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.