Michael in the Netherlands

Hello to whomever is reading, hopefully you’re an American student or prospective student who hates student loans, which, I assume, is a lot of you. I’m here to give you my experiences on my past year as an international college student.

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?
I’m currently a 2nd year student studying Aerospace Engineering at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands; however we students here either call it TUDelft, Delft or the TU. I’m an 18, almost 19, year old East Coaster from the Washington D.C. area. You may wonder how I found out about Delft, and more so, how I decided to go to college abroad! Well, my mother is Dutch, which gives me both the Netherlands and US citizenship, hence why it might have been easier for me to study abroad where you might be more apprehensive about it. As a Dutch dual citizen, I’m awarded many perks for studying in the Netherlands. I pay the reduced tuition costs of EU citizens, as well as a debt-free student loan of about 300 EUR a month from the government. So while I pay about 2,000 EUR a year for tuition, the non-EU tuition rates are much higher, around 11,000 EUR (about $11,700 right now) a year. Even without the benefits of dual citizenship, at 11,000 EUR a year the cost of TUDelft is comparable to in-state tuition at top engineering schools like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, or University of Illinois and a much better value compared to paying out of state tuition at a major technical university.

Continuing on to how I learned about Delft, well, as you can probably guess, my mother told me about it. She’d studied at nearby Leiden University and spent a lot of time in Delft with friends she had here. As you can see, she had something to do with me knowing about Delft and coming here, if only just a teensy bit. My drive to actually apply and go to Delft was driven by a few factors you may be familiar with; adventure, curiosity, new experiences, tuition… Well, mainly the last one, the others did play some part in my decision making though, I’ll admit. The tuition costs in the States are insane, especially since I’ve had something to compare it to, or well my mother had and she told me. I could be studying at some in-state university in Virginia for ten times the cost of my current tuition here, and then the level of education wouldn’t be up to par to what I have now. From a financial standpoint, I had no objections. I was hesitant, in some ways, because I would have to live 3,000 miles away from home. That might be a turnoff to some students and I understand that. Every other school I applied to besides Delft was within 200 miles of where I lived in the States. I decided to wing it and make like a bird, so far I’m happy with my decision.

Housing
Student housing at Delft is not the same as in America. You don’t share a room with another person, like in a dorm. Everyone gets his own bedroom and you have flat mates, whom you may or may not get along with, but they won’t wake you up by snoring too loud. When I arrived in Delft, I had to find housing. First, I stayed in a club house, aka a frat house, for a week and then slept on my friend’s floor for three weeks, because I didn’t prearrange a room beforehand. Don’t do what I did! Prepare accommodations before you go. The university will provide you with them, if you ask by a certain deadline. Internationals usually get priority. I missed the deadline and went through hell looking for housing, because guess what? Hundreds of other students are doing the same thing! If you do find yourself in my position, look for any student housing site to see if you can find something, I used Kamernet, but that’s restricted to the Netherlands.

Getting Adjusted
My weekends for the first semester were absolutely fantastic, especially since the legal drinking age is 18 here and not 21. I spent my weekends going from party to party with my new best mates. Besides the drinking age, the differences between the Netherlands and the States are noticeable but not too restrictive. The Dutch know English very well, and they love to speak it, which can get annoying if you want to learn Dutch and they won’t speak it with you. The Dutch are very straightforward and blunt about things, if you’re offended easily, then you won’t like it here. Fridges are half the size, and food expires faster, such as milk and bread. Just buy for 3-5 days and that’s it. Shopping is quite nearby, so no need to stock up. Also, I’ve experienced a lot of digs for just being American; America, more so Americans, are very stereotyped here, as much as Europeans are in the States.

Classes and Workload
In my first year, class size was twice what it is now. The attrition rate for Aerospace Engineering is around 50%. The year started with a class size around 500 people and now its 270 people. The class is split up into groups for some smaller classes such as Calculus and group projects, around 8 people a group.

The average work time per week is around 30 hours or more just on classes. Add another hour or five studying outside of class. As you can see, my workload is pretty insane. It doesn’t get easier, either. Our schedule is split up into four periods, or quarters, where we usually have 4 or 5 classes a period. Some classes span a semester, too, which is mainly the project work. Also, these classes are split into modules. In order to pass a module, each grade has to be a minimum of a five and the module has to average out at 5.75, out of 10 of course. The amount of vacation time is very lackluster as well, two weeks in winter, one week in early February, and eight weeks in summer.

Living in Delft
The town of Delft is absolutely beautiful. Old architecture and history is jam packed into one small town of 150,000 residents; 30,000 of which are students. It is insane. You’ll find these student-towns all over Europe; it’s not like the States with a campus style college in the smallest town in the middle of nowhere. The TUDelft campus is also very nice, though quite large, as well. They put us Aerospace students at one end of the campus, away from practically everything, so hopefully you’ll get a more forgiving campus than I did.

Student Life
Student life is what you may be looking forward to most. For Dutch people, Tuesdays and Thursdays are big student nights to party hard. Why Tuesdays and Thursdays? It’s because many students at Delft go home on weekend to their parents. So you may not be used to this since your weekends will be the free days to have fun, so it’s good to find a mix of other internationals to go out with. The biggest difference you’ll find between European parties and American parties is probably how they treat alcohol. With Europeans, it’s a more relaxed tone, especially since they can drink legally earlier and they’ve been exposed to drinking for longer. Along with the nightlife, the extracurricular activities Delft offer are insane, you can find multiple teams for any sport, and find almost any clubs that might tickle your fancy.

One problem I hope everyone reading this will fix, is the number of American students studying abroad! I have no American compatriots in my classes; we had exchange students from the States come for a semester, but no one here for the long haul. The Americans I did meet happened to be nearby to where I lived, I met someone 10 minutes from where I grew up in Virginia, so you may meet someone who lived close to you if you’re lucky.

What has to be my favorite thing in Holland is the completely chill culture when it comes to living and drinking and just life. There isn’t an abrasive bone in anyone’s body, you don’t have to be tight lipped about offending anyone; people love a little banter. However, my least favorite thing about living in Delft is the male to female ratio in the town. It’s something like 80/20 in Aerospace, and doesn’t get much better for most other studies either. There is a solution though; I’m just a quick train ride away from a school with the opposite problem, so no worries there.

— Michael Westheim