Weichuan Zhao

PhD student

Next year, I want to learn some Dutch, and in general: learn more about Dutch culture. It has been hard sometimes to fully integrate in Dutch society. I am from China, so I am used to play badminton, ping-pong or basketball, but those hobbies pretty minor here. In time I hope I will no longer find myself puzzled in the aisle of an AH, unable to understand the labels. Or when I get an official letter I can’t make heads or tails of. Luckily I have always been around Dutch people, for example in my house: I can always ask for my neighbour’s help.

Last year, especially at the very beginning, there were quite some times when I felt quite isolated and upset. Many of my Chinese friends went back to China, and with the time difference it was very hard to keep in touch with them. Even with my family that connection was hard. In those instances I could rely on my housemates to cheer me up. Or other friends I made, with whom I could go to the beach in Scheveningen, just to have a stroll and some drinks along the coast. Funnily enough I find also relief in my work. Even though I occasionally feel like I am in over my head, I can find comfort in simply ignoring everything else and focusing on my studies. Undoubtedly my daily supervisor and promoter play an important role therein: they have become somewhat of a friend. I can always approach them for questions. Not only related to my academic work but also the experience of living overseas.

It is important to occasionally open yourself up to others.

I guess what it all boils down to: to find ways to break isolation. To get yourself out there. For that, we need other people. And you yourself have to be willing to ask other people for help. Not just personal acquaintances, by the way. Sometimes when I felt a depressed and quite down I called a Chinese psychologist – just to talk to. She has helped me immensely, even if they were just small and occasional talks.

And now, of course, I am very fortunate to be back in China. For the first time since COVID I can see my family in person. But I know I’ll have to get back to the Netherlands, I even want to. So to come back on next year’s good intentions: breaking the isolation is perhaps also the most important reason why I want to learn Dutch. I want to connect with an even larger network of people, whom I can help. And when the time is there: who can help me.

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