Week of the International Student: Will Shain
During the Week of the International Student, we interview international students and alumni of Erasmus University Rotterdam and ask them about their journey. Guided by photographs and memories, they elaborate on their stories, but also on the highlights and challenges of their study period. Today we meet Will Shain, who is currently majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Erasmus University College.
For a lot of international students that arrive in the Netherlands, a socio-economic shock is inevitable. Will, however, did not experience such a thing. “Coming from the US, I saw a lot of similar materialistic things. Everyone has a laptop, most people have a similar background in terms of their travels, from an economically privileged perspective, I wasn’t surprised.” He was nonetheless surprised by the infrastructure in the Netherlands, and the way in which we emphasize the quality of life. A great advantage during his time in the Netherlands, but also one that brings its challenges.
His time abroad in the Netherlands isn’t the first time that Will spends a longer period from home. Born in California with a half-Brazilian nationality, Will grows up merging two cultures. At the age of 18, he moved to Ecuador to spend his gap year there, after which he moved to the Netherlands where he currently resides for over two years. Upon his arrival at Erasmus University College, Will was not sure what academic career he wanted to pursue. He is very passionate and activistic about environmental issues, but also intrinsically interested in politics. After exploring social psychology, physics, philosophy, and multiple other courses, Will decided to major in Political Science and International Relations – with a minor in Sustainability.
“I feel that everyone can contribute to stopping climate change; entrepreneurs, scientists, economists, and so forth. For me, I felt that politics was the way in which I could contribute the most.” Combining policy and sustainability comes naturally to Will. He has just completed an internship at Roots & Routes IC, a non-profit based in California that works to promote and protect indigenous people across the Americas. “I was working on a project where an indigenous community in Ecuador was suing a palm oil company for pollution of a waterway. Ecuador is one of the only countries in the world where nature actually has rights in the constitution. Unfortunately, we in the West tend to dismiss great ideas that emerge from the Global South, but we could learn a thing or two.”
Over the past two years, Will has actively been adapting to and integrating into Dutch culture – one aspect of which is a high standard of living. “I see a serious emphasis on the quality of life in the Netherlands, one I’ve never seen before. Dutch society is catered to make everybody benefit from a lot of things. Take for example public transport: I was shocked to find out that the OV-chipcard works with all different kinds of public transport. That was mind-blowing for me.” Though repeating several times that his perspective on Dutch society is narrow, Will is very positive about government policy in the Netherlands. “The idea that students receive benefits is nonexistent in the US. Getting into university and financing it is something you must do yourself. Here it seems the government really wants to produce forward-thinking educated people.”
However, adapting to Dutch culture has not been all glamour and social benefits for Will. Particularly learning the language is difficult. “Nobody lets me try. As soon as I try to speak Dutch, people will always switch to English. That’s a big turnoff.” Our conversation about this topic leads us to discuss some other, less positive aspects of Dutch society. “Whenever I complain about something, the Dutch are quick to say, ‘if you don’t like it, you don’t have to be here.’ Take for example the weather: I grew up in California, one of the sunniest places in the world, so the first winter here was difficult for me. Whenever I complained, which I probably did more than necessary, people would judge that. It makes my role as an immigrant very clear: I should be happy with the system, whatever it is. That’s a tough line to walk, especially because I am extremely grateful for what I have here. I try my best to participate in society.”
One of the ways in which Will expresses his desire to participate is social activism and extracurricular activities. Make sure to check out Will’s Movember campaign, and follow @ladswithtrash on Instagram around Earth Week. Respectively, last year, he chaired the board of the Erasmus University College Student Association, where he is currently still active as Chairman of the Charity Committee. “That was an amazing experience to have. Being on the board of a student association is not always an option for international students, so I am very happy to have had this opportunity. Despite the fact that we dealt with corona the whole year, we managed to organize quite a lot and fill our calendars constantly.”
It was also through the student association that Will first got to see a Dutch city from a Dutch perspective. “Our vice chair/secretary invited us to go to her house in Zeeland. We went on the train together, had a lovely dinner there and walked around the city. That was a very special experience for me.” It was not the first neither the last time Will left the Randstad. With his friends, he visited Giethoorn, Meppel, Delft and went on a trip to the Veluwe to explore the Dutch countryside. “That was the first and only time I met someone who couldn’t speak English here.” Again, these trips underlined the quality of the infrastructure in the Netherlands. “Back home, the further you go from cities, you see poverty increase and infrastructure crumble. Here, even in the countryside, there is a good bus system, roads are strong, and many houses even have solar panels.”
When we asked Will about his plans after graduation, he opened up about having a slight identity crisis regarding that question. “I don’t know. I am not sure about going back home after my experience here. My life is so good here, but there are also so many other things to do. The Netherlands is a great environment to work in environmental advocacy, Rotterdam really has a strong position in that industry. In Amsterdam, there’s a huge focus on the circular economy. I am first and foremost happy to have a choice at all. I will see what comes my way and I have good hopes for the future.
We thank Will for the open and warm conversation we had with him in the lobby of Erasmus University College. Curious about the most remarkable thing in the Netherlands according to Will? “I heard that you can buy a stamp online, that generates a code, and if you write that on your letter and post it, the postal services will recognize it as a stamp. That is crazy, man.”