A Firsthand Report from a US Student in the Netherlands

We’ve told you about one of the students we worked with last year in our previous blogs. Theo impressed me from the start and I have really enjoyed our interactions. He is attending Leiden University College The Hague, the honors liberal arts program connected to Leiden University in the Netherlands. I recently checked in with Theo to see how his transition has been going.

University colleges in the Netherlands have a required residential component (1-3 years depending on the school). As I’ve mentioned previously, student housing at Leiden University College is nicer than any apartment I had until I was in my 30’s (of course, my former career as a social worker certainly limited my options). The school and its housing is a modern high rise right next to the train station in the center of The Hague. The lobby includes a vertical garden to represent the sustainability theme. Classrooms are on the first few floors and the dorm rooms are on the top floors.  All rooms are fully furnished and curtained with their own facilities (kitchen and bathroom with toilet). The rooms are huge and are more like a studio apartment than a US style dorm room. Some units are shared with another student, but most are singles. The floor to ceiling windows overlook The Hague. Rent is €565 (about $672) per month for a studio.

I asked Theo about the logistics of his move in. The only things he brought with him were clothes, books, and odds and ends. He bought everything else locally. His parents stayed in town for a few days and helped scout out thrift store furniture for his room. Theo also noted that there is an Ikea store in a neighboring town and a few students organized group trips to stock up there. Having knowledge of the state of shared bathrooms in many dorms or student apartments, Theo is super happy about having a bathroom all to himself! He also loves having a kitchen. He discovered over the summer that he really enjoys cooking, so he has been using the kitchen for meals beyond the ramen and frozen pizzas I subsisted on at the same age. He has had fun experimenting with random new ingredients and his Dutch friends have helped him navigate the grocery stores.

Theo is also enjoying life in the Hague. He describes it as fascinating, beautiful and vibrant and has enjoyed wandering the streets exploring the city. He also loves the Central Park-esque park that is right outside the school’s front door. He uses it as a calm retreat from the urban setting. There were two orientation sessions during the first weeks of school. One was for Leiden University College students and the other was for all Leiden University students in The Hague. He found them both to be informative and entertaining and helped him understand the program, school, and city.

The social transition has been easy for Theo. He had been corresponding with another student online who he met in person his first day. The orientation programs also helped him meet other students. Theo reports that the social scene is whatever you want it to be. Some students explore the clubs in town or have “borrels” (which he told me is the Dutch term for a party/get-together with beer). Theo enjoys a more mellow scene, hanging out with much smaller groups of people. Theo describes himself as somewhat introverted, he enjoys his time alone but has not isolated himself and has been making friends and joined clubs that have helped him make friends with similar interests. He also told me that there hasn’t been any cultural awkwardness that he anticipated “just regular awkwardness” (did I mention how much I enjoy his insights?). He did say that there are a good number of jokes made at America’s expense, but that they are not in a mean way or said as a judgement towards him as an American. He’s met eight other American students, but notes that there could be more. Since classes are conducted in English, it’s hard to determine where someone is from.

Theo’s description of his academic life is so great, that I’m including it verbatim:

“I am currently taking History of Philosophy, History of Science, Academic Writing (which is actually a course about Greek identities under the Roman Empire), and Global Challenges: Peace & Justice. Each class is made up of twenty or so kids, and are all discussion based. Once a week there is a big lecture for P&J, but the Global Challenges classes are the only classes that do that, to my knowledge. All of these classes are mandatory for first years. Study time is largely dependent on how bad a procrastinator one is, but in general it can be described as feasible yet challenging. It also involves a lot of writing.  I found all of my books for free, except my academic writing book, which cost fifty bucks.

Classes start at different times every day, so I may wake up any time between 7:30 (Wednesdays) to 11:00 (Tuesdays). I have one class every day for two hours, plus an additional two hour lecture for P&J on Mondays. That may seem like a little but we receive enough of a workload to necessitate at least two hours of out of class work every day, or seven hours twice a week, if one is so inclined.

Overall, it has been a wonderful experience so far, and I am excited to continue to explore The Hague, and to participate in such rigorous classes. I recommend this school highly for anyone who wants to be challenged, who loves discussion, and wants to deal with practical issues facing the world.”

I am so excited for Theo and look forward to continuing to follow him through his college career!

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