Ken Lambeets – also known by his pen name 'Belg aan de Waal' – recently moved from Brussels to Nijmegen to strengthen the Vox editorial team. He will write about his experiences over the next few weeks. Part 1: orientation day.
Twelve women and two men. Judging by the orientation day alone, feminism is strong at the university. We are welcomed with coffee and tea in the Aula, referred to as ‘the beating heart of the university’ by our host Petra van Wersch from the Human Resources Department.
She gives us a brief history of the university, which will celebrate its 95th anniversary this October. The logo with the Latin motto In Dei Nomine Feliciter (‘happily in God’s name’, Ed.) refers to the university’s Catholic roots, which appears to play a ceremonial role during inaugural lectures and the conferral of PhDs and honorary doctorates. Amen.
We are then treated to a PowerPoint presentation with organisational charts and dozens of university services with abbreviations she assures us we’ll ‘know and use within three months.’ That sounds a bit optimistic…
Our host introduces us to Wilma de Koning. According to the Vice President of the Executive Board, Radboud University is doing better than its reputation may suggest, although the latter is ‘something we’re working on.’ This becomes clear when a promotional film is projected on the big screen in front of us.
It starts in space and slowly zooms in on Nijmegen and the campus. Researchers looking through microscopes, packed lecture halls and Angela Merkel receiving an honorary doctorate: the film has it all, complete with syrupy English voice-over. ‘Radboud University: change perspective!’ To reiterate this message, the Communications Department has laid out fourteen bright-red hoodies for us. Some drape their hoodies over their shoulders and instantly change perspective.
‘Do you see that red spot in the distance? To the right of the windmills?’ asks one of the participants. ‘That’s the cinema in Arnhem.’ On the twentieth floor of the Erasmus building, we enjoy a delicious slice of Marikenbrood and a great view. Each participant points to their place of work in the square kilometre far below us. So this is what it feels like to be in an ivory tower.
After a short walk and countless stairs we make it to the roof of the Huygens building where an enthusiastic researcher eagerly explains the principles of astronomy to us. The dome houses two 120-year-old telescopes, the lenses of which were hand-made by monks. “They were far more accurate than today’s machines,” says the astronomer.
One by one we have a chance to gaze into the catadioptric telescope, which is pointed at the Erasmus building instead of the sky (‘too much sun’). ‘We often point the telescope at a building to configure it’, the researcher says, ‘but don’t worry, the windows tend to be too reflective to look inside.’ Somehow this isn’t terribly reassuring.
Our final activity takes us to Huize Heyendael. Once the home of margarine magnate Frans Jurgens from Oss, the building now houses the Faculty Club and several university offices. In a room that once boasted a huge billiards table, we are served a light lunch. The Belgian epicurean in me takes over and I immediately scan the table for the red and white wine, but all I see is steaming pots and bottles containing some sort of white liquid.
Integration sometimes means adopting other people’s eating and drinking habits, so I pour myself a glass of buttermilk. I take note of the white colour, give the milk a wary swirl in the glass and take a cautious sip. Well I’ll be! It doesn’t taste half bad!