I consider Wageningen a commuter campus. What I mean by that is many students simply live at home (somewhere else in the Netherlands) and then take public transportation a considerable distance every day to come to class. One of my friends rides the train for nearly an hour and a half to get here. Another travels over an hour each way as well. I guess I could even be considered a commuter because I technically live in a different town and it takes me half of an hour to get from my room in Ede to campus in Wageningen. Other students do live on campus, but usually just go home to their parents’ houses every Friday after class and don’t come back to campus until Monday morning. That is part of the reason why I don’t stay around on the weekends and prefer to go out and travel – even if it is just to Amsterdam to some museums – because nobody else stays here so there isn’t that much to do.
Looking back, I probably should have prepared myself more before I came over here in August. Sure, I had googled the university and met with my advisors and everything, but I was kind of coming into it blind. For starters, I didn’t even know how to pronounce ‘Wageningen’ correctly (to be honest, I still struggle). Hint: g’s in Dutch are some kind of impossible-to-master guttural noise. My disastrous pronunciation of the city name makes all of my classmates here laugh. They think it’s hilarious to show me other Dutch words and have me try to pronounce them because I BUTCHER them every time. Oops! Although, if they were to try and pronounce some of the Wisconsin towns from back home (Ashwaubenon, Wausau, Oconomowoc, Mukwonago, and Waukesha, to name a few) I am sure it would work exactly the same way.
Going back to my living situation in Ede, I wish that I would have known to start my housing when I first decided to apply to Wageningen – even before I got accepted. The way that the housing company, Idealis, works is that those who apply earliest have the most priority. If I would have made my account with Idealis in March when I applied to study abroad, I probably would have gotten a room near campus and could have been involved more in activities with my friends. Not to use distance as an excuse, but the idea of either biking in the cold or sitting on a crowded bus for half of an hour each way always makes me question whether going to Wageningen for a social event is even worth it. But with me being new to the entire process, I didn’t register with Idealis until I was accepted into Wageningen in June. That meant that when rooms started to become available in July, I was far down on the priority list. Less than three weeks before my flight for Amsterdam, I still did not have anywhere to live for when I arrived. I only secured a room in the next town over, Ede, two weeks before I arrived in the Netherlands.
Nonetheless, there are lots of amazing and unique things about Wageningen, and I definitely do not regret coming here. More specifically, being able to attend a university that has such a high number of international students has been eye-opening. For example, a significant part of my grade in all four of my classes has consisted of group projects. Two of them have been scientific papers, and I cannot emphasize enough how difficult it can be to try to explain the English language to those who aren’t as familiar with it as I am. So while working with peers whose first language is not English definitely has its moments of frustration, it has been an amazing opportunity to improve my own skills of collaboration and teamwork. Additionally, I have been able to meet many new people from all corners of the globe in my courses. I have gained new perspectives from all of them! Every person offers a different background and contributes various information and viewpoints, especially in group projects, so it creates a great learning environment when we work together.
Wageningen, like the rest of the Netherlands, is very crowded with bikes. The racks in front of the main building fill up fast in the mornings and stay that way all day. The first week of classes I learned that the hard way. My first morning of lecture back in September, I parked my bike at the end of a row. When I came out at the end of the day after my classes, I was walking laps around the racks for probably ten minutes looking like an idiot. All of the bikes looked exactly identical! After finally finding mine, I realized why some people attach objects such as flowers and baskets to their handlebars – to tell them apart. When I got back to my room that night, I immediately tied a ponytail and ribbon to my front handlebars to avoid any more future disasters. Another thing that I find intriguing and pretty nice here at Wageningen University is the ‘caffeine breaks’. Our lectures are usually an hour and a half long, but halfway through each one, the professor will tell us to take ten minutes and go get coffee. I have never had that happen in Madison, and so I really appreciate the few minutes in order to do things such as check the notifications on my phone and to stand up and stretch my legs.
While I love everything that Wageningen and the Netherlands have to offer, I miss home. Seeing my friends post lots of pictures together back home for Thanksgiving break honestly felt like a punch to the gut. I wish I could have been eating mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie with my family, instead of being 3,123 miles across the globe. At this moment I wish for nothing more than a hike at Devil’s Lake State Park, my cat, and some cheese curds dipped in ranch from Culver’s. But, on the bright side, I did not have to witness the Badger’s lose the Axe in person. And, Wageningen was just ranked (for the 14th consecutive year) as the best University of the Netherlands! So it is not hard to see that while although I am homesick, I am grateful to be studying abroad right where I am, here in Wageningen.