Dananai looked at schools in Dubai, the UK and the US before deciding that the Netherlands would be the right fit for her. Looking for something other than a strictly theoretical course, NHL Stenden caught her eye for its practical approach to education and diverse and multicultural student body. She felt this would be the closest thing to real-life situations in tourism, so her mind was made up.
“I’m not someone who can just sit down and learn the theory of a subject. I need to go out, do the research, talk to people,” Dananai says. “And that’s why this programme caught my attention. It’s also far more diverse than other courses I looked at in terms of people. The professional contacts I’ve made so far can definitely kickstart my career and help me to make it in the tourism industry. And the student contacts are just as important – they could be useful future career contacts too.”
”Being surrounded by people who didn’t necessarily think like me made me feel uncomfortable at first, but in a good way. It helped me grow.”
Dananai Chitewe, 3rd year student of Tourism Management
In at the deep end
“When I first got here, I felt so out of place,” she continues. “I’d been to school in Africa and Dubai, but never in Europe and it was all very different. Yet, it didn’t feel overwhelming because I got so much help from so many people. When I arrived in Leeuwarden, the taxi driver who took me and my family to our hotel on the outskirts of Leeuwarden gave us useful tips on the way, pointing out places to go but also things like banks. When I later moved into my on-campus accommodation in Student Stay, the people at the front office gave us a pile of leaflets on Leeuwarden and student life. And during the enrolment period, the ladies at the Windmill were really helpful, explaining for instance, how to get a social security number [BSN] so that I could open a bank account. And then there was the StudyStartWeek where you meet other students and the study coaches before you start your studies. I met a lot of people during that week and we all helped each other out. The study coaches were really helpful as well. During the whole week you interact with people from different degrees and different years, and I am still in contact with many of them.”
Leeuwarden student city
“As soon as I got here, I noticed it was a student city. A lot of the people I saw in the city centre were students, so that made me feel comfortable. Leeuwarden has been a good choice, because it’s not too big, unlike Amsterdam or Rotterdam. There aren’t too many distractions but there’s still plenty to do. It wasn’t very hard to get to know people or find out where things are and how things work. You’ll always be surrounded by students and there are many different activities going on all the time. Life in general isn’t expensive here; housing is affordable, some supermarkets have discounts, and the Friday market is a great place for good and inexpensive food.”
A network for life
“When I visited the ITB convention in Berlin as part of my studies, I got to make connections with companies that you wouldn’t normally have contact with. That was the moment I realised that networking is so important. Getting to know how people from different countries work is also vital if you want to work in international business. Once you get to know people, they could help you out in the future. If someone has a vacancy, they’ll remember you. Once you have created these relationships, you can build on them and develop networking opportunities.” And of course, it works both ways. If Dananai is in a position where she needs colleagues or staff, she can draw on the people from her network too.
“At NHL Stenden we get to travel a lot and meet people. The Grand Tour in the third year really stands out for me. It’s an opportunity to do part of your studies in yet another country. There are just so many opportunities to interact with associates from all around the world and I think everyone should experience this type of international exposure. Before I went abroad, I was set in my own thoughts and ideas. Being surrounded by people who didn’t necessarily think like me made me feel uncomfortable at first, but in a good way. It helped me grow. I’ve become flexible, we can talk about issues and come to a comfortable compromise. Whenever I go back home to Zimbabwe, people are interested in these experiences as an international student. It’s not easy to go halfway across the world, but in Zimbabwe international tertiary education is invaluable.”
Becoming a professional
“What I like about studying here is that the education concept doesn’t simply entail being given instructions. You get a kind of vague topic and you shape it yourself. I did struggle with that at first. It didn’t have the structure I was used to and I wasn’t sure about being so creative and saying what I thought.” This learning curve is linked to the international environment and being surrounded by people who think differently. By hearing other people’s opinions, she’s more able to voice her own. It means she feels better prepared to work in the tourism industry in a flexible environment. “And there are so many choices open to me in terms of a career that it’s almost too much. I would like to go into adventure tourism, for instance. It’s already a big market because the target group wants to keep trying different things. But I’d also love to go back to Zimbabwe. Tourism is our biggest industry so it’s kind of in my nature and my love for tourism started at the Victoria Falls. It would be great to go back and do something there. All in all, coming here has become an experience of a lifetime!”