For many students, ‘exchange’ and ‘travel’ are two synonymous concepts – and this is especially true in Europe, where countries are only a hop and skip away. For my spring break, I embarked on a three day trip to Ireland, my first solo trip. My time in the Emerald Isle was filled with exploring Dublin’s beautiful churches, museums and libraries, enjoying some traditional Irish pub music, and chatting with the friendly locals. I even took a day trip to the west coast to visit Galway and the jaw dropping Cliffs of Moher, which I would highly recommend to any eager traveller.

At the Cliffs of Moher – a wonder of nature.
At the Cliffs of Moher – a wonder of nature.

Closer to home, I’ve also taken the opportunity to do some more exploring of my host country, the Netherlands, in order to become more fully acquainted with Dutch culture. As any good tourist would do, I ticked off some staple tourist attractions by visiting the spectacular windmills of Kinderdijk and the stunning tulip gardens at Keukenhof. I also donned some orange for Kingsday, the major national holiday in the Netherlands. With live music, DJ concerts, cheap beer and delicious Dutch snacks on every street corner, it’s clear that the Dutch know how to party!

Some of the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO world heritage listed site.
The impressive tulip display at Keukenhof, one of the largest flower gardens in the world.

However, there is one part of exchange that tends to fly under the radar, and that is uni classes. In fact, choosing the right university can have a huge influence in making exchange a positive experience – and without a doubt, I’d say that attending Utrecht University has been one of the best parts of my exchange so far.

Cycling alone into the mini-city that is Utrecht Science Park on my very first day was a little daunting! Luckily, I was teamed up with some Dutch university students as part of the research projects in my biomedical science courses. Not only were they kind, polite and friendly, but when I expressed a desire to learn more about their culture, a wave of Dutch lessons followed! I was taught the ins and outs of Dutch culture and history, and learnt some cool Dutch phrases in my feeble attempts to learn the language (try rolling a Dutch ‘g’ for starters!).

For me, it was a chance to branch out beyond the ‘international bubble’ that frequently surrounds exchange students. Getting to know people from your host country can sometimes be tricky, especially if there is a language barrier. But happily, I’ve been able to mingle with international and Dutch students alike in my classes, which has made my exchange all the more enjoyable and worthwhile.

My classmates and I after completing our research project!

Cultural note #2: Dutch Terms

Check out some of these quintessentially Dutch words and phrases, which will make you sound like a local in no time!

  1. Lekker. A very commonly used word in Dutch that translates to good, nice or tasty. It can be used to describe almost anything – the weather, food, and even people!
  2. Vrimibo. Short for ‘Vrijdag middag borrel’ which translates into… Friday afternoon drinks. A pretty universal concept!
  3. Helaas pindakaas! Literally translating to ‘unfortunate peanut butter’ in English, the actual meaning of this sentence is ‘too bad’, and is used informally or in jest.
  4. Dilemma op dinsdag. This literally translates to ‘Dilemma on a Tuesday’ and is the Dutch version of ‘Would You Rather’ (but mainly played on a Tuesday, of course).
  5. Gezellig. A trademark Dutch word with no direct translation in English, but gives a feeling of being cosy and comfortable (maybe similar to ‘warm fuzzies’). It is generally used to describe a good chat, a good atmosphere or having a nice time in the company of friends.