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A Spaniard in the Netherlands: Quick Survival Guide

Date:13 May 2019
Embrace the Dutch culture and lifestyle and meet new people in Groningen!
Embrace the Dutch culture and lifestyle and meet new people in Groningen!

Back in November 2017, I chose Groningen as my top destiny for an Erasmus exchange. I knew little about the city – besides what Google images showed me - but a previous short stay in the Dutch city of Haarlem when I was a teenager left me with a sparkling desire to go back to The Netherlands someday. A few classmates had mentioned Groningen prior to my decision: they were fascinated by the – still unknown for me – the northern city from having visited friends there or heard crazy student life stories, so people were willing to fight for the spot, Game-Of-Thrones-like. In the end, me and two fellow journalism students got it!

I cannot explain how much I fell in love with the city and the lively student bubble that makes it a unique city. However, it was hard for me to adapt to a new culture and hack the Dutch lifestyle. Here I listed some tips that could be helpful for any fellow Spaniard about to start their Dutch adventure!

1) Don’t be afraid to speak English

Most fellow Spaniards I met during my Exchange were embarrassed to talk in English because they thought their level was not good enough or people would mock our accent. However, this was often interpreted as a disinterest to integrate into the international community, which mislead other students to even try to talk to them. Truth is you shouldn’t be embarrassed because no one actually cares about your accent or your English level - if you make the effort, you won’t be judged at all. The only way to get better at English – or Dutch if you dare! – is practicing nonstop! Don’t be a bore to other students and engage in conversation even if you’re unsure of which words to use and your English will surely improve within a matter of weeks.

2) Your bike is your new best friend

Cycling in Dutch cities is not always easy: yes, there are hardly any steep slopes, but wind, rain, and little bike experience become your enemies easily. However, cycling activates your body, is eco-friendly and fast! Forget the crowded metro or the traffic jams and get yourself a bike after you have soaked up some quick cycling rules. I have heard many Dutch people complaining about internationals’ biking skills and as a Spanish, you might not have had much biking experience in your lifetime, so be careful when driving!

3) Get used to a completely different food culture

One of the biggest complaints I heard from fellow Spaniards is that the Dutch have ‘no food culture’ and their diet is too ‘monotonous’ – cheese sandwiches, a glass of milk a day and only one warm meal, consisting of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. However, some studies rank the Dutch diet as one of the healthiest in the world, so you might as well embrace it! Like all Spaniards, I was used to the desayuno at 9 am, comida at 2pm and cena at 10 pm schedule but switching up my eating habits a little didn’t cause any trouble. My advice is to try and imitate their customs, plus you could always cook a beautiful tortilla or paella for your international Friends. Trust me, you will end up missing eierballen and frites once you leave more than you would have thought.

Pro tip: if you’re vegan or vegetarian like me, welcome to heaven! In the Netherlands, there are way more veggie options than in Spain.

4) Dutch don’t hate you, it’s their character

The Dutch often get a top place in the world happiness index but are also defined as cold, distant or rude. I cannot deny there are some cultural differences between Spanish and Dutch, but I assure you at some point you will get used to the Dutch personality. My advice is to not blind yourself with stereotypes and make an effort to crack them open! Their bluntness might scare you at first, but encouraging their honesty and direct speaking makes things easier, plus they are also social people like us and love a good fun time themselves.

5) Pay off to your Spanish character and get lively

In Groningen, Spanish are known to be noisy, friendly and extroverted. We are open and communicative, so make the most out of your outgoing character and join different activities or organisations in the city. From political student associations to feminist, environmental or cultural organisations, you will find anything that suits you and gets insanely social! Join some salsa or yoga classes or an international sports team and your Spanish fuego vibe will be more than welcomed.


About the author

Hola! My name is Candela and I am a 22 year-old Spanish born and raised Journalist. Last year, I did a year long Erasmus exchange in the Media Studies program offered by the Universtiy of Groningen. I write mostly about international issues, feminism and environment and am – hopefully! - going back to Groningen next semester to pursue a Masters Degree.