Friendship: my key to happiness as an international student in The Netherlands
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust
Perhaps one of the most foreboding thoughts upon accepting my place at Utrecht University was whether or not I would be able to make friends, and not just generic friends, but true, genuine, inspirational friendships. To pack up your life on the other side of the Atlantic and leave behind the people, culture, and overall society that you know, and to venture onwards to a new place where you will spend the next few years, can be scary. More than anything, I was terrified of taking this jump and having nobody to catch me.
Now I can say, with the greatest happiness, that I was caught.
The most difficult thing about starting at a new university in a new country (and continent!), is to find a way to both celebrate your personal cultural identity, while also being welcomed into the new society in which you are immersed. For me, it is entirely through my diverse and loving friends that I have settled in so nicely here.
I think the biggest, most impactful strength of my friend group is our diversity. Very quickly on in the program, for some of us even on the first day of orientation, we met one another with open minds and hearts, wanting to find other people with whom we could share our excitement, anxieties, passions, and interests. Within a few short weeks, I was surrounded by a group of caring, interesting, and extremely different people that had come together to form real bonds. As a half-Dutch, half-international friend group, we have been able to provide one another with support in the new experience of university and living abroad, as well as in other everyday aspects of living in The Netherlands. Without this incredible group, I do not think I would have ever felt so at home in The Netherlands as I do today.
As an international student myself, it has been the greatest gift to have been so heavily welcomed by my Dutch friends. From their endless help in answering questions, to bringing me into their homes, to inviting me to Dutch cultural events, to even hosting and celebrating Canadian holidays for me to not feel homesick, I cannot think I would have been even a fraction as happy as I am now without their continual love, patience, and support. Alongside this, my international friends in the group have been invaluable in providing me with support in the international student journey, as we have all shared our experiences, mistakes, lessons, and feelings in order to help one another flourish in our new student lives.
Never before in my life have I been in such a diverse, and yet functional, friend group. Being from all over the world, we have a vast array of different experiences, opinions, and attitudes towards every element of life. Sometimes we do not always agree, but even this has been the greatest gift, as each and every conversation we have has allowed me to develop as a person.
I cannot stress enough how intrinsic friendship is to happiness. I cannot emphasize enough how significant my half-Dutch, half-international friend group has been concerning my integration into Dutch culture, my continual celebration and appreciation for my Canadian identity, and my overall happiness here while studying at Utrecht University.
And so, while my academic journey thus far has been the most amazing of experiences, it would never have been as such without the remarkable wealth of true, genuine, inspirational friendships all around me.