utrecht, netherlands - anonymous' reflections after years there in their 20s

posted by anonymous on 11/27/13.


How much time have you spent in Utrecht?

Half year as a Foreign Exchange Student and then two years as an International Student (Master's Degree)

Which best describes how old you are/were while in the Netherlands?

Late 20s.

What brought you to Utrecht? Where were you before?

I won't lie, it was the coffee shops mostly. To be honest, I never actually hung out in coffeeshops myself. But I simply wanted to live in a place where stuff like that couldn't earn you a ten year prison sentence. That's basically it.

Describe your impressions of Utrecht.

Utrecht is a medieval Dutch city that is largely dominated by its universities. It's one of the larger cities in the Netherlands, but its still tiny compared to a US city. It's got gorgeous canals, a lively city center, old buildings, crappy food, lots of students and even more bikes. It's also a great travel hub.

What are the the people of Utrecht/the Netherlands like?

Dutch folks are usually very friendly and well educated. Everyone speaks perfect English and they watch all the American TV shows, so they will totally get you and your humor. That being said, I found the typical Dutch to be a bit of a 'know-it-all". They could solve all the world's problems if we just let them.

Was making friends and meeting people in Utrecht in general easy or difficult?

I was in university, so can only speak about that. But I can say it was very much like university in the USA. Lots of going out but less binge drinking and of course most Dutch kids don't smoke weed. But there were frat boys and sorority girls, stoners, metal heads and all that. I spent a lot of time with the international student crowd, which didn't include so many Dutch.

Has your race, nationality, gender, etc. ever affected how you were treated or how people reacted to meeting you in the Netherlands? Positively? Negatively?

I'm white from a western, industrialized democracy, so I got along just fine. I think if you are Asian, Middle Eastern or African, you might get some stress occasionally. i had a dark-skinned friend from Portugal and he would occasionally not get into clubs and stuff.

Were there any language barriers? How did they affect you?

Nope, everyone spoke English to me.

Any social/cultural advice for others who might come to Utrecht?

The Dutch are quite fashionable and tend to dress very nicely. Aside from that, it was the lowest level of culture shock I've ever had, a really soft landing. Nice people, although the service sucks and that's a blessing because the food is even worse.

What sort of work/school do you do in Utrecht?

I was a student. If I remember, it was something like 7k for a year. Yeah, it was expensive. I think the Dutch kids were paying 1,500 euro, so yes, they gouged the international students. I didn't even get a bus pass and the immigration made sure I left the DAY school ended. I didn't even get to go to my own graduation. In all I spent some 20k in US tax dollars there and, yeah, I would have liked to have gotten a bit more in return.

I can also add that, in all I really liked it, but in my experience the non-teaching staff was really bad. My US University had much, much higher standards for their employees. In the US we had bureaucratic hoops, but in Utrecht financial aid papers never got signed, transcripts went missing, offices were closed for days, loan checks were delayed months because someone was on maternity leave and no one else could sign. No one would give me an answer, no one took any initiative, no one cared. That just doesn't work in "customer-centric" USA.

EG: I received a syllabus before the program started, and spent 200 euro on books only to find that we weren't going to use them, even though "they were still really good books". Another professor assigned a book that the library didn't have. No store in the NL had it. Amazon.de or .nl didn't even have it. I had to order it from the US and ship it the the Netherlands. What the fuck man? You couldn't pull any of that crap in the US.

Does your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities?

The Netherlands is quite expensive.

Any good stories you can think of that you haven't mentioned yet?

It's the only place where I experienced extreme anti-Americanism. I'm talking about people insulting you within a few minutes of meeting them. Mostly about the CIA, Iraq, NSA and drones, some were quite hateful to be honest.

What are your favorite things about the Netherlands? Least favorite?

It's just a 'nice' place to live. Clean, convenient, modern, safe and the people, by and large, are friendly and like to have fun. And bikes!

What things about Utrecht/the Netherlands surprised you?

How small it actually is, both in mind and geography.

What do you miss that's not in the Netherlands?

Guns and steak.

Would you recommend the Netherlands as a place to live, travel to, or neither?

Definitely recommend it on all counts. It's one of my favorite places, just be sure to get out of Amsterdam.

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