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Ten Things Every International Recognizes About Studying In The Netherlands

Date:03 October 2018
Clearly no one's having fun with the Dutch lunch option and the wind, but at least we're saving money
Clearly no one's having fun with the Dutch lunch option and the wind, but at least we're saving money

Having survived a month of university here in Groningen, you may have experienced some of these points already. Although I’m half Dutch and recognize some of the points below as part of my own character (thanks mom), there are other aspects about studying in the Netherlands that surprised me when I first came to study here (and sometimes still surprise me):

1. If you’re blond and/or tall, you will always be mistaken as a Dutch person, whereas everywhere else in the world people might think you’re Swedish or Norwegian.

2. Going to the library apparently means you have to wear your nicest outfit and do your hair - it’s not just studying, it’s a social event.

3. Your classes might feel very casual at first. Most professors won't mind you calling them by their first name, and some even insist on it! My previous education system was much more hierarchical, and strict. If a teacher said something, that piece of information would become law (though that might just be high-school in general). In the Netherlands, it’s possible to correct professors if they contradict themselves and have casual yet productive class discussions with them.

4. Rain in the Netherlands is more like drizzle, but it’s never-ending. Although it doesn’t seem strong, you get drenched after a quick 5 minute bike ride to class. You WILL need a raincoat / rain pants / rain hat, anything that could keep you dry! But you’ll feel weird having people watch you take off your rain pants right before class.

5. The moment the sun makes an appearance (it doesn’t matter what temperature it actually is), everyone’s outside in far-too-summery clothing. Above 20 degrees and you’ll see slightly sunburnt men shirtless. Always.

6. The Dutch grading system is a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The passing grade is set at a 5.5 for the different courses. 9s and 10s are considered ‘outstanding’ in the Dutch grading system and aren’t often achieved.  Usually Dutch students are thrilled with a 5.5 or higher - it’s actually become a big aspect of Dutch student culture that ‘passing is enough’. They even call a 5.5 a ‘studententien’, which translates to a ‘Student 10’.

7. Your bike becomes your new best friend. Although it’s scary to manoeuvre intense traffic on your bike at first (especially getting used to that back-break), you slowly begin to appreciate how convenient and fast it is to get to class. You will bond with your bike over the traumatic traffic you’ve survived together, and miss it dearly when it gets inevitably stolen because you don’t have three locks.

8. The bus system is really clear if you have 9292 as an app on your phone to check your routes. I did get confused multiple times in my first month here though. Maybe it’s just in Groningen, but there are small bright red stop buttons all around the bus. These aren’t for emergencies! You need to press those if you want to get out of the bus at the right place. I missed my stop quite a few times before I realized this.

9. It sometimes feels as if you could easily get by without learning any Dutch in the Netherlands. If you try speaking Dutch as a foreigner, the person you’re speaking to will almost always switch to English when they see you struggling for words. Even though you can get by without knowing any Dutch, knowing a bit of the language goes a long way when you try to navigate your surroundings:

  • There are a few very important words in the Netherlands that are an integral part of Dutch culture: ‘Gratis’(free), ‘korting’ (discount) and ‘koopje’ (bargain). It’s not really shopping in the Netherlands if there aren’t any good deals or sales happening. If you love saving money by spending money, these are the key words you need to know for the ultimate shopping experience.
  • When you begin looking into the vocabulary you realize how cute the language actually is: ‘Eekhoorn’ means squirrel and is pronounced almost the same as acorn. So an ‘eekhoorn’ can eat acorns. ‘Pindakaas’ means peanut butter, but is literally peanut cheese. Solidifying the stereotype of the Dutch and their love of cheese. ‘Boterham’ is literally translated as butter ham, but actually means sandwich. Arguably the most important Dutch word to know is ‘gezellig’. A loose translation for this to English would be ‘cozy’, although in Dutch, gezellig is used to describe people, places, meetings and the atmosphere. It basically encompasses everything between friendly to cozy.

10. Speaking of sandwiches and gezelligheid (perfect segue), the Dutch love bringing (and making) their own sandwiches everywhere they go. Whether you’re on a long road trip or in a lecture room, “broodjes kaas” will always be present.

If you have any funny anecdotes related to your experience studying in the Netherlands, share it and let us know! 

About the author

Hi! My name’s Marije, and I study English Language and Culture. I’m half Dutch half German, but I grew up in Africa (starts thinking of suitable Mean Girls quotes to reference). When I’m not out, studying or writing something, I’m inside, wrapped in a blanket binge watching a new tv-show.


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