Dutch Treat: Study Abroad in the Netherlands

by Jake Jessop

It’s too bad the first thing that comes to mind when people hear “the Netherlands” is marijuana tourism and the Red Light District. Okay, maybe some people think of tulips and coffee shops — but that’s a pretty limited picture, too. Studying abroad in the Netherlands is an incredible opportunity for anyone desiring a liberal, English-friendly, centrally-located European semester abroad.

Boat ride in Amsterdam
Exploring Amsterdam’s historic maze of canals. Photo by Jake Jessop

Dutch Life

Most cities in the Netherlands are built around the city center, a hub of activity morning, noon, and night. It’s host to a weekly open-air market selling foods, clothing, crafts, and more. This is a recommended site for students, as it’s a convenient, affordable way to try all the foods The Netherlands is known for. These centers also host seasonal events such as the Sinterklaas festival on December 5th, which celebrates the winter holiday figure who is the basis of our Santa Claus.

But I Don’t Speak Dutch!

While it's ideal to go into a study abroad program with strong language skills of the host country, it’s not hard to thrive here with little to no Dutch. Children in the Netherlands begin learning English often before primary school — so most people will be able to speak to you. Students from all over Europe study in the Netherlands for their well-regarded universities and emphasis on English-based learning. You’ll definitely learn at least a little Dutch if you study abroad in the Netherlands, though — after a couple trips around town, you'll be saying “alstublief” and "dank je" in no time. Making Dutch friends will strengthen your language skills even more, not to mention give you far more insight into their rich, open-minded culture.

Amsterdam

Wham, Bam, Amsterdam

Regardless of where your host university sits, the sights and sounds of Amsterdam are not too far away. The well-connected and affordable public transportation system known as NL is easy to use, and makes day and weekend trips feasible throughout the country. Of course, if you study abroad in Amsterdam, it’s all right at your fingertips. Canal boat tours in Amsterdam are a scenic and cool way to spend an afternoon. Travelers come from all over the world to visit the Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam, to marvel at Rembrandts and Vermeers at the Rijksmuseum, to tour the art galleries, to bike ride or ice skate, or catch cutting-edge concerts and music shows!

Sign up for any Dutch culture classes offered by your host university. These are tailored to students interning or studying abroad in the Netherlands. Take advantage of any field trips offered, and travel with your Dutch classmates when the opportunity presents itself.

As Amsterdam’s International Schiphol airport is a major European hub, cheap flights to other European cities are easy to come by. Ryanair is an ultra-low fare carrier offering unbelievably cheap flights throughout Europe if you pack light and plan ahead.

Apple Fritters To Zuurkool

The Dutch take the typical European approach to food: frequent trips to the market, more fresh fruits and breads, and a leisurely attitude toward dining out.

There’s no pressure to leave your table after you’ve finished your meal, and it’s not uncommon for people to spend two or three hours at a restaurant, finishing with an espresso or craft beer. Enjoying each other’s company is just as important as filling one’s stomach. You’ll need to ask for your check when you’re ready to head out, and tipping is not compulsory here. For fast food, options are similar to that in America with more of an emphasis on seafood, and mayonnaise to dip your frites. Milk expires after about seven days. Recycling is part of the culture; cash in your PET and glass bottles right in the supermarket!

Amsetrdam canal

Practical Matters

Visa. If you’re deciding on a semester or year abroad in the Netherlands, make sure to organize a student visa if you’re staying longer than 90 days.

Banking & Money. The Netherlands uses the Euro, and Visa is accepted at most ATMs. It’s best to carry cash, as not all shops accept credit cards. Your home bank will often charge a currency conversion fee around two percent for every transaction which can quickly add up. Consider opening a bank account at RoboBank or another national bank which offers a debit card.

Phones & Electronics. There are a host of pre-paid wireless phone services offering cheap phones and no contract. Don’t forget to pack a power adapter for your laptop and other electronics, as the plugs are a different size and voltage.