A Student’s First Impressions of Groningen, the Netherlands
Here’s a short and sweet post to mark my first 2 weeks of living and studying here in Groningen, a beautiful city in the north-east of the Netherlands! For more info of what on earth I’m doing here, take a look at this blog post: ‘Hello to the Netherlands!’
- In true British style, I have to begin with the weather, which has been fantastic! At a regular 27°C, shorts and summer dresses are the order of the day and I’m spending plenty of time outdoors in the beautiful Noorderplantsoen park nearby my flat. Very little of the rain I was so warned about!
- Bikes are seriously everywhere. If you don’t have a bike, it’s like: who are you?
- I adore my commute to lectures! Instead of the 90 minutes per day I used spend commuting on a bus/train/tube combination in London, I now spend max. 10-15 minutes per day cycling around the city. And now that I’ve got my bike, it’s also free, which is nice considering the £200+ I used to spend monthly on transport in London.
- The canals are everywhere, and they fit perfectly into the city architecture, with little sandy beaches in places, swivel bridges to let the houseboats pass through the city, even a little yacht marina, and innovative buildings jutting into the water. I’m kind of wishing I lived on a houseboat!
- No tulips or windmills so far.
- I apparently must look like a local as everyone speaks to me in Dutch. Coming from a background of living in south-European countries where I always look visibly foreign, this is a joy!
- The universities are seriously well funded. The Netherlands is aiming to become one of the top five knowledge economies in the world, and evidently the government must invest a lot in the universities, as the tuition fees are low, roughly c. €2,000 per year (compared to £9,000 per year in the UK). I’m seriously impressed by the buildings, the sports facilities and the huge amount of extracurricular stuff that the university funds.
- The Dutch speak incredible English, which will make it tricky me to actually practice the language, once I start my Dutch evening classes (which are provided for free to international students). And it’s not just the younger generations, everyone speaks excellent English.
- Accommodation is really hard to find, it mainly comes unfurnished (!) and there’s a shortage of supply. Many international students I’ve met in particular have had serious difficulty finding a flat. I managed to organise a room before I arrived, and although I was initially disappointed that it’s a bit small, having since heard others’ horror stories, I’m now seriously counting my blessings that I could move in straight away, that it came fully furnished (something that hadn’t even occurred to me!), that it’s near the centre, and that it’s so cheap (a quarter of what I used to pay in London to be precise!).
- Everything is so cheap! At least in comparison to the UK and London. The weak pound isn’t helping matters at the moment, but my outgoings have still dropped dramatically, which is a relief given that I’m living off my savings.
- The city centre is stunning. It’s a small island surrounded by a canal, with bridges linking it to the rest of the city. From narrow cobbled streets, to the Renaissance Prinsentuin rose and herb garden, to the Gothic Martini Church (in which I watched the traditional opening of the academic year) & bell tower (whose 260 steps we climbed at the weekend), to the neoclassical columns of the grand City Hall, from the Renaissance Academy building (the principal centre of the university) to the neoclassical Harmony Building (which houses the Faculty of Arts where I study) it’s a feast for the eyes and incredibly photogenic. The university is over 400 years old, one of the oldest in the country, and very atmospheric.
- Before arriving I had read that Groningen is the youngest city in the Netherlands, with half the population under 35 and 25% of the population studying at the two universities, and it’s completely true. If I spot someone above 50-years-old then I honestly do a double-take.
- So far my Master’s course is turning out to be fascinating and right up my street! There are 25 students in total on the course, from 13 different countries, with an average age of 24, so there are quite a few others like me who have worked since our Bachelors and have then come back into education.
- And the best bit? I have a three day week, with Fridays and Mondays off! This semester we also have two reading weeks, a trip to Brussels, and in January I’ll have no lectures whatsoever. I’m over the moon!
- So far… I absolutely love it here!