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How to Integrate into Dutch Society

Date:09 September 2020
Way back in 2017 when I barely knew any Dutch and kept confusing 'fiets' and 'friet'
Way back in 2017 when I barely knew any Dutch and kept confusing 'fiets' and 'friet'

It’s no secret that The Netherlands is one of the most open-minded countries in Europe so as an international student, it’s probably one of the best places to be. Not only do the majority of the population speak fluent English, but everyone is also incredibly accepting. On top of that, Groningen is a city with a large international population and it might be tempting to stray away from Dutch culture and stick to an international-only life. For some, the thought of integrating might even seem daunting or intimidating but, some would ask what’s the point of studying abroad if you don’t at least try to immerse yourself in the culture anyways? Here are some tips that I learned from my experience having lived three years in Groningen:

1. Be open-minded

Culture shock is a very real thing, and once you move to the Netherlands, you might experience it. You may find yourself thinking ‘Bitterballen? Raw herring? Gross!’ or even disliking how direct the Dutch can be (and for the record, that is very). But, keep in mind that what is normal for you is not always what is normal for everyone else. If you see or experience something that totally weirds you out, what works for me is to see it from a perspective of curiosity. Strange? Ask questions! This leads me to my next point:

2. Don’t be afraid to join in!

Moving to a new country can be challenging, but rest assured, the Netherlands is a very welcoming and friendly country. Dutch people love to talk about their traditions, culture, and will love it if you show interest and make an effort to understand them. But beyond understanding is where the fun really starts. Try everything you can and embrace your Dutch side! Once you buy a snack from a wall after a long night of partying, dress in orange for King’s Day or eat a raw herring with your friends, you’ll come to realize just how fun it is to embrace the Dutch traditions. Of course, all of this is easier and more exciting if you’ve got someone local to guide you. 

3. Befriend a Dutchie (or many!)

The best way to get to know a country’s culture is to make some local friends, period. Even Google can’t provide you with information to the same level as learning things first-hand. Some people might say that Dutchies are really reserved, and like to keep to themselves but in my experience this is far from true! In Groningen alone, many Dutch students are part of international programmes and associations, and enjoy meeting and hanging out with internationals. They can help you understand the confusing grading system, give you tips on how to be savvy, and help you learn how to pronounce “Groningen” properly. But aside from all the cultural knowledge, you can rest assured that you’ll be making great friends.

4. Learn to bike (properly)

There’s something about being able to bike while holding a huge plant in one hand, and still being able to signal the turn that I’m about to make that makes me feel truly Dutch. That’s right Ma, no hands! While you don’t necessarily need to bike like you’re in the circus, it might be a good idea to learn the proper traffic rules. Nothing says “hey, that’s an International” more than someone ignoring the tiny triangles on the street and almost crashing into a car. For the record, if this happens, I sympathize with you. I didn’t properly understand how to bike until halfway through my second year. Save yourself from embarrassment now and check out this blog

5. Work on your Dutch

There’s a small sense of accomplishment that comes over every international who manages to carry out a supermarket conversation entirely in Dutch. Naturally, if you want to integrate into Dutch society, the fastest way to do so is to learn how to speak the language and there are plenty of ways to do this. The UG offers free courses up to a basic level, but the spots can fill up quickly. If this happens, there is also a free Introduction to Dutch online course, or you can just go ahead and try your luck with Duolingo. Remember what I said before about finding a local friend? They can also help you to practice your Dutch and if you’re having a hard time doing so, you can find a local friend to help you out. 

6. Blend in

A part of integrating into a new culture relies simply on mimicry and imitation. If you’re trying to integrate, you don’t want to be the odd one out. You can start out with something small, such as  taking your own bags to the supermarket. It’s environmentally friendly, and also very Dutch. However, you can keep it up with things like learning how to order in Dutch or learning all those Dutch songs that they play at the bars. How Dutch you want to become is completely up to you.

7. Take some of your Dutch-ness back home and inspire others

Once you return home for the first time, you’ll realize just how much you’ve integrated into Dutch society, and boy is it fun. I remember my friends being shocked by the fact that I put mayonnaise on everything, or that I found it weird to be in a car after months of cycling to every destination. Ultimately, I found that the things that I picked up from Dutch society really contributed to my life in the best way possible. For example, I became better at being punctual and planning ahead, learned to be more thrifty, and finally caught onto that famous Dutch directness. As a student, these traits can really make a difference in your experience (FYI: if you have to work in project groups very often, learning to be direct like a Dutchie will make your life easier, trust me). If, like me, you find yourself enjoying your newfound Dutch-ness, make sure to spread it around! Maybe not the ‘putting mayo on everything’ though… some people will always find that gross. Their loss.

I hope these tips inspire you to embrace Dutch culture and make the Netherlands your own. Did I miss something? Let me know if you have any other tips on how to integrate into Dutch society down below!

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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