Thomas – Radboud University – Netherlands
Semester 2, 2022
Bachelor of Journalism / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
Hi! My name’s Thomas and I’m a soon-to-be returnee from Radboud University, Nijmegen – a lively student city located at the very eastern point of the Netherlands. Nearing the end of my dual degree in law and journalism, my electives paved the way for an unprecedented semester abroad.
Rewinding to 2022’s cold(ish) Brisbane winter, I geared up for a much cooler experience in Western Europe. It may have been hypothetical daydreaming eight months prior, but I pushed my hopes and goals towards reality. Spoiler – it was worth it, and so much more. I always wanted to live abroad, and the Netherlands marked the perfect starting point. My mum’s family lineage is actually Dutch through and through, up until my Australian dad got involved. Naturally, I wanted to return and embrace this pillar of my identity.
My first day in the Netherlands
By the 20th of August, I was en route to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Before we get to Dutch living, though, I must heed a few noteworthy travel and organisational warnings. When it comes to packing your bags and suitcase/s, do not make the same mistake as me – check the luggage weight limit and ensure your item/s comply with these specifications. Excess costs and stresses are no fun, as I learnt. Aside from having all travel documents, you should also (properly) plan on getting to your host destination from the airport you’ve touched down at. And, before any of this, do not leave course preparations with your overseas institution until the last minute. I prepared my unit allocations quite early but nonetheless had to make changes at a much later point due to the university’s subject availabilities. Luckily, the change caused little to no disruption because of my earlier efforts to put matters in order. Organisation is key, and it helped me better integrate into European living, especially in the case of the unforeseeable.
Dutch’s Intro Week
A day of travel later, I landed in Amsterdam and boarded the train to Nijmegen. The first introductory week followed suit, which Dutch universities refer to as “Intro Week”. I was placed in a group with other exchange students from countries galore. The week-long festivities – social activities, a sports day, learning about Nijmegen’s community, parties, and consequent hangovers – kickstarted the exchange in the best way possible. Had I not partaken in Intro Week, I may not have met some of the other students I formed lasting friendships. I should also note that this whirlwind introduction alleviated any homesickness, which is commonly anticipated during the first stint of relocation.
Settling down for the rest of the semester
The first few weeks flew by, and it took that much time to properly realise I now lived in another country – my trip to the Netherlands wasn’t merely an extended Dutch tour after all. This period was an important transitional phase, and my first reactions to living abroad were considerably influenced by the shock and surrealness of being in unfamiliar territory. Luckily, Dutch society is very welcoming, and nearly every Dutch person can speak fluent English. The feeling of being accommodated made me feel grounded. These positive foundations quickly cemented Nijmegen as more than a holiday destination but as my new home away from home.
Balance your study…
Classes were well underway, and I will be honest – the Dutch education system seeks acute engagement from its students. The majority of my subjects required exclusively in-class attendance and extensive preparation. Be prepared for one final exam per subject at the end of each study period (potentially among other assessments). Don’t expect to bludge the exam and pass – some subjects I undertook had 50% failure rates. Although this sounds grim, rest assured that students at Dutch universities commonly take resit exams to reconcile the first failed grade. The university I attended, Radboud, was more than accommodating with these adjustments – all teachers were willing to help, and the friendly student atmosphere was like no other. Although the differences in educational standards did prove challenging for me, this can be partly attributed to my lacklustre efforts in combining leisure and study.
…and your social life
But leisure is important! In fact, living abroad without leisure wouldn’t be an exchange worth doing. Studying may be the core consideration, but your other ventures will propel the exchange experience into motion. Unlike Australia, Europe is plentiful with country upon country, all bunched up next to each other. With my new friendships came many weekend trips away, such as Oktober Fest in Munich, dilly-dallying in Paris, and miscellaneous fun in Amsterdam. The Netherlands, within itself, is a very accessible country – within two hours, you can travel from the most northern end of the country, Groningen, to its most southern city, Maastricht. It’s quite a pleasant contrast to travelling the equivalent distance from Brisbane to Gympie. Better yet, biking as a daily mode of transport is very common in the Netherlands. Dutch villages and cities are built with bike paths, and everything is closely knit. Investing in a second-hand bike was one of the first purchases I made in Intro Week, and it paid off. Don’t worry, you won’t be judged biking around a Dutch city like you would be on Australia’s car-centric roads.
A short article can only say so much, but I hope my experience is insightful to your own exchange vision. I hope that, like me, living abroad will be a ground-breaking personal and educational journey. I’m dotting the last changes to this story just 1 hour before landing in Brisbane, marked on the 17th of February 2023. To summarise my experience, I think it best to inspire what your prospective exchange could look like:
“Work hard but play harder, because this may be the only opportunity you’ll have to study and live in another country before mundane life sets in.”
Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.