The Netherlands have become a very popular destination for international students. In this article I would like to analyze the pros and cons of living and studying in the Netherlands and possibly help you make such an important decision.
The Netherlands is a wealthy country in the north of Europe. This sentence in itself hides a pro and a con. Being a rich country, with an established and ever-flourishing economy, makes it a great place for recent graduates to find a job quickly and well paid. On the other hand, its geographical position means having long days in the summer (which is nice!), and short and rainy days in the winter. The sun has a hard time making its way through the clouds from Autumn to Spring, which can affect the mood of particularly weather-susceptible individuals. Some people might think weather is quite a minor issue to consider in an article like this, but believe me it is not. Especially if you come from a warm and sunny place, having to live in a country where you see the sun only seldom, takes quite some getting used to!
Talking about a northern country, I couldn’t start my article differently than addressing the weather, right? But, of course, there is so much more to say about the Netherlands, and most of it is great!
Quality and Fee
Let’s start analyzing the education system. The Dutch government strongly believes that education should be affordable to everyone and should be held to a high standard. This translates into public universities across the country, offering courses of very high level at very low prices. The average fee is little more than 2000€! The price of education alone makes the country very attractive, but this is combined with high standards, strictly controlled by the government all throughout the country.
Organisation of the education system
Academic years are generally split in quarters. This has the advantage of providing reality checks soon after you join university. On the other hand, you might be pressed into a very high and demanding rhythm, that might not suit your learning habits. Speaking about learning habits, the Netherlands have two main types of universities: Applied Sciences and Research Universities. Often you may find the same kind of courses in the two, but with a major difference. ASU will offer a more practical, hands on approach; while RU will focus on the theory and will ask students to be more independent in their studies.
Generally speaking, universities tend to be very connected with the outside world, working on industrial and socially relevant themes. Industries come to talk to students and help them enter their first job after graduation. They also offer a very wide range of English taught courses from which to pick. It is nearly impossible not to find something that will do for you. But if you still can’t find a course that suits you, most Research Universities have a College that will provide Liberal Arts degrees. A degree in Liberal Arts is a degree where you build up your own study path. You can explore your options among different courses in different areas of your interest, before deciding in what you want to major in.
Dutch people are very good English speakers, making it very easy to sort your way around, whether you are shopping, going to an office, or hanging around with friends.
The Netherlands attract people from all over the world, because of their education system, their economy, their ability of speaking English, making it an extremely multicultural country. There is also a very high LGBTQ+ acceptance as there is a lot of respect and tolerance generally speaking.
So, where are the cons (besides the weather)? Though Dutch people are quite respectful of differences in lifestyle, sex orientations and religions, it might be tough to get along with them at first. The reason is a very distinctive cultural characteristic. Dutch people can be extremely straight forward and have no filters, to the point of appearing impolite or rude. Once you make peace with this aspect of their personality, you actually can find some really good friends. But again, like the weather, this might seem to be a minor thing, nevertheless some people can never get over it.
A big problem to take into account, when deciding to study in the Netherlands, is the fact that it is a very densely populated country. This is true especially in the larger cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. This causes a severe shortage in housing, making it a really big issue. Some international students end up declining their offers at university because of their inability of finding a place to live. The problem is so big that the government has been thinking of limiting the amount of international students universities are allowed to accept.
Other Everyday Issues
Other things to consider are the high costs of transportation, some bureaucracy you need to take care of and the difficulty of paying with credit cards or even debit cards.
Let’s start with transportation. Dutch students travel for free. Unfortunately this is not the case of international students. But if you manage to get a Dutch bank account, you can get a personal travel card (OV) and have access to discounts. This brings me to the second point: bureaucracy. In order to open a bank account or get a health insurance (which is mandatory), you need to be registered in the municipality. To do so, you need to have a regular rental contract (back to the housing problem!). Lastly, everything and everywhere you pay by card. Cash is almost never used, but accepted. Beware, though, that not everywhere all cards work and in some places you won’t find an ATM that accepts your cards when you want to cash out. This is because most places in the Netherlands work on the MAESTRO circuit, and won’t accept VISA or MASTERCARD even when they are DEBIT cards.
This article does not pretend to be exhaustive, but I hope, nonetheless, to have managed to give a general overview of what studying and living in the Netherlands means.