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6 Times I Struggled with Cultural Differences in Groningen

Date:08 June 2020
A Bulgarian, a Spaniard, a Costa Rican, a Slovakian, a Bonairean, a Dutchie, and a Ukranian: 7 nationalities in one single picture.
A Bulgarian, a Spaniard, a Costa Rican, a Slovakian, a Bonairean, a Dutchie, and a Ukranian: 7 nationalities in one single picture.

After living in Groningen for a few months, I realized there is simply no other city quite like Groningen. Bustling with life and plenty of (stressed) students, Groningen stands out because of the large community of International students it welcomes every year. To put it in other terms, it’s somewhat like a bubble. As an International, I not only experienced a head-first immersion into Dutch culture, but I also experienced what it’s like to be in a melting pot of International cultures. It’s intense, but incredibly exciting nevertheless… at least, this is what it was like for me. Here are 6 times I experienced culture shock as a student in Groningen:

1. Introductions

Imagine moving to a building with 300+ International students from all continents and nationalities. It’s like culture shock but on steroids. I have to admit, it’s incredibly exciting to meet everyone during the first weeks, especially because everyone else is probably excited to meet you too! And then, when you least expect it, thoughts start popping up in your mind: “Uh, awkward... how do I greet this person? Do I just wave? Handshake? Hug?” If you’re wondering what the best approach is, after trial and error, I can say for sure that a good ol’ handshake and a smile are just fine. On another note: the Dutch sometimes do 3 kisses on the cheek! This one is like the boss level of all greetings.

Don't let this happen to you... it's awkward.
Don't let this happen to you... it's awkward.

2. Scheduling Dinners

Trying to schedule a dinner with your International friends is probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve had to do. I’ve tried scheduling dinners where my Dutch friends want to eat at 6pm, and everyone complains that it’s too early. Then, the Spanish friends suggest to eat at 10pm, and everyone complains that it's too late. If you’re thinking “oh, that’s easy, 8 pm is the perfect middle ground”, you’re wrong. There’s always someone who can’t meet at 8. 

3. House Rules with your International Flatmates

It was no surprise that my International friends and I had some cultural differences when it came to living situations, but I really wasn’t expecting shoes to be one of those differences. In my second year in Groningen, I moved in with my Bulgarian friend. One of the first things she set as a house rule was “no shoes inside the house, ever”. I was extremely weirded out by this, as growing up, my mom always got mad if I walked around the house without any shoes on. Turns out, In Latin-american cultures it’s not common to take your shoes off when you enter a house, while in several European countries, it’s a basic rule. I’ll say one thing though: it definitely helps keep the house cleaner!

4. Studying at the UB?

Studying at the University Library is 50% studying, 50% socializing, and everyone knows it. I’ve always been used to studying in the most comfortable clothes ever, meaning that sweatpants and a hoodie has always been my go-to outfit. Thus, when I showed up to the UB for the first time and walked through the halls, I felt incredibly out-of-place. Everyone was well dressed and put together, and I looked like I was ready to take a nap. I quickly learned my lesson: the UB is the one place in the city where you’re most likely to see everyone you know, so you might want to look at least half-alive for it. It’s just part of Groningen’s unique culture.

Me showing up to the UB for the first time
Me showing up to the UB for the first time

5. Strange Shop Schedules

Forget the biking, the food, and all the rain. What really threw me in a loop once I got to the Netherlands was the fact that most shops close at 6 p.m. Even worse, some shops don’t even open on a Sunday! No experience was worse than one time during my first year when I caught tonsillitis, and I realized that all the shops around me were closed. I lived in the far North of the city, and biking to the city center with high fever was simply not an option for me. In moments like these, I realized how handy it was to be nice to my neighbors. They were the ones who saved me with some medicines in times of crisis.

6. “Warm” days at the Noorderplantsoen

I come from a tropical country where the average temperature is 25° all year-round, so anything below 18 is cold for me. You can imagine my surprise when in the middle of April, when the temperature barely rose to 16°, I saw people sitting down in the Noorderplantsoen having a BBQ. It’s not BBQ weather unless it’s above 20°, sue me if you think otherwise. Anyways, I find it quite fascinating how some people (Dutchies, I’m talking about you) have such a high tolerance for the cold. As soon as that first ray of sun hits, it’s like it’s officially summer. Not gonna lie, I do enjoy biking across the park in my coat and scarf while I watch others “tan” in the sun.

People in the Noorderplantsoen as soon as a ray of sun hits
People in the Noorderplantsoen as soon as a ray of sun hits

Now, after two entire years of living in this city, I still keep encountering cultural differences everywhere I go. I guess that’s what makes this city special; every day brings at least one new experience. I grew to love these cultural differences, both from the Dutch and the Internationals. The more I encounter them, the more I get to learn not only about others, but also about myself. While at times they can definitely be frustrating, the majority of the times they make for great laughs, and later, great stories.


About the author

Hey! I’m Ariana and I’m a Costa Rican student with a passion for photography, dancing, and cute dogs. Aside from writing blogs, I’m doing my Bachelor’s in Media Studies. If you see me around smiling at my phone, I’m probably looking at memes (or cute dogs).


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