An Iranian student compared her experience of going abroad to study in the U.S. with what her mother told her about moving plants from one place to another in the garden. ''You need to give it some time before it will grow new leaves. When you move a plant from one place to another its' roots may get damaged and the soul changes. It needs time to get used to its new atmosphere before the roots grow strong...and you will see...soon it will bloom again.'' She made clear that it can be quite overwhelming to accommodate to a new place and getting used to new cultural values and expectations.
What to expect when going abroad to study in the Netherlands.
The amount of international students in the Netherlands is steadily growing. Let's have a look at the opportunities and challenges when considering or having chosen the Netherlands as a destination.
- It is easy to communicate in English since most Dutch people speak proper English (don't miss the opportunity to also learn some Dutch though).
- Since the number of international students at Dutch universities is growing you will have the opportunity to share your thoughts with someone in a comparable situation having similar worries and thoughts.
- The ESN Erasmus Network offers a lot of activities and parties for international and local students. This way you can easily come into contact with other students.
- Make sure you know how to ride a bike. In cities Dutch people travel by bike. Riding a bike provides a good daily amount of fresh air and exercise (this saves you another session in the gym).
- Dutch students are usually very open-minded and welcoming. In addition, most international students come to The Netherlands without a social network and are as eager to connect as you are.
- The experience of going abroad makes you more resilient to respond to new situations; probably you will feel more comfortable when meeting new people. As a consequence, your flexibility along with your employability will increase. You can learn a lot from accommodating to the multicultural Dutch society. You will probably pick up information and facts about different cultures naturally within the ethnic and religious diversity in the Netherlands. This can be transferred to your future workplace since currently most organizations consist of people from different cultures who have to interact and communicate efficiently with each other.
- Before you go: check which documents you need to organize before leaving your hometown (think about provisional residence permit, grants, scholarships...). The international office of the University is a good contact to answer your questions with regard to travel documents.
- Finding accommodation might be quite a struggle. A good starting point is kamernet.nl or look for Facebook groups with housing announcements for students.
- Getting used to cultural differences can be demanding. Besides the well known Klompen (clogs), Tulpen (tulips) and Molens (mills) Dutch people are known for having their own opinion on everything, communicating directly and freedom (free choice of religion, sexual preference and freedom of speech). Direct communication for example can be perceived as confronting or cause misunderstandings if you are not used to it.
- Feelings of homesickness may arise every once in a while. Maybe you are going to miss that typical dish from home or find yourself struggling with the busy cycling traffic. Make sure you don't miss out on the Dutch stroopwafels and drop when you are having a hard time.
- In the Netherlands students are expected to actively participate in discussions. Giving their own critical opinion is embraced. This might differ from what you are used to and it can be challenging to adjust to a different way of learning.
- The Dutch weather can be depressing sometimes. You have to be strong to survive days of rain and nothing but different shades of grey in the sky. Have a look at a guide how to survive the Dutch climate.
Although going abroad is in most cases a unique and very enriching experience you will most likely encounter challenges that you will have to overcome. Your experience not only depends on your own expectations and values but also on the circumstances in your place of destination. Before you know your roots will grow strong again.
What are your experiences as an international student in the Netherlands? Do some of the opportunities and challenges look familiar to you?