the study abroad office of UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural & Life Sciences offered an exchange program specifically with Wageningen, which was a major factor. All of the staff there helped me narrow down my options and have been with me every step of the way. If you are a CALS student in Madison, I highly recommend checking it out!

Anyways, one of my favorite educational moments during the orientation week was when we participated in a guest lecture. Our speaker came from an organic fruit and vegetable company, EOSTA, that was founded here in the Netherlands. The work that their representative discussed with us was enthralling, but perhaps what was even more thought-provoking was the conversation that some members of my “family” and myself had afterwards. During the talk, the lecturer mentioned that their company avoided using GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He said something along the lines that they steer clear of them because they are “unnatural”.

Well, myself and others in my group disagreed with his negative connotation surrounding GMOs, and instead we had a genuinely nice discussion about all of the benefits of them. We shared our opinions about the positive work with golden rice, saving papayas from ringspot virus, and developing insulin. It was just really great to see that these people that I had been playing games and doing fun activities with all week also honestly cared about the science behind hot topics in the real world – YAY!

But of course, the Annual Introduction Days was more than just educational. It was an amazing time with new friends while getting to know the city. If I went into detail about the itinerary of my week, we would be here for hours. Instead, I’ll just point out some highlights. We found the best deals on buying bikes (probably the most popular mode of transportation here, as well as in the rest of the Netherlands). One day we walked around the market in Wageningen’s city center and ate fresh stroopwafels, a classic Dutch treat. On more than one night there was a live band in the tent on campus, and we ate from food trucks parked nearby. Some activities were located in the Arboretum, so it was really fun to explore part of the forest in Wageningen. My new friends and I also tried our hand at painting windmills! An especially neat part was getting to tour all of the student associations that Wageningen has.

Without this orientation week, I would be completely lost on campus and in the city of Wageningen. I made lots of new friends and created a plethora of memories! I can’t wait to see what else this semester has in store for me here in the Netherlands.