Although we are neighbours, it is surprising how many differences there are between the Netherlands and Belgium. A few that struck me:
First, the way we sit on the back of a bike. I always envy the way Dutch women take a little elegant run to then sit sideways on the luggage carrier of the bike. In Belgium, most passengers sit down while the bike is at a standstill and sit straight behind the driver (one leg on each side). I have to admit that the ‘Dutch’ way is more comfortable. I just need to practice the run- up, as last time I jumped on the bike a bit too enthusiastically and we almost crashed.
In the Netherlands, the bread is always wrapped in plastic bags, in the supermarkets and in the bakery. In Belgium you always get your bread in paper bags at the bakery and mostly also in paper bags in the supermarket. It might seem trivial, but as a daily bread consumer, it is something that can catch your attention.
One huge difference between the two countries’ education systems is the level of formality. After two years studying at WUR, I am still surprised by how informal the communication is between students and professors. Every time I send an email using a very formal style with Dear Professor X, I get a reply from the professor with ‘Hi’ and only signed with their first name. In Belgium, professors are more attached to their hierarchical status and some of them would not even reply to an informal email from a student.
I just need to practice the run-up
Also, Dutch students are way more proactive in class. In Belgium students just take notes and try to keep a low profile, whereas in the Netherlands, students ask questions all the time. Personally, I like that interaction a lot! My Belgian friends who study in Leuven even joke that if someone asks a question in class, the chances are that person is Dutch.
There are many more things I could talk about, like the concept of student/study associations, tikkies, WhatsApp v Facebook and so on. But there is a limited amount of space available, so maybe another time. Cheers!
Caroline Herman, a BSc student of Soil, Water, Atmosphere.
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