When we first started with the American Stream Physiotherapy Programme (ASPT), the school had no experience at all with foreign students. We also were not aware of cultural and institutional differences between Dutch and American students. This has lead to several misunderstandings and sometimes difficult situations between students and staff. I will describe here some of the situations I remember.
When the first group arrived through the company Interim Staff Services we brought them to the student houses we prepared in Reigersbos. Students expected that the school would have boarding houses at a campus and we were not conscience about this difference since no school in the Netherlands has a campus with housing facilities. Also the apartments were ‘pretty small’ in the eyes of the students. About three months later we ran into the first conflict. A considerable amount of students wanted to go back home, but why? All teachers were extremely satisfied about the hard working and very motivated American students. The average grades after the first exams were exceptionally high compared to the average Dutch students. What was the problem? The students complained that professors were extremely negative to them, destroying their motivation to continue with the programme completely although the programme itself was very good in their opinion. After ample discussion we found out that the typical explanation of a Dutch teacher is as follows; ‘this and that was wrong and therefore I give you an 8’. Americans expect that you first name what was excellent or very good and than name the elements that should be approved in stead of only mentioning what went wrong. Hence we changed our attitude and did it the American way afterwards and everyone was happy again. Another thing that never happened with Dutch students (they go for the grade 6) was that students with a 7 or 8 wanted to take a retake in order to get higher grades! We did not understand this at all, till we found out that in the USA the grade point average (GPA) is equally important (or more important) than the degree itself. We adjusted this by changing the Dutch grading system into the USA grading system A to F.
American students study in a different way compared to Dutch students. The Dutch go home asap after classes have finished. Americans on the other hand study in the library. They expect the library open all day till late at night. At the beginning students locked themselves up in the library even after closing time of the building. At the moment they wanted to leave the school the alarm bells went of and they were not able to leave the school since all doors were locked.
Food was another thing. The restaurant provided only typical ‘dutch food’ and nobody was able to understand what they really bought since all text in the restaurant was in dutch language. Restaurant personnel did not wear protective gloves. Bread rolls were very small and there were a lot of things that were not appreciated by American palates like raw meat, milk from a container (the milk cow) and ‘kroketten’. Not all dishes were provided with cheese and so on. Today all texts in the school are bi lingual and the assortment is adjusted to foreign students with a variety of products.
All and all we learned a lot of our ASPT students and I am sure they learned also from us doing things the Dutch way. I hope to meet a large number of our graduates to learn how their careers developed and what they are doing right now. See you in the beautiful city of Amsterdam in June 2011!