What I wish I knew before going on exchange to the Netherlands

Student overlooking canal
Author: Kaitlyn Kopp

Getting that letter stating that you’ve been accepted to the exchange destination of your dreams is a feeling that I cannot describe. Thoughts run through your head at a million miles a minute: will I love it? Will I make memories that will last me a lifetime? Will I form relationships with people I could have never met otherwise? I’m so excited and unsure and amazed and scared… where do I go from here? I made a list to help combat those nerves and answer the questions so that you don’t have to. Here is a list of things I wish I knew before I went on exchange:

  1. Learning even the slightest bit of the language helps. Even if it’s a country where everyone speaks English, you’ll still run into someone that does not. You’ll get treated like gold if you show that you’re aware and trying to understand.
  2. Google maps is not available everywhere, sometimes you will not be in service. Taking a notebook with you on your travels with maps of the locations, train schedules, and destinations really helps in a pinch. I speak from experience: I had to ask a Dutch woman how to transfer to Berlin from Amstel but she could not understand me. I pulled out my paper map of my travel route and she immediately understood and pointed to the correct train.
  3. Most European cities offer a major discount on bus tickets if you buy them from convenience stores rather than from the driver- and you don’t look like a tourist holding up the bus.
  4. No one warned me about the dangers of cycling, and the right of ways of the European cities. In the Netherlands, cyclists have priority over pedestrians and cars. Research traffic laws before you go.
  5. Don’t be afraid of studying abroad alone. Everyone you meet usually also arrived unaccompanied and is looking to form relationships with other international students.
  6. On that note, most of the time you will be grouped with other international students – meaning that you likely will not initially meet with citizens from the host country. I had to make a serious effort to make a Dutch friend- but do not be afraid! I got some of the best advice from the local students about parties and activities, and what to avoid. They also helped me find a great bike to get around the city for a discounted cost.
  7. Don’t forget: you’re going abroad to do school. It may seem like a semester-long vacation, but the work you put over there still transfers back. If you plan on going to graduate school, the courses you do abroad still count towards that GPA. Make time for fun, but also time for study.
  8. In the initial few weeks- say yes to everything! The first impression is huge and some of the best experiences I had was simply saying yes. A French girl in my class agreed that saying “no” in the beginning for some of the experiences was her biggest mistake, because she missed out on a lot of experiences afterwards.
  9. Remember to make time for sleep! I never thought I would attend as many gatherings as I did, so I really had to make an effort to squeeze in enough sleep.
  10. Pick your location based on your travel goals. I chose the Netherlands because it was central, and Utrecht was right in the middle of two airports that offered budget-friendly airlines. Make a note that Ryanair and Easyjet only travel to certain airports.
  11. Any normal daily task is an adventure in a foreign country. Doing laundry, getting groceries labelled in a foreign language, withdrawing money from a bank- everything. Tip: Google translate is your friend – download the language of the country you’re visiting so you can use it offline.
  12. Research the Erasmus groups in your host universities- they always offer meet-ups and activities with other international students.

These tips would have really saved me the effort I spent in the first week trying to figure everything out blind. With that being said, I wouldn’t change my exchange for the world.

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