Things I wish I knew when I first came to The Netherlands: International Students Edition

5 September 2022

The beginning of the semester is right around the corner! For many first-year students, especially international students, this period is the beginning of a new era; living in a student house, having parties and night-outs, meeting and getting to know people from different countries. Your first time coming to the country might be, although exciting, undoubtedly a challenging time.

In this article, I have compiled some tips and things that I wish I knew when I first came to the country as an international student. Not only that, but I have also asked some of my friends to share their tips based on their own experiences as well!

  1. University life is vastly different compared to high school. Back in high school, you meet the same people every single day for some years, while it is notably harder to meet new people organically in university, especially if you are a shy or introverted person. However, you need to remember that there is no problem with being friendly with everyone without having to pressure yourself to fit into a certain group. Keep an open mind, and slowly but surely, you will be surrounded by like-minded peers.
  2. Budgeting is so important! Since the lockdown has ended, for many this might be your first time going to do school offline and living a normal life. However, it is important to be mindful of our budget and ensure that we are not overspending. Make good calculations for your monthly utilities and other fun-related expenses.
  3. The best times to go out in Groningen are by understanding the weekly schedule of the typical Dutch university students. Mondays and Thursdays are generally the best times to hit the city center or clubs, as Tuesdays are known to be the huisavond (house evening), where Dutch students usually have dinner with their housemates, while Wednesdays are usually the clubavoid (club night) for students in associations.  On the weekends, Dutch students typically go home to their parents’ house (thuisthuis).

Asmita, BSc International Relations and International Organizations, 4 years in NL

  1. The Dutch weather can be quite depressing! Being born in the UK, I am quite surprised to see how the weather in the two countries is so similar. The amount of rain and cloudy weather can be challenging for someone coming from a rather tropical country. Don’t forget to take your vitamin D and make sure to go out when the sun’s out as much as possible. Remember to reach out to friends!
  2. Come to the country and city with an open mind and without too many expectations. I think this city and university is a perfect student place filled with surprises, and most of them are pleasant ones! I think this city gives me the perfect chance to rediscover myself, make mistakes, learn from them, and have fun. A tip to my younger self is to choose people who make you feel comfortable hanging around! 

Sekar, BSc International Relations and International Organizations, 2 years in NL

  1. Finding a job as a non-EU student can be quite challenging. I came here to study thinking I would be able to gain extra money from working part-time, but as a non-EU, we need to go through a long and rather complicated process of getting an employer who wants to sponsor our work permit. Non-EU students also have a shorter working time limit. Furthermore, not all faculty in the university is willing to go through that process for non-EU students to get student jobs, such as student assistants or student mentors. Nevertheless, if you are patient and determined, I am sure it will work out in the end. Don’t be afraid to apply as much as possible.
  2. Don’t stay where you are not appreciated! When something, either a situation or a group of friends, doesn’t work for you, find something else. Groningen has a lot of things to offer, space for you to explore and grow, associations to join, and other activities you might deem interesting. There is always something for everyone.

Aletta, MSc Chemical Engineering, 7 months in NL

  1. I wish I knew how long the settling down period is. This includes getting essential things sorted, such as getting a BSN number, picking up your residence permit, sorting out your insurance, and opening a bank account. All of this took me a whole month and if I hadn’t been told by a friend to come early, I would have been very stressed doing all this process while starting my courses. Prepare yourselves as well with enough cash for up to three weeks while you’re sorting out your Dutch bank account.
  2. The Netherlands is not an English-speaking country, it is a Dutch-speaking country that has many English speakers. I think you need to remember this when you come to the country, as most websites especially those essential to your governmental-related administration will be written in Dutch. Learning a bit of Dutch before coming goes a long way towards helping you to settle down.
  3. In case you have not read about this enough, cycling is the way of life here. Especially in Groningen where the size of the city is not as big and crowded as Amsterdam or Rotterdam. The road systems are set up to be cycling-friendly and other forms of transport are rather expensive, so being able to cycle should be something important.
  4. The habit that kept me on top of the game was having a planner. Everything I had to do was dropped into a big checklist which I then subdivided in terms of importance and time sensitivity. This made me realize I didn’t have to do everything in one go and I could plan everything better.

Vania, BSc International Business, 4 years in NL

  1. Basic handyman skills are important to have, especially home repairing skills and solving common problems with a bicycle. Compared to where I come from, human power cost is higher in The Netherlands, and therefore it will be a great investment to be able to have these skills for common issues you might have during your stay.
  2. Dutch cuisine is known to be rather bland in comparison to other cultures. For someone coming from a different culture, food might be an important topic and helps a lot with curing homesickness. I would suggest bringing instant seasoning from home if it's available, or staple foods you like.
  3. Coming from a country with a collectivist culture, the strong values of individuality often will make us feel lonely. But from what I learned is that it allows me to be more independent as you can’t always rely on someone because everyone lives their own life.
  4. The Netherlands is also known to be the tallest country in the world, and for us short people, this might be obvious when we go shopping for clothes or furniture. Be mindful of this fact and be patient with finding the right clothing sizes and the height of the furniture. It might be useful to have a small step stool to help you do house chores and reach things, and to know that you can even fit into the kids' section of some stores!

Sandra, Bsc International and European Law, 2 years in NL

  1. Start searching for housing months in advance, as soon as you know you will be studying in The Netherlands. There is a huge housing crisis all over the country, and it is increasingly difficult for students, especially internationals, to able to get accommodation. Oftentimes, searching for a house requires us to be able to do a viewing, and that is practically impossible for students living abroad. If you have family members or friends already studying in the city, it might be useful to ask for their help to come and do a viewing. Be careful of scammers as well!
  2. Learn to cook good but cheap food. Eating out or ordering take-outs, although convenient, can quickly add up as it is not the most affordable option. I would suggest learning how to cook at least the basic staple foods before you come, as it will help you massively in saving your money.

Saskia, MSc Cultural Anthropology, 3,5 years in NL

  1. The cost of trains can be quite expensive in the city, but I wish I knew that there is an option to have an NS flex subscription which allows you to choose from different monthly subscriptions for different kinds of discounts, depending on your traveling habit. Furthermore, when you are traveling in a big group, you can also purchase group tickets which makes the trip significantly cheaper. NS also has the option for train tickets + hotel packages for certain cities in The Netherlands.

Puspa, BSc Management of International Social Challenges and Philosophy of Specific Discipline, 2 years in NL

  1. I wish I knew that living alone is not always fun and that there will be some days when I feel sad; it doesn’t always look like in movies. Being alone while studying abroad is not the same as being alone at home. Preparing to live alone, having to do your chores, and cooking every day, are some of the things I wish I have prepared as much as I prepared myself by studying there.
  2. From those experiences, I learn to be brave, even when it seems hard sometimes. This is a cliché, but you will be okay. You will meet people you’ll love, you will try the food you never thought you’d enjoy, and you will visit places you can never imagine. Even in your study, you will learn a subject that you’ll be fascinated about, and you will find reasons to love staying here even when it is far from home. Don’t be discouraged, take as much time as you need, and keep going!

University life will be a fun and exciting time of your life but don’t over-worry or aim for perfection. Your student life is not supposed to be perfect, but it should be a time when you try new things, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again! Enjoy student life in The Netherlands!