International students don’t feel at home in the Netherlands

International students don’t feel at home in the Netherlands

According to a survey by three student organisations (LSVb, ISO and ESN), international students in the Netherlands don’t feel at home and often feel excluded. Over 75 percent feel they lack contact with their Dutch peers.

Excluded, isolated and stressed

The survey, which was completed by 1.002 international students in the Netherlands, highlighted a variety of problems faced by a great deal of the respondents. Besides wanting more interaction with Dutch students, 72 percent of participants also felt that student housing should be organised better, with 44 percent experiencing a lot of stress regarding this issue. Additionally, more than a third of respondents indicated that they had been rejected for a property due to their foreign background.

“International students are actively recruited,” shares Carline van Breugel from LSVb. “But when they get to the Netherlands, often there isn’t any affordable accommodation, they don’t get Dutch lessons and they find it difficult to connect with fellow Dutch students. This needs to change.”

Solving student problems

One way teaching staff could tackle the peer contact problem would be to let international students work more often with Dutch ones, according to the studnet organisations. It is important that international students learn Dutch, they argue. As many as 37 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the options available to learn the language, and so they propose offering free Dutch courses to encourage integration.

The number of international students is increasing, with 90.000 studying in the Netherlands at universities of applied sciences and research universities in 2018. However, after graduating, fewer are sticking around. According to research published by Elsevier magazine, in 2017, 61 percent of international students graduating from a master’s programme left the country within half a year. This figure was only 45 percent in 2001.

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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Kevinlovesphysics 14:48 | 12 June 2019

I'm not surprised they have decided to go back. Why should they stick around if they are made to feel like second class citizens? As much as it's their responsibility to learn the host country's language, equal effort from natives should be there to make them feel welcomed. I feel the same way after having arrived in US, despite my every effort to socialise and integrate into society, I'm ignored, rejected from social groups for no apparent reason. I have noticed they have no issues socializing with people who look like them which has lead me to realise "implicit racism" is one of the main reasons.

Niki Ng Dom 14:17 | 13 June 2019

Thank you for that response. It is so true. I have been living here for ten years but have no friends. Only my two children. Day in day out been alone. The neighbour's had been racist to me and I called the cops once when I was threatened only to be responded with I don't speak English. You should speak dutch she said. I always keep to myself. I speak dutch well but I have had two occasions where I was subjected to be defeated. I said dankje and she kept asking like huh wat zeg je? I even asked myself how then do you day danke dankje? It was so obvious she was being a pain. In Germany as well. The racism is thick in the air. I was visiting a friend and whew... Going out was not one of my fave things to do. I just want to get my education on and go back to where I belong. Make our country better and stay home. Be happy even in a mud house but not tormented for whatever reason. ?

Fi Mc 21:02 | 12 June 2019

I find the biggest problem in learning Dutch is that no one will speak Dutch with/to you. As soon as they hear the accent they revert to English and often want to practice their English with you. I am trying my best to stay here and become part of the community but I agree, not speaking Dutch has had a way bigger impact than I anticipated and after 6 months here I am SO ready to go home.

Omar Baugh 17:13 | 13 June 2019

Yes I agree with this very much so. I have been here in the Netherlands for a year now and it is very difficult and somewhat a degrading feeling. I go to university here and I feel like an outcast around the other Dutch students. I thought this was a good idea but this has been a really bad decision on my part. Better off staying in my home country.

Nicolò M. Villa 23:25 | 13 June 2019

I can totally relate to this article. I study at WUR, whose students are at least 22% internationals, but they're living different lives from their Dutch peers in almost every aspect. The rents are the worst, because most of the offers are for Dutch only and the agency managing accommodations for students is not helping internationals, although it claims so. A lot of internationals I know are moving from subrent to subrent thanks to Dutch students doing internships outside Wageningen. The university is offering Dutch courses with the first level (A) for free, but there aren't enough seats available and Dutch is a difficult language for most, it's likely to take longer than the master duration in order to speak it fluently and few want to practice with you. Willingly or not, Dutch students are prone to exclude internationals: they speak almost always Dutch among themselves even in your presence, are in only-Dutch fraternities, already have they circle of Dutch friends since the bachelor and go back to their hometown for the weekend. Furthermore most of the events take place during the week, in order to let the Dutch go back home in the weekend and that penalizes the internationals, that are taking language courses at night during the week. If it wasn't for this university, I wouldn't stay in the Netherlands.

svdubv 04:18 | 14 June 2019

My daughter wanted to study on exchange in Rotterdam, but overwhelming negative reviews by fellow students changed her mind. It is a pity as she has Dutch ancestry. The reviews echoed the findings of your survey, unfriendliness and Dutch students being closed to welcoming Australian students. I was surprised to hear it.

Nia 14:06 | 25 June 2019

I feel confused and frustrated at it all. I have a Dutch background (my mom is Dutch) I grew up on a former Dutch Colonie. So legally I am a dutch citizen but I don't feel that way nor am I treated that way. I understand that I am priveleged to have my mom teach me Dutch from a young age and that's the only reason really how I made it here the last 3 months. I have been rejected 75 times from student housing for being able to speak multiple languages, for having the wrong look or nationality for not studying at the right school. I only got a place because my mom kept telling me not to give up to scour every site, message every student house, call every landlord. Until someone took a shot on me, told me I did not fit the Criteria but he was willing to meet me in person, show me the room and then make his decision. I believe just like everyone has said in these comments there's a barrier, an "us" and "them" field. I wish the world we live in was different we could have a community of expats and locals, a place we can come together learn from each other. Unfortunately integration here is only on a small scale. I've almost always been the one to start the conversation, to ask others for their contact info to stay in touch to ask them to go out. I feel that the locals think they have nothing to gain from such a friendship that they are only losing their time teaching an acquaintance about their culture because I have been told straight to my face my culture doesn't matter to them, but this goes both ways I've heard many say the dutch culture does not interest them and this stigmatizes all, I've had arguments with Dutch people about being accepting to outsiders and the main counter argument is always "but that's the point why would I try to help them if they don't want my help if they don't want to learn Dutch or adapt to our culture". Thats why I think someone should just organise something to bring the two together. If we could get the groups who are interested in learning and teaching about culture and experiences (all around the world) togheter only then will you see change. When there's a respected space we can interchange our knowledge only then will that percentage of expats that leave after their studies drop.

Carpentidge 17:53 | 27 June 2019

Although appaled by these comments I find them not untrue. Note though: Dutch people are also difficult te befriend by other Dutch people.:) One of the few ways is sports, music or study associations. Dutch students in a fraternity are difficult to reach as the spend much of their 'social time' there. Same goes for the students that commute so quite a large part of dutchies are sadly not interested in their fellow international students, but there are many left! Cities with the lowest percentage students in fraternities are probably Eindhoven, Enschede and Maastricht. Student housing is often difficult. Sadly the well for getting a room in existing student cohousing is somewhat poisoned by students from privileged families who think that toilets and kitchens clean themselves (to quote a fellow Indonesian student: doesn't everyone have a chauffeur back at home?) Also most houses are looking for long term housemates, so those here for a Masters only are at a disadvantage. Furthermore housing is extremely expensive, those people with low rents are usually in luck that the rents are still historically low. 500-600 euro's for a room is not unusual in some cities. So my advice - Make sure to join any introductory activities when arriving (usually the University organises something) - Join an association, be it rowing or chess ,or the local study association - Make sure to have fun with your fellow internationals - Don't be afraid to impose. If you know someone lives in or near your apartment building why not propose to ocasionally share dinner as only one of you needs to cook that way. Dutch students are either shy or already have a life besides studying, so I suspect they are less inclined to show initiative, doesn't mean they do not welcome it.

Anne Kathleen 10:36 | 6 July 2019

It's not just students who experience this. I have been here for all of my adult life and have no Dutch friends. The Dutch can be very nice but they keep their distance. I did an intercultural course at work and it was explained to us that the dutch have an 'individualistic' society. It explains everything. My friends are English, Cameroonian, Hungarian, French and Belgian

DavidHamilton 09:01 | 30 July 2019

This is an initiative that needs to stem from the government first. At the end of the day, these students are going to have to make the decision on whether or not to stay in the Netherlands to make a career for themselves, or whether to go home. I'm sure that the country doesn't want all of those newly minted professionals to just up and leave and drain the country of its human resources right?

Silvi Hepburn 17:02 | 31 October 2019

Studying in the NL is The worst experience I have ever had. Loneliness, exclusion, stress, isolation, fear and insecurities. And this experience is shared among the international community. The country is clean, a lot of civilization, high salaries. But trust me if I say that this is not everything in life, and I rather prefer to be in a country where I earn less money but I feel part of a community, than buying a BMW and living in a country where I felt so depressed.

notSoAnonymouz 19:21 | 5 April 2020

Dutch people will do their very best to make you feel like you are not welcomed and are in fact an outsider for the rest of your life. With their noses held up high, keep saying "we have this and that and this is the way we do it. You don't like it here? Go back!" Years ago I studied at a supposedly very international university TU Delft, every single international student I knew never managed to penetrate the well guarded circle of the native Dutch students. All of them were partly forced, partly willingly interact with other internationals only. Even if you learn to speak dutch fluently without any accent (like I do), and just like many native born 'dutch' people without the dutch bloodline, you still will forever be treated like a second class citizen, they are simply being referred to as an 'allochtoon'. Even in workforce, promotions are given to less capable person, with less work experience and joined the company later than you and contributed less, simply because they are Dutch. Management roles are almost exclusively given to Dutch people, there's no future for foreigners here if they don't have their own business with lots of money.

SofiaSosa 10:58 | 12 May 2020

I believe students here in NL are treated terribly. I have never felt more discriminated (for absolutely no reason) while finishing my Master. Besides, I was sued by a landlord to get me evicted because I didn't want to get a raise on my rent (already very high) and I went to the rental commission. Now, as a graduate student, after finding a job and agreeing on a sponsorship, the company is canceling my contract because of the Corona crisis, while it is understood that the employer must take the risk. My legal status is at risk and I am still unemployed. My experience in NL has been challenging and not at all pleasant.

SofiaTurati2 13:02 | 7 November 2020

Hello, I am writing an article about this topic. Is someone from Groningen and would like to share their opinions and experiences? Thank you very much !

ClandeSteyn2 00:10 | 4 March 2021

This is my 2nd stint in the Netherlands. The 1st time I was here was 6 years ago with my partner who was studying. From the day we arrived, members of faculty at the place of study, medical professionals and people we came across in general found it necessary to inform us that living in the Netherlands is "very expensive", so we were better off going back to our home country after graduation, or asking why we came to the NL? Aren't there any schools back in Africa?. This time I came alone, and I am the one who is studying. So far, faculty at the school (same school my partner studied at... I'm now regretting my choice of going there), a physiotherapist who was treating me, and some neighbours have found it necessary to repeat that "advice" from 6 years ago. Oh, and faculty members have made it clear that it will be next to impossible for me to get a job in the Netherlands after I graduate. All in all, I feel very unwelcome. Yes we know finding a job is hard work. I am studying towards a Masters degree for goodness sake. Give my level of intellect and reasoning capacity some credit to be able to understand the complexities of the job market and the economy! I don't believe everything will simply be handed to me, I am willing to put in the work. But geez, I'm not even half way through the programme and already I'm being told it's probably better for me to go back to Africa after graduation because living here in NL is expensive. Umm... we pay bills in Africa too, and some countries are actually more expensive to live in than living here in NL. No wonder so many international students don't settle here. It is made abundantly clear that we are not welcome here, even though we are actively recruited by these same schools and are paying bucket loads of money for education. Why bother recruiting and accepting us if they don't want us here? It boggles the mind.

JanvanWyk2 12:45 | 7 April 2021

Yes I fully agree with this! The Dutch students are openly hostile and xenophobic towards international students. And they think we do not notice and just casually shrug it off. They have a big chip on their shoulder. I never took these accusations seriously when I read them online (tons of these complaints), but I noticed this "dark side" of the Netherlands immediately upon arrival. There is a subtle class differentiation between Dutch and foreign students.