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Going Dutch: Studying in the Netherlands

Date:23 February 2018
Frascati Family
Frascati Family

“What’s it like out there?”

I am an Irish student in my first year of liberal arts and sciences in University College Groningen. Right now, I’m one-sixth of my way through my bachelor here, and still getting to learn the ins and outs of Dutch life every day. “What’s it like out there?” and “How are you getting on?”, are the first questions thrown at me whenever I get back to Ireland. Much like the brain overload that we get when asked about our favourite song, I find it impossible to find just one. I guess the reason for this must be there’s simply too much to talk about.

Where do I start... the swims in the lake, the lack of closing hours, the weird pancakes, the even weirder pre-exam week, or the art of appearing composed after falling off your bike? (it happens to all of us..). I suppose it’s about time that I try to give a bit better answer than the untelling, “it’s great!”, so here is my attempt at making sense of what it’s like to be an international student in Groningen.

Only Eighteen Days of Rain! (per month..)

Before I left, my sister gave me a college-in-the-Netherlands kit. This consisted of the basic necessities (fluffy socks, chocolate) as well as a bright blue festival poncho, intended as a joke, with the tag “18 days of rain per month”. Somewhere along the line this changed into “per year” in my head, and come August I was packing all of my summer clothes and prepping for the beautiful dry climate of the Netherlands. My first month came in a whirlwind of rain, and I even found myself unironically wearing the blue poncho, wading through the puddles like a miserable smurf. If you are coming to Holland for anything, it’s not the climate. But trust me, once you’re decked out in a good hat and coat you’ll feel invincible.

Right-of-way on the Cycle-way

Adapting to the most common mode of transport, cycling was daunting at first. I was totally unaware of how the right-of-way works at junctions (you have to let those to the right through first, apparently). Every time the light went green for the bicycles, I felt like I was taking part in a massive game of chicken with bikes coming at me from every side, no one willing to stop for the other. It’s easier now though, and cycling has become so automatic to me that having to walk anywhere just seems like a ridiculous waste of time. I guess I’m adopting some of that Dutch efficiency.

Cultural Quirks

As 60% of my course is international, I was wondering what kind of cultural quirks I would encounter from different nationalities. I feared that I would find it more difficult to relate to people without the common grounds of shared culture. However, it quickly became apparent that, wherever you go, student culture is student culture. Everyone is buzzing with the same excitement to meet new people and explore the world- and what greater way than get to converse with such a diverse mix of nationalities?

Of course, there are definitely some cultural differences out here. The stereotype of Dutch people being more straightforward probably has its roots in truth. I can always approach my Dutch friends for honest feedback on which outfit to wear! It’s also worth noting that fine Dutch cuisine considers a bacon and cheese pancake topped with icing sugar as “lekker”. “Lekker” is certainly a word you will become familiar with out here. It means “delicious”, but can be used in any range of situations, from describing a person as “lekker”, to telling someone to sleep well (“slaap lekker”). The approach to education out here is also quite different. For example, the university has some great policies on taking extra courses just for the fun of learning (see the Honours College for more about this).

Cha-cha-slide through the exams

I live in an international student house (Frascati) with some others in my course. Despite my initial fears about both living and studying with the same people, I have really grown to love the little family we have formed there. As we all have exams around the same time, everyone bands together in their stress the week before. This is a particularly fun time as kitchens are transformed into study spaces and, seeking any distraction from the books, study breaks become dance breaks (the “cha-cha-slide” being our favourite).

A Neverending Nightlife

Coming from Ireland, I am used to closing hours and everyone panicking to make the most of the night before the bars shut. It’s a whole different story in Groningen; people can go at their own pace as clubs tend to stay open into the morning. The choice of clubs is also pretty great, whether you’re into karaoke, hip-hop jazz or Dutch music. While I’d like to appreciate Dutch culture, I draw the line at their club music. Whether I like it or not though, I always seem to end up dancing to a Dutch guy singing about his roof terrace.. and I know that’s when it’s time to go home!

So what is it like out here? my answer always changes. It’s rainy and windy and sometimes sunny. It’s full of strange food (chocolate sprinkles on bread?) and bicycle mishaps. It’s full of 4 am toasties, late night tea parties, and searching for a 50c coin to do your laundry. I can’t really condense it all into one answer, so that I think next time I’m asked, I will probably still reply: “It’s great!”


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