Skip to content

Strangers in Town

At Welcome Day (September 2) some thousand students from all over the world met at Hanze University. What are they looking for in Groningen and what do they have to offer Holland’s Jewel of the North?

Porfirio Osuna (19), Mexico
‘I’ve been lucky ever since I came here. The first week I stayed with my aunt who lives in Leeuwarden. She found me a room in Groningen, it’s not big, but cheaper than I had expected, 250 euros, so that’s okay. The next week I got the keys and managed to buy some furniture at a kringloop-shop. Incredible, altogether it was even cheaper than the bike I bought. I had enough time to settle and learn to ride a bike properly. Next, I did some strolling in town. That was during KEI-week, couldn’t be better. I enlisted in SIB, a students’ association, and AEGIR. I want to become a strong boy and rowing is very nice.
‘I’m eager to learn Dutch. Why not? It sounds very friendly, and Dutch students are willing to help. In a pub I already tried to sing a Dutch song with some Groningen people. Amazing, they applauded me for trying. Groningen has beautiful architecture, old and new. People are very friendly and everyone is easy going, even the police are. Not like in the USA. I was born a Mexican, but I grew up in Houston, Texas. There are a lot of Hispanics in Houston, and there is some pressure on them. Donald Trump, you know. He might become the next president. But that doesn’t bother me, I won’t be back before he is gone. No, that’s just a joke. I’m determined to stay in The Netherlands the next four years, I want to learn everything on Video Game Design.’
Farhana Fayez (21), Saudi Arabia
‘One of my teachers in Finland recommended me to go to Groningen to do the exchange programme in Renewable Energy & Engineering. She told me the Netherlands is very advanced in this field. I only arrived a couple of days ago. I’m really curious about the city.
‘Farhana means happiness. I was brought up more or less bilingual, Arabic and English. In my hometown of Jeddah I went to a school in the UK educational system with American, Egyptian and British teachers. My father is a mechanical engineer, my mother an primary school IT teacher. I have two younger sisters.
‘I’m in my third year at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, the capital of Finland where I study Environmental Engineering. I wanted to experience a different sort of climate and a different kind of culture. And I was not too keen on going to North America or the Middle East where so many of my countrymen go. So Finland seemed a perfect choice. And it’s really become kind of home after three years. I love to snowboard in winter and to organise trips for the students to Lapland and the Christmas village Rovaniemi at the polar circle. I really love to immerse myself into different cultures, but I don’t forget my own culture. That way I’m having the best of both worlds.’
Margaret Ballouz (17), Philippines
‘Nicole, a member of the Erasmus Student Network, came and picked me up at Amsterdam airport. That’s so nice. I really felt welcome and I still do. I arrived two days ago, August 30. I’ll never forget, it was the first time ever I sat in a train. Abu Dhabi doesn’t have trains, just the tube. But even more surprising, I saw cows too. I expected them to be black-and-white, that’s the way they always are portrayed on dairy cartons. But I saw brown ones, grey, even white cows.
‘Yes, you heard right, I’m Filipino, but I was raised in the United Arab Emirates. My mother has started a beauty parlour and my father runs a hotel. I’m from a very international offspring, in my veins runs French, Lebanese, Armenian, Spanish and Russian blood, and Filipino, of course. Filipinos immediately recognise each other. Kabayan?, they ask, that’s means compatriot.
‘My older sister will join me soon. She enlisted for a study in economics in Amsterdam. I chose the Business School. After graduation I want to start a business. I’m not sure what kind of business, I have plenty of time to sort that out.
‘I’m still young. There is no particularly reason for that, I just started school early. I do not feel lonesome. No, I didn’t meet any Kabayan here yet, but I’m okay. Of course my parents are a little bit worried. But they trust me and they absolutely can. I’m doing fine and won’t get in trouble. Although, I managed to get lost yesterday.’
Kristaps Kokins (25), Latvia
‘I’m in my final year of the Marketing & Business study programme at Turiba University in the Latvian capital of Riga. So this actually is my last chance to upgrade my English, to see another culture and to discover something new that may change my future. I’m interested in the bicycle business. Maybe I’ll find new inspiration in this country where everybody owns one or more bikes. Another option is my medical background. I graduated as a doctor’s assistant, working in an ambulance. Maybe I’ll start a pharmacy.
‘I arrived here the day before yesterday. I had no place to stay, but I was really lucky. I flew from Riga to Bremen. In the bus to Groningen I met two Latvian guys. I’m staying at the place of one of them now. As of today I’ll be trying to find a room of my own. I really like Groningen. It’s an old city like Riga. But unlike Riga, where everything is old, there is also a lot of new architecture. I love that combination.’
Valeria Cossalter (22), Italy
Dolce far niente, sweet idleness. Italians appreciate the good life, they might know a little bit too well how to make fun. They can be distracted by anything, as long as it amuses them. They can be serious, of course, but not for too long. I want to make the most of my time in Groningen, I’m eager to learn more about marketing, especially about advertising. The Dutch are really professionals. Italian companies can do better, I think.
‘I’ve been in The Netherlands before. Four times in Amsterdam, once in Maastricht and once in Utrecht. Really nice places. Except from sunshine Holland has everything you need. It’s a relaxed and clean country. Very different from Rome, which is dirty and crowded.
‘I’ve improved my English a lot during my stay in Dublin last year. Yes, six months in Ireland is a tough way to learn English. And about the rain the Dutch must not complain. You know what they say about Irish weather? That’s four seasons each and every day. And I really liked it! So, in Groningen I certainly will survive. At the moment I stay at the Student Hotel. As a matter of fact, the coffee over there is really okay. And I can tell, I’m Italian.’
Beatriz Luz de Carvalho (17), Brazil
‘I was born in Rio de Janeiro, but my parents moved to São Paulo where I grew up. Unlike Rio where millions of tourists swarm to every year, São Paulo is more like a work city. My father is a businessman, my mother also used to be in business before I was born. So it would have been logical for me to follow a business programme as well. I intended to do just that, but last year I changed my mind. I love photography, particularly analogue photography, which I feel is more artistic than digital. I decided I wanted to develop myself as an artist and study Fine Art. Holland is a good country to do so with a strong cultural background.
‘My parents accepted my choice. They’re very supportive. They always stimulated me to follow my passion. I went to a bilingual school, with many native speakers of English as teachers. Maybe that’s why it’s a natural thing for me to travel to other countries. I feel quite at home in Groningen after I arrived here ten days ago. I live in a student house near the centre. The city is small with lots of things to see and do. Everything is well organised and clean. I’m sure I’ll be quite happy here.’
Jihyeon Yoon (21) and Da Hea Moon (22), South Korea
Jihyeon: ‘We’re friends and we are both in our third year of the Journalism study programme at the Chung-Ang University in Seoul. The people here are so extremely friendly. Everyone wanted to help us when we arrived and offered to carry our bags. The study we do in Seoul is very broad, including written journalism, TV and radio journalism and social media. I think I would prefer to become a TV journalist.’
Da Hea: ‘We came to Groningen for the Journalism exchange programme because our original study programme in Seoul concentrates on theory, whereas the Hanze programme is very practical. We hope to learn a lot here. The way we were received was so nice. A buddy from the Erasmus Student Network picked us up and took us to our apartments. She explained a lot to us about Groningen and Hanze. We can always contact her if we have any questions.’
Trân Gia Huy (24), Vietnam
‘My father owns a packaging firm for bicycle parts. I have three elder sisters. Everybody calls me Sam. I studied IT design in Vietnam. After that I went to Macao in China. I spent three years there. But it was hard to find permanent employment there as a non-resident. I think the Computer Science bachelor programme at Hanze is a much broader study programme than the one I did before, giving much better job opportunities.
‘Holland is one of the cheapest countries to study. But that was not my principal reason for coming here. Movies about dikes, windmills and fields full of flowers have captured my imagination since I was a kid. I really love Holland. I arrived three days ago. When I left Vietnam it was 36 degrees. So I still feel really cold. My body is not used to this chilly weather yet, but I’m sure I’ll be fine in a couple of weeks.’
Daly Sengmany (24), France
‘My parents live in Paris. My father is an IT specialist and my mother is a housewife. I’m the youngest, I have two elder sisters. I was born in France but my parents came from Laos.
I follow the master’s programme at the Institute of Business in Nancy, in the north-east of France. A colleague of mine at the Paris banking company where I did my internship, told me Groningen was such a beautiful and interesting city. Her enthusiasm caught on. So here I am to follow an exchange programme at the International Business School. I’m looking forward to a new culture, a new way of life. When I finish this exchange programme I have my master’s degree. And then? Who knows, maybe I’ll stay here in Groningen.’

Pictures: Luuk Steemers