I guess the best way to start this entry is with a cliché – the last two months have felt like an absolute lifetime. Since I have arrived it has been non-stop, what with moving into my accommodation, starting classes, making friends and having adventures.
I am living in an apartment complex specifically for students, about 10 minutes from the city centre and 25 minutes from the main university campus. My apartment is the only international accommodation on the floor so it has been interesting meeting and getting used to the locals, some of whom have been living in this building for the last few years. I share communal kitchen and bathroom facilities with 5 Italians, 3 Germans and a Spaniard (10 of us in total) so things can get pretty hectic at times, especially when everyone wants to cook dinner at the same time. The rooms are reasonably sized and you are provided with a desk, cupboard, bed, bookshelf and a pair of chairs. It’s basic but it is home. I feel lucky to be living here, everyone is friendly and social. Despite this mix of nationalities, the language barrier is not existent as everyone is excited to have a native English speaker in the midst that they can practise with (I only speak English but can count to 10 in German).
The housing situation in Utrecht is a bit dire for some students; I have met many students who have had to resort to living in hostels or airbnb still 2 months after arriving. My recommendation: you will be sent an email after your acceptance about applying for housing through a company called SSH – apply for this as soon as you can. I heard of people putting accommodation on their to-do list and leaving it for the couple of days and completely missing out.
Utrecht is beautiful little town of a bit over 300,000 residents. Do as the Dutch do and buy yourself a bike to get around, it’s quick, easy and good for keeping fit. The locals are very friendly and most of them speak very good English and while you might feel a bit embarrassed for only speaking one language, it really isn’t a disadvantage and, so far, most people are big fans of Australia. Despite the cities reasonably small size there is always something going on. The university dominates the social scene of the city so there are plenty of bars and venues that hold specific student events.
Studying at Utrecht University has been a bit of a shock for me compared to my study habits back home. The courses are arranged into 2 blocks per semester with 2 subjects per block (so 2 and then 2 as opposed to 4 simultaneously for the whole semester). Each subject will involve a 2-hour lecture and a 2 hour seminar (tutorial) per week. While this isn’t so bad there is also a large amount of self-study required as there are normally several texts to analyse per week. Don’t let this deter you, however; there is still plenty of time for frolicking. International travel can be done on the cheap and the Dutch country side is full of interesting places to visit!
When I arrived in Utrecht I was a little apprehensive as to whether people would be nice. Would they be receptive of Australians? Would I have to go out of my way to meet people? Would I make friends? Would I feel alone? Pretty well all these fears were allayed within my first week of arriving. The ESN (Erasmus/Exchange Student Network) here in Utrecht is fantastic, they are frequently organising social events such as quiz nights, sport days, intercity trips and parties. You will meet people from all over the world and they are all in the same boat as you; they don’t know anyone, they don’t know the culture and they are apprehensive as well. My advice is to just dive in, you are here for cultural exchange, say hello, make a bad joke and make some new friends!
Nathan Wilson a Bachelor of Education (Middle and Secondary Schooling)/Bachelor of Arts student, Semester 2 2016 exchange at Utrecht University, the Netherlands
- See Nathan’s pre-departure post here