Behind her blue Hello Kitty laptop Lin Xu arduously works on her notes for an upcoming exam. The view on white mountains of paper is breathtaking. With one hand typing on the keyboard the 23-year-old student from Nanjing effortlessly scoops some stir-fried broccoli from a rice bowl. In the background some soothing erhu music plays. She glances at her curriculum and sighs. Tomorrow she’ll pedal her bike alongside frozen ditches and potato fields, to Leiden University.
During the quite unsummery month of July 2011, Lin Xu arrived in The Netherlands to study law. ‘When I got off the plane it was raining and windy. In Summer it’s usually above 30 degrees in my hometown. I knew Holland was famous for its tulips but I discovered it’s even more famous for bad weather, haha!’
Aren’t there law schools in China?, one might wonder. ‘Yes, but I want to be Advanced Master on European and International Business Law, which takes three years in China. It is mandatory to take all kinds of silly courses that I don’t want to waste my time on, because they’ve got nothing to do with law. I knew that in other countries the same study was much shorter. Also I wasn’t really excited to stay in the same spot for years on end, so the idea of going abroad appealed to me. I love the European lifestyle and soon the choice was made: I had to go shopping for some Hello Kitty-clogs.’
Quite the change of scenery if you are used to living in a ‘small’ town with ‘only’ 570.000 people, enjoying most of your spare time in the nearby metropolis of Shanghai. Leiden might be a fairly big city, it is clear that Lin cannot be impressed with that. She used to shop and study in the city that houses more people than the whole of The Netherlands! ‘Life in Leiden is lovely. I have been to some other big cities in this country but I sill love Leiden the most. Cozy atmosphere and nice people. On Saturdays I often stroll the marketplace, looking for fresh goods and making conversation with stall holders. I make many friends here, a mix of East and West. Everything is much more laidback here for Chinese students. In China, we would typically start our schoolday at 7:00 in the morning to memorize English vocabulary and legal terms. In the evening we were not allowed to leave class until 21:00. Now my average school days vary a lot. Sometimes I start in the afternoon and go home only some hours later, but the time I don’t spend at school is richly compensated for by homework, unfortunately. Since I’m doing the advanced version of Master course, it’s very demanding.’ Lin’s study programme is substantially more difficult than the regular master’s programme. It is more focussed towards a business perspective and international law, rather than the more general approach of the regular master’s course that deals with European law only. ‘Back home we had to learn some irrelevant course ever since our primary school. But here I have learnt more practical courses. Also here I feel respected and equal. I hope this is not going to be interpreted wrongly, because Chinese universities do value their students. What I mean is that as a foreign student, I have received a lot of admiration and freedom here overseas. It’s in our culture to work diligently and people seem to appreciate that. Many Asian students also engage in additional activities.’ Lin is currently hosting a radio programme at CRTV in Amsterdam and working as an Assistant Business Consultant at the World Trade Center. As if she hasn’t got enough on her plate yet.
Chocolate. That’s what she needs right now. It’s her magic medicine to prepare for serious exams. And stroopwafels, which she charmingly pronounces as ‘stropwaffles’. But now is not the time to snack, as it’s almost 18:00. Another distraction that she faces daily is the question ‘what to eat?’. Something that Lin misses is the good food to keep herself energized and focussed. ‘In China I could buy all kinds of food, especially vegetables, so I never worried about what to eat. But with your different food culture the choices are limited, and I constrict myself even more because I only like a few local vegetables. Headache inducing, I can tell you! I try not to have the same food for lunch throughout the week. So the big problem for me is to consider what I’ll buy to cook every single day. It really is a challenge.’ Many Dutch students would jealously label her a health freak.
Seven months in a new country have made her cherish her homeland more. The weather, the food, nature. Assisting her father in his real estate company, her mother doing Tai chi exercises and sword play, shopping with her older sister…
Lin has endured more cold and seen more snow this semester than ever before in her life. ‘But I don’t regret coming here. Dutch people leave a good impression on me. And stropwaffles do too!’