So this title is slightly misleading… let me explain. Having lived and studied in Utrecht over the past few months, I can most certainly confirm that I have experienced no ‘typical’ days. Indeed, as clichéd as it may sound, each day is extremely different. Nevertheless, in an attempt to answer the frequently asked question, ‘What is life like as an exchange student in the Netherlands?’, I will identify a few activities that have reoccurred throughout my time abroad at Utrecht:
Due to the fact that I’m currently living in Europe, and the close proximity of everything to everything, I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent planning trips inside and outside the Netherlands. The centrality of the Netherlands makes it incredibly easy to travel and exchange students constantly have tabs open with Skyscanner, RyanAir and EasyJet to grab the best deals. Not including the travel that I undertook prior to arriving in the Netherlands, to-date I have been to London, Oxford, Bath, Cambridge, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne, Paris, Keukenhof Gardens (Netherlands), Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Brussels, Ghent, Salzburg, Milan, Verona and Bergamo. Indeed, the fact that we only study two courses at any one time at Utrecht University often means us exchange students have extended weekends as class falls only on 2-4 days of the week. This term I only have class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so you can imagine how tempting short trips have been! (I’m actually writing this in a train in Italy!).
Consider this the glue in my day as it holds everything together. One of the first things I did when arriving in the Netherlands was I bought a bike. I would definitely recommend any exchange student in the Netherlands to do the same as riding through the greenery of Wilhelmina Park on the way to law classes whilst listening to music is a feeling that cannot be described in words. We cycle everywhere in Utrecht –to and from class, the shops, the gym and even clubs!
Kanaalstraat Parties combined with Club Poema
In the early days of exchange, I became friends with a group of around 15 fellow exchange students from different countries who happened to live together in student housing on a street called ‘Kanaalstraat’. Since practically week 2 of exchange, they have hosted numerous parties (at least once a week) and that household has become legendary in the eyes of exchange students. It is a great way to meet new people, to practice foreign languages –due to the diversity of the crowd attending– and to relax in amongst busy weeks of study and travel. Following these parties, the Erasmus Students Network (ESN) typically hosts an international party at the infamous Club Poema. Whether or not you are a fan of the club and the music it plays, I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when I say that it has become part of the fabric of exchange life in Utrecht. Once again, it is a great opportunity to meet new people and have a great time.
I have enjoyed the challenge of cooking for myself, although the challenge of cleaning up is still in its development stage. I tend to do my grocery shopping after class as it means classmates will often tag along. We cycle from our classes in the city to the big supermarkets: Albert Heijn, Jumbo or, if we’re desperate, Spar. Shopping in the Netherlands has been quite a learning experience in itself and we have all learnt where to go to get the best deals, both in terms of price and quality, in Utrecht. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there is also a fresh food market that gets set up in the city centre so many of us will cycle there to buy fresh seafood or stroopwafels –a Dutch specialty!
Perhaps this addition to my list of ‘typical things’ is biased from the recent international competition, but it deserves a mention nevertheless. During my time in Utrecht, I have made so many friends from so many different countries. Surprisingly, there is a considerably large group of Finnish students that I became friends with –one is actually one of my housemates. These Finnish friends and I have travelled together, hung out together and had classes together. They have also introduced me to ice hockey, which is incredibly popular in Finland. Recently we followed the international ice hockey tournament and Finland made it to the grand finals which was exciting for all of us. I have even learnt some Finnish words! This is a testament to the fact that exchange has further raised my international awareness and my knowledge of other lifestyles and cultures.
Many exchange students signed up to Olympos soon after we arrived. While not the most extravagant of gyms, it is very near to our student accommodation and it is a great opportunity to see familiar faces –a lot of us make guest appearances there from time to time. The complex has squash courts, tennis courts, basketball courts and various gym classes which provide for an excellent complement to the academic aspect of exchange.
Class & Study
I almost forgot, we also have to do something known as university whilst on exchange –strange isn’t it? In all seriousness though, the classes I am studying are amongst the most interesting classes I have ever studied. For instance, in my course The Role of the Supreme Court in American Law, we engage in regular class debates on topical issues in American and international politics: everything from gun control to the death penalty to same-sex marriage to Donald Trump. These classes are run by professional, knowledgeable lecturers and it is fascinating hearing the perspectives of students from around the world and contributing an Australian perspective as well. The lecturers and tutors that teach me are, without exception, all highly qualified and they often lead the field in which they teach. This means that they are a great source of knowledge and have experience in making learning both effective and enjoyable.
I hope the above has portrayed certain aspects of life in Utrecht that you may be interested in. As stated earlier, there is no ‘typical’ day in the life of an Australian exchange student at Utrecht University because, to its credit, the exchange program is flexible and it involves spontaneity. This makes it nothing short of exciting.
Anyway, we have reached Milan so I need to disembark the train now –talk soon!
Leon S Rebello