The differences between exchange students and long term students in the Netherlands

Knowing that you will be in a foreign country for a short period of time, you can easily romanticize it all and carpe diem as much as you’d like. But, knowing you’re going to live in a foreign country for at least two years, you have a lot more thinking about housing, food and clothes to do.

Tens of thousands of international students flock to the Netherlands every year — some for short-term study programs, others for full-blown degrees. And, their experiences can be very different. Here are some of the main differences!

Studying & free time

My exchange semester was 6-month teambuilding in The Hague. At university, I had only a big product-engineering project, weekly workshops, regular client meetings and monthly assessments. At the end of the project, the client put my team’s product into production. Awesome, huh? Compared to my home university system, it was far easier and I had a lot of free time. In fact, I even visited another nine Dutch cities and two countries nearby

Well, being a full-time international student is also a piece of cake, but now you are the one cooking it. You will have to learn to balance a lot in a semester — and that is definitely a good feeling. You will plan and organize your studying, earn money and go to parties as well. You can even join a student team or your faculty study association, to get hands-on experience in the industry.

(Oh, and just kidding about cooking — you’ll barely even have time to do your laundry.)

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Rent, food and (maybe) pocket money

It’s not breaking news that the Netherlands is an expensive country for those coming from Eastern Europe, so the money talk is drastically different depending on if you are talking about having a scholarship or paying the living expenses yourself.

During my Erasmus semester, I was receiving three scholarships from my University (€ 900 total) and it was written black-in-white that I couldn’t receive any other subsidies. Nor could I work in the country where I was going to study. So: € 480 rent (one room), no house allowance/rent subsidy, meant €420 left for food, transportation and emergencies. A bit harsh, but very doable.

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But as a long-term student, that all changed. Starting in August 2019, I had to begin tracking my daily spending and Microsoft Excel became my new best friend because duh! I can only spend as much as I can work. I pay €250 rent (2-room apartment, living with my partner), getting House Allowance and in my darkest times I survive on instant noodles.

Short or long-term, you want to avoid buying unnecessary stuff because you are probably on a budget. From my experience, you’ll be twice as careful with the money you earn by working than with a scholarship. Nonetheless, this is a tip for both students and adults: better not go to the supermarket when you’re hungry.

Tip: write down daily, for at least a month, everything you buy to see your pattern of spending money. Divide everything into categories: rent, food, personal hygiene, household products, transportation, going out, clothes, and any other unexpected spending (e.g. drugs for a cold). Then analyze what you can cut off. Think how cool it would be if you could save at least €50 each month?

Of course, I don’t always practice what I preach — there are days when I find myself having only €5 in my bank account.

Je moet nederlands spreken

As an exchange student, I knew I was going to leave eventually and I didn’t know if I would ever come back, so I didn’t lose sleep over the “you’re in the Netherlands, you must speak Dutch” attitude.

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On the other hand, as a full-time international student in Eindhoven, I found it crucial to learn Dutch. Knowing Dutch will help both your grades and your job prospects as well. I started to learn Dutch on my own, in Romania, and here I enrolled myself for a Dutch language course at my university. My current level of Dutch is A1, so I still find myself saying “engels, asltublieft?” quite often, but I am more and more optimistic.

While attending a Dutch course, you can also:

  • read children’s books
  • watch online Dutch lessons
  • set any series on Netflix to Dutch subtitles
  • Take the free magazines from supermarkets
  • pay attention to your environment (commercials, the train station ‘Beste reizigers, …’, even traffic signs ‘Wacht op groen’)
  • speak Dutch as much as you can with natives.
  • You can also hang around the house post-its with common Dutch phrases used in different social situations (buying something from a store, going to the movies, talking about hobbies or vacations).

It’s all about cycling

My first bike experience in the Netherlands was simple: €45 for the bike, another €45 for the improvements and two weeks until it got stolen from the building’s garage where I lived. I didn’t dare to betray my first bike’s memory, so for the rest of the period as an exchange student, I only used public transportation.

Now, if you know you’re going to spend here at least two years, you will definitely want your own bike. A good-looking one, with good breaks, two very strong locks and maybe a basket in the front or a bag in the back (unless you were born with Dutch abilities, such as cycling while having a backpack and two heavy bags with groceries in each hand). You will invest more money at first, but the peace that comes afterwards is worth it. 

Starting to blend in

One thing is for sure: no matter the period, The Netherlands will grow on your heart and you will easily get used to the Dutch way of living. I hardly remember how to use my feet for walking since I am cycling everywhere and I am calmer in every stressful situation.

What other differences do you think there are between short-term and long-term international students? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Feature Image: fauxels/Pexels

Cristina Damian
Born and raised in Eastern Europe, Cristina dreams and plans on living in the West as much as possible. Her Bachelor Diploma says Mechanical Engineer, but her heart says writing. Passionate about volunteering, forever in love with books and has a special talent in touching extremely hot pots and pans while cooking. Will 100% fight over chocolate. Still fascinated about Dutch people and Dutch lifestyle.


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