The prospect of studying abroad always elicits a horde of emotions. The anxiety of waiting for the admission letter festers at the back of your mind for weeks, but the flooding sense of relief and euphoria after getting it is short lived. This article delves into the things that will probably be useful during your stay there.
Buy a good bicycle
One of the first priorities once you get there will be to buy a good bicycle. Remember, it is something that you will use intensively and almost every day, so make sure to buy a good quality one even if you have to shell out a few extra Euros.
In addition to the bike itself, it is mandatory to have headlights for your bike – one white light for the front and a red light for the rear. As you might have heard already, it is also extremely important to buy a good lock for your bike. There have been countless instances where my friends did not lock their bikes only to regret it later.
Basic traffic rules
The roads in the Netherlands are very conducive to cycling. Most of the routes are flat without many slopes and commuting within the cities will probably not even make you break a sweat. There are separate lanes for bikes, and these are more often than not painted in red on the side of the road. There are even separate traffic lights for cyclists – so watch out for them. The traffic moves on the right side of the road and it may take some getting used to initially, especially if you are from a country where the traffic is on the left.
Other than bikes, there are trains, buses and trams and it might be useful to buy a card called the OV chip card. This card lets you travel with a few discounts and it is especially useful for trams and buses. There are two types of chip cards – personal and anonymous. As the name suggests, personal cards can only be used by you and lending/borrowing one is not a good idea unless you want to drop some serious cash in fines. The anonymous cards can be used by anyone.
The system is very simple – you check in when you enter a tram, bus or train, and check out when you leave. There aren’t any conductors on buses or trams although the occasional official will come along to ensure that you have checked in.
All the administrative tasks like registering with the municipality, going for your TB tests and completing the formalities with the bank and insurance provider will vary from person to person. Your university will probably help you in this regard.
Settling into your home may take a few days and will require running around to buy supplies and furniture. Depending on whether your house is unfurnished or furnished, you may have to make a few trips to local stores such as IKEA or Action to buy furniture and other household items.
Remember to check Facebook for sales as a lot of items are sold by students who are leaving and can be bought at much cheaper prices than at the stores. There are quite a few groups where posts are made regularly so be sure to probe the depths of FB and get on the right groups.
Shopping in the Netherlands is a pleasant experience and supermarkets like Jumbo, Lidl, Albert Heijn, Plus and Spar are available in abundance. You can buy all your grocery items like milk, vegetables and snacks from these stores.
One thing to keep in mind is that most of the items are written in Dutch and it is extremely useful to learn the Dutch names of all your daily needs. Of course, almost everyone speaks English so don’t hesitate to ask as the locals are very helpful. Apps like Duolingo are useful to pick up a few basic words in Dutch before you arrive, and it also helps break the ice if you are speaking to locals.
The weather in the Netherlands is quite unforgiving and unpredictable. The summer is short and memorable with beautiful sunny days but once autumn starts you will be waging a losing battle with the weather. There are weather apps called Buienalarm and Buienradar which give you minute by minute updates on the local weather and you will be well served to check them out before leaving the safety of any dry building.
The Netherlands is famous for its raging wind and rightfully so as there can be days when you are blown off your bicycle. Add in some heavy rains and you will be in for quite a ride. It is imperative to buy protective clothing for the rain. This includes a cover for your college bag, rain trousers and a rain coat. Gloves and a warm jacket along with thermals are essential for winter.
Getting used to the education system can be quite challenging at first. Much emphasis is placed on creativity and independence. The Dutch are known for their discipline and productivity. Weekends are completely out of bounds when it comes to working and so is the evening after 18:00. They are extremely punctual and precise.
Everything works in accordance to a schedule and uncertainty/tardiness is frowned upon. It is extremely important to schedule meetings with people you want to meet (especially if it is a professor) and surprise visits, though not discouraged, are not part of the norm.
Relationships with other colleagues and professors is very informal. You are viewed as a junior colleague and they are very open to suggestions/discussions and even encourage it. The grading system is also quite difficult. Do not expect to breeze through your exams/assignments by burning the midnight oil the day before the exams. They really test your subject knowledge and offer grades of eight or nine where they feel you have almost mastered the subject.
You are expected to work independently and will not be constantly pushed to work. You yourself are solely responsible for your academics and no one else cares about your grades or credits. There is also a rule that not achieving a sufficient number of credits each year could result in your visa being cancelled and you having to leave the country so make sure you are aware of the number of credits you are required to show and plan out your courses in accordance with that.
Most universities have a diverse set of students from all over the world and learning their cultures and methods of working is quite interesting. Keep in mind that students from every country have their own sensitivities and inhibitions so try to learn about them as much as they learn about you. Studying abroad is an enriching experience. It helps you develop a number of new skills, cement new friendships and gain a broader perspective. The important thing is to have fun and keep an open mind. All the best.
Nikhilesh Tumuluru Ramesh, Masters in Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft