In the eye of the beholder: The Netherlands through young Chinese eyes

When you were in high school, how much did you know about other countries? What about countries on the other side of the world? Opening eyes to different cultures and experiencing a new country firsthand is what 20 students from the Sint Maartens College did in China. This exchange was made possible by Dutch company Globi that offers school matchmaking and intercultural training services.

While in China, the students stayed with families from Chinese students of the high school affiliated to the Capital University of Economics and Business. On April 11th, both the Chinese and Dutch students visited the Netherlands embassy to exchange their experiences so far. At the same time, they learned more about the work of the embassy through a speech of education counsellor David Pho. Head of the Press and Cultural Affairs Department Ineke van de Pol, also held a short speech on Sino-Dutch cultural exchange and showed Dutch design items.

But the real exchange of course happens at the homes of the Dutch and Chinese students. The Chinese students will go to the Netherlands in September and were very eager to learn about the country. The many questions raised, ranged from curiosity about Dutch vegetarian habits to differences between the educational systems and the lack of dorms in Dutch schools. And of course, the Chinese students could immediately receive answers from their Dutch classmates and embassy staff. For example, a Dutch student mentioned that being vegetarian, is largely an individual choice. She explained that she made the decision because she felt sorry for the animals and wanted to contribute to a better environment.

During the session, a video was also shown which another Chinese student from the same high school made. She went to the Netherlands before and explained how much she enjoyed Dutch hospitality and culture. Afterwards, the Dutch students were also eager to share their most surprising observations after coming to China: Chinese traffic is scary, breakfast and lunch are heavy meals, there are a lot of trees but also a lot of skyscrapers and many more.

With China being an important player globally, the need for knowledge of Chinese culture and the language only increases. In addition, more high schools in the Netherlands are now offering Chinese. Exchanges like these which enable students from both countries to experience the different realities in countries firsthand, play an important role in bridging cultural gaps.