Is your Erasmus exchange in the Netherlands? Well, you won’t come back to Poland.
Because you’ll like weed too much.
This is the reaction number 1. Sometimes there was also the reaction number 2, but it was occurring much less often than the reaction number 1.
Because when you see how cool the university is there you will never want to study in Poland again.
Yes, well… the reaction number 1 was happening definitely much more often. However, instead of wondering about the power of stereotypes, I decided to experience on my own what does it really mean to study in the Netherlands.
After 8 months of managing all the paperwork and formalities connected with the preparation to the trip, sending lots of emails and choosing the best Cultural Studies courses, I packed my huge suitcase and took off to my adventure. The first thing that came to my mind when I entered the country of windmills and tulips was “does it always rain so much?” As I was to find out during my first 2 weeks – unfortunately, it does. As one of the Dutch friends told us, “Groningen is the only place on Earth when it’s raining from the bottom up, and the wind is constantly blowing in your face, no matter where you turn”. Yes, I laughed too, when I heard it for the first time. Today, trying to make my way through the city on my tiny blue bike, holding an umbrella in one hand and trying not to get killed by dozens of crazy students biking in my direction, I didn’t feel like laughing at all.
But enough about the weather. At last, I have a rooftop over my head! Kraneweg International Student House is a legendary student house in the city center. The very moment we arrived at the place, we were invited to a party – even before actually getting to know the name of the person who invited us. Then, a little bit more formally, we met the Student Manager, a British guy called Christian, who loves to be bare feet, no matter where he’s currently standing.
But what can I say about the living conditions of the place? Well, at first, I was terrified by… the stairs – typical for Dutch architecture, unnaturally steep and small, which led to our room. Apparently though, one can get used to anything. One can even transform little inconveniences into cozy, nice details which all create this unique atmosphere of living in an international environment. The delicious smell of Asian food, coming from the kitchen where the Bengalese friend would cook his dinner. Fighting for a good parking spot for my bike with this interesting Brazilian guy. Talking in the backyard until 3 am with the Canadian couple, singing German songs with a Russian friend, and checking every open room because obviously, we don’t want to miss any fun event or situation.
Despite all those fun activities though, we didn’t have much time to integrate with the housemates during our first week in Groningen. As it turned out, your first Erasmus days are pretty much about being in a state of permanent unknown. Everybody wants something from you, you have to remember about thousands of things to do and organize, and the deadline is always today, then you’re getting tons of invitations from many different student organizations…
However, after the first shock is gone, you will get used to Groningen and its never-ending atmosphere of the most students-filled city in the Netherlands. You’ll also start to notice that your current position has, indeed, a lot of perks. You are here only for a 6-month student exchange, you’re an international student and, therefore, nearly the whole university wants you to be happy and comfortable. This explains the perfectly-organized Welcoming Ceremony when we could find out everything we needed to know about studying in Rijksuniversiteit.
After a couple of formal speeches about effective studying and safe living in the Netherlands, we had time for a bit more… informal attractions. By informal attractions, I mean ESN Introduction Week. ESN means Erasmus Student Network – it is an organization which takes care of exchange students. They are doing their best to make sure that the internationals feel like home and take all the advantage of the time spent in Groningen. The ESN members – students themselves – dressed in orange T-shirts, did a really great job entertaining us. During the whole week we were practically running from one workshop to another, from theatre to cinema, then to a party, next workshop, and a party again…
It’s impossible to describe everything that 1000 international students have been doing during those few days. Still, here are a few most vivid memories: a dinner at our ESN guide’s place, who totally forgot that he needs to cook something… fighting for the best bike during a biking sale… an improvisation performance, co-created by the whole audience… salsa workshops, Dutch Party with all the people dressed up in orange… and the last party of the Introduction Week, called “Summer of ‘69”. And everybody wants to get to know you, everybody wants to party with you because you’re from Poland and it’s obvious that Poles like and know how to party, everybody tells you about their country and culture… It was an incredibly intense and awesome week.
This is just the beginning! An innocent prelude to what Groningen is able to offer me with all of its energy and charm of a city where most of the inhabitants are students. I am very curious to take part in that play! To sum up the first part of my Erasmus diary, let me recall words of my Dutch ESN friend: “You’re on Erasmus! Remember to enjoy your life because it’s one in a lifetime opportunity to live and have fun with great people from all over the world, and in the best country in the world – the Netherlands! So please, ENJOY!”
If you’re interested in expat lifestyle, check my other articles in the Nomad Life section; there’s something about Portugal, Poland, and Lithuania!