Jacomien van Niekerk
University of Pretoria
There have been so many new experiences: learning to ride a bike in Utrecht’s traffic (I haven’t been on a bike since I was 10 years old!), getting used to the public transport system – even buying groceries was very different at first. But it’s wonderful how quickly one’s surroundings do become familiar to you as well as a different way of life. Before you know it, you’re confidently buying your cheese from the kaasboer and much rather taking your bike somewhere than having to walk!
Academically, I was lucky to meet two or three lecturers who will all probably contribute to a greater of lesser extent to my independent research while I’m here. Though my topic is far removed from anything Dutch, they were all able to give interesting perspectives on my research and make helpful suggestions. Consequently, I believe I will greatly benefit from the time I will be conducting my research under their supervision, as well as having resources like the library available to me. I’ve even been able to locate books about my South African topic that I was unable to get in South Africa!
Utrecht is really a beautiful city and I feel very privileged to be able to walk among its streets, using the Dom tower to navigate myself and discovering its cafés, shops and theaters. Also, I enjoy every opportunity to spend some time with Dutch people. Especially memorable will be New Year’s Eve, that I spent with a group of wonderful people – a quite “authentic” Dutch “Oud&Nieuw”, complete with oliebollen and lots of fireworks. The evening also ended typically Dutch when I wasn’t given a lift home in somebody’s car, but on the back of a bicycle! (I first didn’t think they were serious…)
I have five more months in which Utrecht will be my home, and I believe I will continue to feel even more at home and to enjoy everything the city and university has to offer.
It has been almost five months since I arrived in Utrecht. One of the main reasons why I came here was for the academics; thankfully, not only did it have many options for my areas of study in English, but professors from my home university said that Utrecht had many partnerships and a well-established exchange program. I am from America and attend one of the largest public universities in the country, so it has been a wonderful opportunity to have a change of pace in so many ways: smaller classes, more interaction with professors (or teachers as they are referred to here), and the quarter system which allows for more travel time. The fact that Utrecht attracts so many international exchange students was also deciding factor, and it really has been so amazing, meeting so many people from all over the world (mostly from Europe).
Utrecht is such a lively city. And even if you are the big city type, the Dutch public transportation is so good and things are so close that you have no excuse not to go to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag etc, as much as you can (not to mention all the other wonderful places here). There are lots of clubs, pars, restaurants, concerts, movies... the list goes on. So much to do.
The ESN (Erasmus Student Network- the international student organization) is also very active here, and they do a wonderful job of coordinating events and getting the international student community together. It is really nice to see such a close relationship between a student organization and the university; they do a wonderful job making you feel welcome.
As far as cultural differences between the Netherlands and America, there are many, of course. But the most exciting and surprising thing so far as been getting to compare my experiences with what I have been told to look for and/or expect. The longer you live somewhere, the more intimate a place becomes, and so many of these differences are so subtle and almost unexplainable in words, which is why I decided to come for a year. If I could only make one recommendation for anyone studying abroad, regardless of where, I would say stay a year if possible. I don't mean to make it sound as if everything here is perfect; the point is that it is different, in an amazing way.
Steven Miles, Australia
My name is Steven Miles and I am an Australian student who spent a period on exchange at Utrecht University in the Netherlands in late 2004. The experience was a truly memorable one, and I am extremely grateful that I was given such a fantastic opportunity.
From the first day that I arrived in Utrecht I knew that I was going to love living there - I was greeted at the train station by my Erasmus (student network for exchange students) tutor, and taken to the building where I was to live. I was in a student house full of international students, which made for a very social living situation. I was constantly surrounded by international students, an interesting and diverse range of people from all corners of the globe. There were always events and excursions being organised by Erasmus, so there really was never a dull moment!
I studied at the Faculty of Law, and enjoyed the subjects that I participated in. I was particularly impressed with the method of teaching at the University, which centred around smaller class sizes, allowing for greater class interaction than I was accustomed to at my home university.
I found the staff at the University to be particularly friendly and always very willing to help with any questions or problems that the students may have. I also found the Dutch people in general to be very friendly and interested in sparking up a conversation, particularly when they heard a foreign accent!
Utrecht itself is a very beautiful European city, with its classical Dutch architecture and historical appearance, yet it has a very young and vibrant student atmosphere - evidenced by the abundance of great bars and nightclubs in the city.
My time at Utrecht was probably the best few months of my life - I have so many great memories from the experience, and made a lot of great friends that I know I will continue to stay in contact with. I would strongly urge anyone who has the chance to go to Utrecht - it really is a fantastic place.
Natalya and Viktoriya
Are you looking for a place to study abroad? You have a lot of alternatives but can't make your mind where exactly to go? Do not hesitate and go to Utrecht!
Last year we also had to make a choice for a place to study and eventually decided to go to Utrecht. Originally we come from the Ukraine, we study linguistics at the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kiev. The main point for making a decision was that Utrecht University offers a great variety of courses to choose in any specialization. The academic knowledge you get here is of high standards as the teaching staff of the university is highly qualified and are professionals in what they do.
To get more acquainted with the Dutch mentality and culture they always offer you to follow such course as "Dutch present day society" as well as language courses for those who are interested in Dutch language itself.
But all this is not only about studies because apart from studies you also have a lot of things to do and places to go in Utrecht! The students' life here is also well-organised as special students' organisations (like ESN) take care of it and do their best to make it as enjoyable as possible so that you could feel yourself like at home. They organise different international parties, excursions, meetings and so on. You want to experience all this yourself? Don't think too much about it and join us in Utrecht!