If you want to study a Master’s degree in the Netherlands and you have already visited the country, you might think that student life is not very different from how students behave in other countries. However, the longer you’ll live in the Netherlands, the more obvious and striking certain traits in student culture will become.
If you are like most international students, when you go to the Netherlands you will start to hang with other international students like you. We call this phase the “international student bubble”.
But if you leave this bubble you will soon discover that Dutch student culture is more than just babbling away in an overcrowded pub while downing 0,25l glasses of Heineken and rhythmically swaying to some form of electronic music.
Here are some essential things you need to know about life as an international student in Netherlands. This info may make or break your plans for going to a Master’s degree in Netherlands, so read this carefully:
1. Student life in the Netherlands varies according to your university
Each Dutch university, campus and student city have their own features when it comes to student life. For example, you can’t expect life in a small university city to be the same as life in Amsterdam.
That’s why, if you are planning to study in the Netherlands you should always check what the universities you are interested in say about students’ life. If you don’t yet know any university in the Netherlands, here are some to get you started in your search for a Master’s:
- Radboud University
- Tilburg University
- University of Twente
- The Hague University of Applied Sciences
- IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
2. Most international students in the Netherlands live on campus
When it comes to housing most international students tend to live on campus. However, campus spots are quite limited. If you don’t move fast you might have to opt for sharing an apartment with several other people, like most Dutch students do. There are good sides to both options. Accommodation on campus means enjoying good international vibes and getting to know many other people from different cultures and backgrounds. Sharing a flat might lead to closer friendships with your new mates. At the same time, if you stay in a flat with Dutch people you’ll get to experience Dutch student culture up-close.
3. Volunteering and cooperation are big in the Netherlands
In a country where about 400 people sharing a square kilometre, cooperation has become somewhat of a must. This also applies to students, out of whom a vast majority engages in some kind of social activities while gaining their degree. According to several studies, the Dutch are among the most active nations in Europe when it comes to volunteering. So, joining students organisations is quite a big thing in the Netherlands. We say you ride this wave, too. It ‘s good for your CV, it’s good for making friends, and it’s good for making a positive contribution in society.
4. Student parties and events take place during the week
Big student cities, such as Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Leiden tend to be bustling with student activities every day of the week during the school year. However, most parties and other student shenanigans tend to take place during weekdays whereas weekends are devoted for studying, visiting family etc.
Opening ceremonies and introduction weeks are common to welcome new and old students at the beginning of the academic year (also often organized by a specifically set up committee).
But, if you expect an American style sports’ enthusiasm from students, you might be disappointed. However, there are some famous sports events which do take place annually, e.g. the biggest student relay race in the world, Batavierenrace (starts from Nijmegen) and the Varsity rowing regatta in Amsterdam.
5. Dutch student associations help you prepare for the job market
Most Dutch student towns have a wide range of associations (studentenverenigingen) from leisure activities to religious student communities and political student organizations. Study-related clubs and internationally oriented student organizations (ESN, AEGEE, AIESEC etc.) naturally exist just like anywhere else in Europe.
What is characteristic for many of these associations is the business-like way they are run. This approach will actually help you prepare for the later working life (and also score some nice extracurricular in your CV). In a lot of cases the structure of these associations have clear hierarchies, including a board of members with clearly defined positions, often accompanied with several sub-committees. But hey, some structure in the chaotic student life, can’t hurt!
6. Student clubs are rather exclusive
Almost every big student city hosts some kind of a big student club, each having an own separate character, identity and traditions. Some of the oldest ones often also reflect bigger social patterns in the Dutch society.
These associations can also own property, being similar to Northern American fraternities and sororities, together with their possible reputation for binge-drinking and parties. As opposed to their American equivalents, the Dutch student clubs are typically mixed.
If you are an international student who does not know Dutch language very well, these clubs can feel like a no-go area. The impression you’ll get is that these clubs tends to be very exclusive. But if you do get in, you should expect going through an intensive selection/pledging process and possibly some form of hazing.
Make the most of being a student in the Netherlands
Despite the somewhat big emphasis on individualism in Dutch society, group work and cooperation are the rule in Netherlands—and student life is no exception.
Engaging in some form of student activity is more of a norm than an exception for many students, local and international like you. Joining student clubs as an international student might take some effort but proves often to be highly rewarding. It can offer a better the view of Dutch culture, society and language in a whole new way and possibly open doors for future working life for that who wishes to live and work in the Netherlands – and obviously help finding local friends.