‘Coming here helped me accept myself better’

| Michaela Nesvarova

In the series The International, UT students from all over the world talk about their lives, studies, choices and passions. In this episode: Jana Bergmann (22), Bachelor’s student of Communication Science. ‘We need to be proactive, not just wait for the Dutch people to teach us.’

‘I come from Germany, from a very small town about an hour drive from Cologne. My surroundings were a village, a lot of cows and a forest. So coming to Enschede about two and half years ago was quite a change for me, even though many people say Enschede is small. I enjoy that aspect, though. I like that you randomly meet people you know on the street. That is one of the things that make me feel welcome here.’

‘The choice to come study at the UT was a bit random. I had problems deciding because I have many interests. What convinced me was the “walk along” day when I could join a UT student. I met a lot of nice and relaxed people, everyone seemed so accepting. The campus itself was a big plus. I liked that there were so many associations we could join.’

Sense of ‘gezelligheid’

‘Germany and the Netherlands are so similar, it was hardly a big change to move here, especially compared to students from Asia, for example. Still, certain cultural aspects are very different here. I like the straightforwardness of Dutch people, but you need to know that it’s happening in order to respond well. And there are many traditions you need to get used to, such as the Sinterklaas. But that is something I really enjoy – learning about the culture. What I like the most here is the sense of “gezelligheid” [coziness]. The culture here is about being social, friendly and trying to include everyone.’

‘Still, it was a challenge to fully integrate. From the beginning I tried to attend events focused primarily on Dutch students, because I wanted to learn about the country and the people. That was challenging because I didn’t understand the language. But once I started to stand up and make sure that everyone knew I wanted to be part of the conversation, it got better. Everyone is very welcoming. Now I understand the language and it’s all fine. It’s also up to yourself if you are open to it. People who are not open to other cultures and don’t want to engage in another language won’t learn it. We need to be proactive, not just wait for the Dutch people to teach us.’

Activism

‘I really like to be active. I was on five or six committees in my first year and then I took a full board year. I was a chairwoman of the Study Association Communiqué and Chairperson at Overleg Studieverenigingen (Organisation of Study associations). Now I’m trying to set up new associations. I’m really amazed that UT gives us so many opportunities for activism. It’s a pity that so many students, especially international students, don’t see the value in it. The average international student just wants to study, which is understandable because they are often on scholarships. But it is a pity, because student activism teaches you so much about yourself and working with others. If I only studied, I would have never thought of evaluating a contract or organizing a big event. It teaches you a lot of management and planning skills.’

Sign language

‘Besides studies and all the committees, I have passions I’d like to pursue. I would love to learn sign language. As a kid, I could not hear. I lost my hearing when I was ten months old. It was difficult to communicate with other kids, because you can’t understand them and they can’t understand you. I intuitively learnt how to lipread and I had many surgeries, which eventually helped to restore my hearing. So now I’m all fine, but it would be nice to be able to talk to people who can’t speak.’

Moving away

‘I’d like to stay at the UT for my Master’s. I really like travelling and when I was at high school I imagined myself just travelling all over the world at this point, but I also learnt that I enjoy it here and don’t want to interrupt it. I want to enjoy this moment. After my studies, I’d still like to go abroad for a year and eventually I’d like to end up at a company that does something good for the planet. For now, I’m not planning to go back to Germany. Coming here showed me so many different ways of living and solving problems. It helped me to accept myself better, but to also accept other people better.’