10 things that happen to you as an international student at UU

James, Master in Human Geography

Studying at Utrecht doesn’t just offer you the possibility of studying at a world leading research institution; it also offers you a chance to experience the full width and breadth of Dutch culture. Based on my almost two years living in Utrecht I have noticed that almost every international student has at least some of these experiences at some point.

1. Food appears at any point in the day, Dutch students will eat whenever they are hungry, not when they are told they should eat. I was once in an exam when the student next to me reached into her bag and removed a whole roast chicken and started shredding meat off of it for a salad.

Traditional Dutch raw herring, thankfully students don't usually snack on this half way through class!

2. Utrecht University has some beautiful libraries full of unique hidden spots to study in; this is great until you go to the toilet and can’t find your way back.

3. You struggle to find housing, The university tells you, previous and current students tell you, the Dutch news tells you, the nice lady who made your sandwich told you. Utrecht is a student’s paradise and so housing demand is high – stay positive, start early and be bold because once you have that room it will be amazing.

4. You will feel a surge in productivity, you work tirelessly in the library (not daring to go to the toilet), reading, writing and learning, such is the study environment at UU. Your pride at your productivity fades when you realise your Dutch colleagues study just as hard as you in addition to working two jobs, participating in a student organisation, starting their own company, holding a seat on the UN security council … ok I exaggerate but it is true that Dutch students WORK HARD.

5. Something (or someone) will fall off your bike, you start to really love your bike as it takes you from A to B in a fast, sustainable and healthy way. However, your love is tested when you bike suddenly jettisons a component, if you’re lucky it will be just a mud guard; if you are me, it is the front wheel that flies of your bike at the city’s busiest junction.

6. After some practice you will say something in Dutch, only for the person to smile, suppress a gentle laugh and respond in English.

Visiting the supermarket isn't always pain free until you have a Dutch bank account,

7. After even more practice you will say something in Dutch and the person will respond in fast, colloquial Dutch on a completely unrelated topic leaving you confused and blubbering in English.

8. You reach a till in a supermarket and are unable to use any payment method you have on you. Your first card didn’t work, the second triggered a loud beep from the card reader, you fall back on the spare €20 only to be told you are at the card only till.

9. Regardless of your language portfolio you will rapidly begin to use Ja, Nee (pronounced like English ‘nay’ or ‘neigh’) and Maar, meaning Yes/No/But. You realise that they are superior and you begin to create your own phrases (I use the phrase ‘hell nee’ way more than I am proud to admit). 

10. No matter how careful you are, you will at some point inadvertently wander into a cycle path. You hear a ringing bell, angry Dutch shouting (well you think its angry). You brace yourself thinking ‘really? This is how it ends? Peddled to death?’ Usually the cyclist either swerves around you … or in my case, was metres away and shouting at someone else. I was just the weirdo stood in the middle of the street with my hands in the air like some ill-thought out student theatre performance. 

Whether you have managed to tick each of these things off already, or if they are still to happen to you; you can be assured that they have all happened to almost every other international student in Utrecht!