Petra van Besouw: South-African student in the Netherlands: ‘In the Netherlands people feel the weather, the rain, the sun and the wind’

1 februari 2021
Auteur: Petra van Besouw
Foto: Petra van Besouw


More than a century, up to these days the Foundation Study Fund for South-African students supports students from South-Africa with scholarships to do research or brighten their knowledge at Dutch universities. Petra van Besouw from Cape Town, started studying at the Koninklijke Conservatorium in The Hague in 2019. Covid-19 made things a little different. Here is her story. 

‘I am currently in my 2nd year of my masters in instrumental and vocal learning and teaching at the Koninklijke Conservatorium or The Royal Conservatoire of The Hague. I am from South Africa where I did my Bachelor and Honours degrees at UCT (University of Cape Town) and came to The Hague on the 28th of August 2019 to start my studies.

I experienced the normal difficulties of trying to adjust to living in a new place and right when I was starting to feel a little bit more at ease, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to come in to sweep all of those feelings away. This made my first year of study an exceptionally difficult one. Amongst the uncertainty and chaos that many felt, it was difficult for me in the beginning to accept that many of the reasons I had come to study music on the other side of the world would not be possible anymore. There were and still are many adjustments, including the online learning environment. In spite of this and the disappointment of many musical activities being cancelled, I am thankful for what I was able to learn through it and that I was able to spend an enjoyable time in the summer making new friends in unexpected ways, spending time at the beach, and getting to know the various beautiful parks in The Hague (of which Clingendael is probably my favourite because it reminds me of the Vergelegen estate in Somerset West). I also had the wonderful opportunity to play with the Ricciotti Ensemble in the ‘Niet Normaal’ tour, and those days were some of the best days of the year. The opportunity to play with a group of musicians is something to really treasure these days!

In 2019 I had had the wonderful experience of playing Beethoven’s 4th symphony in The Hague’s Beethoven Festival. It was the most energising performance and such a privilege to be able to play with so many historic instruments. I also played in the Dutch Improvisation Academy which was taught by the Instant composer’s pool orchestra. Something else that stuck out to me was that I could learn the ‘Colour strings’ method from Géza Szilvay, who is the founder himself. This is something I value about Studying at the Koninkijke Conservatorium, in that there is such a diversity of specialties. This makes me want to overload myself with courses as I know I would not have had these opportunities where I come from.

I come from Cape Town, where everyday life is a treat to the eyes because of how blessed it is with such varieties of landscapes and majestic beauty. In the Netherlands I learnt to intentionally find places in nature that give me a little inspiration. Capetonians take their temperate weather for granted, and tend to only go outside and to the beaches and mountains when its ‘just right’, not too hot, sunny, wet or windy. When one goes places on one’s daily commute, it mostly involves getting in the car, arriving at the destination and walking directly from car door to building door. So I’d never really get wet or physically feel the rain when it rained. However, in the Netherlands it’s completely different, people feel the weather, the rain, the sun and the wind and seem to embrace it and strangely enough it doesn’t ‘melt’ your skin away. Perhaps because if they waited for the ‘perfect day’ they’d only go outside a handful of days a year. I love the Dutch approach of not letting the weather stop you! I have learnt from this and even though I’m not excited at getting wet hair almost every day and having the odd shower drench me when I’m not prepared for it, I actually found a sense of enjoyment in being outside on the bicycle with the fresh wind and wetness against my skin. I embrace sensations of the windy wet weather, instead of getting irritated that I might take a bit longer or focusing on how miserable it makes things appear.

Living inside a city where the endless red bricks reflect only a dull tone against the grey clouds, I feel like embracing the rainy and windy weather gives me a sense of being in touch with nature and ‘wildness’. This feels like a polarity to what often feels like a dark city. I treasure any bits of sun that manages to peep through the grey and I make it a priority to enjoy being under the blue skies on those days. I love that I live in a city so close to the beach and that I can go there in a few minutes to enjoy its refreshment no matter the weather. Having seen the North Sea in many moods, I now understand what the Dutch painters were painting and how accurate their portrayals of the calm sunsets and ferocious North Sea storms are. When I saw the Panorama Mesdag in person, it felt so real that it left me quite in awe.

I look forward to what experiences the last stretch of my studies at the Conservatorium have in stall and what the continuation of 2021 has for me!’

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