You can’t come to The Netherlands without knowing something about its history. Your fellow Dutch students will certainly appreciate it if you try to grasp it, even if you mix up everything!
Origins of the Netherlands
The Dutch, as a nation, first came to the forefront of history in the 16th century when they fought the Eighty Years' War for independence from Spain. The south of the country, today’s Belgium, remained a Spanish possession. The north declared itself The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and contemporary provinces in the Netherlands are a result of this. But wait, aren’t there twelve provinces nowadays? Yes, very good, during the course of history the Dutch created two more out of conquered lands from the south (Brabant and Limburg), one already existed and was made official (Drenthe), one was split in two (Holland) and, believe it or not, they built a new one in the sea!
After independence, in the 17th century, Dutch trade, science, art and navy were amongst the top of the world. During this period the Dutch also expanded their horizon globally and they have been traveling around the world ever since. New York neighborhoods like Harlem (Haarlem) and Brooklyn (Breukelen) are a legacy of the Dutch presence there. The main goal of Dutch expansion has been to establish new trade routes; it is and always has been a trading nation. Therefore, its people have always had an international orientation. Today this can be observed by the fact that most people in the Netherlands speak English. This has huge benefits since you don’t have to learn Dutch to get around, though it will be appreciated if you try.
Originally a republic, the country was transformed into a monarchy after the Napoleonic Wars, the throne was occupied by the House of Orange which had played an important symbolic role in the Eighty Years’ War. This is why the Dutch football team, and its supporters, are dressed in orange.
Sticking to trade the Dutch tried to remain neutral in Europe’s power politics during the 19th and 20th century. This worked in the First World War, but the country was conquered by the Germans during the Second. Already a fervent promoter of international cooperation because of its dependence on exports, the Netherlands joined the European Coal and Steel Community after the war, the first of the European Union’s predecessors, as one of its six original founders. Though, the country did drop its policy of neutrality when it joined the NATO. No commies here! (Except for the hippie students in the sixties)
Today the Dutch are still travelling the world. Dutch people can be found everywhere, most to the annoyance of their own countrymen; just when you think you’re on vacation your hotel neighbours greet you in Dutch! They are still trading, over two thirds of the country’s GDP is derived from exports. And they are still trying to keep their feet dry, as last big flood was back in 1953.
All this can be used to describe The Netherlands, but the people and the land have an immensely rich history which can only be fully experienced coming to the country itself.