The Life and Times of a student in the Netherlands

Attending university can often be a great challenge, as can moving to another country. Trying to do both at the same time is a different story altogether. Yet, many people do it.

Whether it’s just across the border, the other side of the continent, or the other side of the world, moving to the Netherlands poses both obstacles and opportunities for a new student here, no matter where they come from. The key to succeeding at student life, and life in general, is quite simple: just take it one day at a time.

So, let’s start with the first day of the journey - choosing to study in the Netherlands. Maybe you were interested in the open and tolerant society the Dutch have a reputation for, or maybe it was your hatred of hills and mountains that drove you here, or perhaps it was simply your love of cheese. Whatever your reason, moving to a different country is a big step.

As a student-to-be in the Netherlands, your first goal is to choose your school and programme of study and to apply, generally online using a system called Studielink. After filling out all the forms, gathering all the necessary documents like transcripts and letters of recommendation, and sending off your application to some unknown person that will ultimately decide the next step in your life, you start playing the waiting game, eagerly checking your e-mail every day, hoping for a response.

Once you’ve received your letter of acceptance (congratulations!), you have to start preparing the rest of your big move. Where are you going to live? What are you going to pack? How are you going to get there? What will it be like? Will you make friends easily? These and many more questions will plague your every day until slowly, one by one, you find the answers.

The most important thing you should sort out, and something you should do before you arrive if at all possible, is finding a place to live. Unfortunately, the Dutch housing market is extremely competitive, especially in student cities where the demand for housing often exceeds the supply.

In many cases, your university may have arrangements with a local housing corporation that provides students with housing near campus, or somewhere in the city. In my experience, it is advisable to accept this housing, at least at first, especially if you are coming to the Netherlands alone, as finding a place to live on your own may be quite difficult (and expensive if searching through an agency).

Although this student housing is sometimes quite expensive, it does have many advantages. Not only does the huge (HUGE) stress of not having a place to live disappear - you also have a place to live which will only help you in meeting other international students, making new friends, and getting accustomed to your new location.

These student housing complexes usually have a local grocery store, cafe, bar, sports centre, and other facilities that students need. Until you get to know the city and how to get around, it is quite nice to live in a place that already provides you with all of your needs.

However, it is important to still explore. When you arrive, you should look into purchasing an OV-chipkaart, the public transport card used almost everywhere in the Netherlands. You can buy one at almost any train station, the airport, or metro and tram stops around the country.

An anonymous card costs a few euros and comes out of the "vending" machines where you can also reload your card with more credit. This card will come in very handy for the first few weeks during which you are still familiarising yourself with your new surroundings.

Now that you’ve arrived, settle in! Make your new place your own, decorate it, and make it homey. Keep in mind the following:

 Be social. This is your opportunity to meet new people from all over the world that are in the exact same situation as you are. You could make some life-long friends during your study here, and it is important that you are open to doing so.

Take advantage of the events and parties organised by your school for new students and be social with your roommates / hall mates as well.

 Don't be afraid to ask questions. As a new student, things may be quite confusing for you since you’re not yet used to the routine of your new country.

Ask questions if you’re not sure about something, and ask as many questions as it takes to clarify the issue for yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t let unhelpful people deter you from finding out the answers you need.

 Stay calm and positive. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the emotions and changes that leaving your home life can produce.

Try to stay excited about your new school, new friends, and new city, even if you miss your old school, friends, family, and city. Make the best of your good and your bad days, and you’ll slowly find yourself adjusting to all the changes.

Then, start taking in the sights and sounds and see what this new place has to offer you!

Sonia M


Sonia M

I'm a Romanian/Canadian currently living in Rotterdam. I spent my first two years in the Netherlands living the life of an international student in Amsterdam. I am now self-employed, working...

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