Living in Amsterdam has been one shock after another. Over the course of my life, I created a perfect image of The Netherlands in my mind, especially because I come from a corrupt country that is permanently stained by its communist past. Choosing to study in Amsterdam was undoubtable from the beginning.
After arriving to Amsterdam for my studies, I quickly realised that these utopian visions were completely unrealistic. One of the starkest differences between my imagination and reality was the idea of internationalism and the extent to which Amsterdam embraces international students. Turns out that the Dutch are almost as proud of their language as the French. Any basic service is always in Dutch. I can’t even access internet banking without having to resort to Google Translate.
Finding a student job -a necessity for many- is also very difficult, as almost every employer will require you to speak Dutch. Last year I got lucky and found a job, however, I still felt quite uncomfortable at times when all my colleagues didn’t talk to me just because I couldn’t speak Dutch. Don’t get me wrong, the Dutch are some of the sweetest people I know, but it is off-putting when there is little effort to get along with internationals. Of course, I am not creating a stereotype or saying all Dutch people are like this, I’m just judging by my experience so far.
One of the reasons I chose to study in Amsterdam was because I viewed it as student oriented, a perfect mix of a small community student life and the big city. But if that were true, why is it so hard to find housing? International students face a massive list of restrictions for something as basic as finding a home. If you aren’t one of the lucky few to receive housing from their university, you may just become homeless. Many of my friends faced this harsh reality. Universities provide housing almost exclusively to first year students, which leaves the rest of us with some very difficult options.
Finding an apartment is virtually impossible – the ratio of apartments that allow students to available apartments in Amsterdam is 1:10. If you do find an apartment, it will be way out of your price range. Finding a room isn’t as hard, but finding good roommates really depend on how lucky you are. Even if you get lucky with your roommates – you will probably live outside of “The Ring.” Student hotels can be a good choice if you don’t have anywhere to stay, but they’re fully booked right from the start. What we do see is students staying at hostels for weeks, or staying on a friend’s couch. This makes it even harder to manage a full course load and to get the most out of studying in Amsterdam. Besides housing, options for students here in Amsterdam are quite sad. Cheap or student friendly restaurants? Like finding a needle in a haystack. Student discounts? Only in galleries – and I’m not going to spend every weekend at a gallery. Dutch universities are accepting more international students than ever before – this country has to start accommodating these students.
“I learned a lesson here and I’m sure others have felt the same”
On top of all this – why does it have to rain almost every other day? Every season is depressing because of the lack of sunshine and the constant rain. Winter here is especially terrible – very cold nights and dark mornings. I personally blame the weather for missing every morning lecture. However, whenever the sun pokes through the dark clouds, I can’t help myself but be super happy. I soak every moment up – Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the sun.
I learned a lesson here and I’m sure others have felt the same. Despite the let-downs, the misgivings, and the weather, I love this city. The year I spent living in Amsterdam has made me feel better about myself, gain confidence, and grow into who I am. I’m at a wonderful school, finally studying what I want, with perfect friends by my side. It’s now clear that paradise was not what I needed when I got here – what I needed was to face reality and learn to live with it.
Lucia Holaskova is a second-year Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)