Learning to live the Dutch way
For international students, studying in the Netherlands is an opportunity to discover new places and experiences. But being new to a country also means getting used to different customs and ways of doing things. Since it is my first time living in the country, here are a few hurdles I personally had to cross during my first weeks in The Hague.
Although I biked since I was young, it had always been out of pleasure rather than necessity. However, after moving to The Hague, I quickly realized how important my bike was to me. After trying alternate methods of transportation—trams, buses, walking—I concluded that biking was the best way to move around in the Netherlands.
Not only is biking environmentally-friendly, it is also the quickest way to get to class. Because bikes are treated the same as cars in the Netherlands they have been fully integrated into the traffic system. Through the designated bike lanes and countless parking spots across cities, biking has become the most efficient form of transportation. Biking in the Netherlands is quick, easy and fun! My bike is my best friend as a student.
Every friendship, however, comes with its ups and downs. And one of these downs is definetly biking under the rain. Since I live in a location where there is no direct public transportation to my college, I need to bike on rainy days. A few weeks ago, I had my first experience biking under the rain. Needless to say, I arrived to class with clothes drenched and my hair soaked. Thankfully, one of my Dutch friends advised me to buy a large rain poncho that would keep me a little more dry. Although the poncho makes me look like a plastic bag on two wheels, it has been effective. If you have not yet, I recommend you to invest in such a poncho because it is worthwhile!
9292: My GPS
In some cases, however, it is necessary to use public transportation. Although the Netherlands has an extensive public transportation system, it does take some time to get acquainted with. During our first week in The Hague, a group of friends and I decided to go for salsa lessons in the evening. Since I had taken a Sprinter train to get to the destination, I assumed that I would take it back to return. However, as the night turned into the early morning, I noticed that my train schedule had completely changed. It was around one in the morning and we could simply not find a means to get home. We all pulled up our Google Maps, but with the rain pouring and our phones acting up, we were making minimal progress.
Lucky for us, we soon found a few locals who informed us of the 9292 application. By using the app and filling in both our location and destination, we were able to find a tram to take us home.
The 9292 app has since become my go-to tool in the Netherlands. Because I often commute from The Hague to Rotterdam, having an app that informs me of all public transportation is incredibly useful.
Apart from transportation, another thing I had to get used to was something as simple as shopping bags. After living in the United States, where they often double packed my groceries, I came here and expected the same. However, after being asked to pay for the bags, I realized that this was not the case. In fact, since January 2016, free plastic bags are prohibited in the Netherlands. Grocery stores now charge for bags to reduce plastic waste and combat litter. Upon learning of this, I was very happy that the Netherlands had taken such an environmentally-friendly decision.
However, coming from the U.S., this was also something I had to get used to. Till today, I still occasionally forget to bring my own bag along with me. Since I often go for last-minute shopping, I decided that it was best to always have a bag ready with me. As a result, I always have a packed bag within each of my purses and backpacks.
Feeling at Home in The Hague
Because I am half Dutch and already have family here, it was not too hard to feel at home in the country. Moreover, since most people speak English wherever I go, I have not encountered many language barriers. Feeling at home in a new place comes gradually, but by keeping busy and surrounding yourself with friends that will uplift you, it will come sooner than later.
Having lived on my own before, I also recognize the importance of being invited into a home. Even if it is simply for a coffee or dinner, welcoming international students at home can be extremely meaningful. When I was in the U.S., it meant a lot whenever my American friends invited me to their homes for Thanksgiving dinner or simply just to hang out. So if you have international buddies, maybe try hosting them once in a while. Trust me, they will greatly appreciate it and will make them feel at home.
With time, what seemed new will eventually become the norm. These were just a few of my initial struggles as new student in the Netherlands. Which were yours?