Isanya Köhne

This week we’re travelling relatively close, wait no, actually we’re not travelling at all. In light of the Week of the International Student, we’re giving room on our platform today for a story that’s about our little country, the Netherlands. Lydia, 21 years old and originally from Spain. She just finished her bachelor in Telecommunication Engineering, and is currently finishing her second Bachelor in Economics. During her Bachelor, she came to Delft for her exchange. “If I had to describe Delft in one sentence, I would say that it’s a fairy tale village in Holland with bikes, canals, windmills, and tulips. And when I say tulips, I mean the Dutch people, as the actual flowers grow a little further north”.

Plot twist

I have always been close to the Dutch culture and I used to come to this country once or twice a year. I loved my time here as a tourist, so I was intrigued to experience it as a real Dutchie. Since I was part of the Erasmus+ exchange program, everything was completely standardised. This made the whole procedure super-fast and easy. Before exchange, I chose the university that I wanted, which is TU Delft. TU Delft has a spectacular campus, it’s almost like a modern city in which the buildings are faculties and the roads are the bike lanes. Yes, life here is built around the bicycle. This university also has a reputation for being difficult, and it is, but if you’ve survived 3 years in any Spanish Technical University, you’ll be prepared to get good grades here. TU Delft is very flexible with international students and we can take courses that suit us best. After picking, I just needed to follow some steps according to an email and during the exchange I had to keep my home university up-to-date about the courses I was taking here. I lived in a house with 6 other people. It was nice to live with them, even though we had the typical arguments of cleaning and kitchen use. Each one of them taught me a recipe from their own country. I left that house feeling like a successful international chef, preparing more curries and pad thais than tortilla de patata or croquetas. I found my housing through one click, aided by TU Delft. It lay right in between the city centre campus, which was perfect for me. A great tip if you’re thinking about coming to Delft, is to apply for housing as soon as possible, as the rooms are all taken relatively quick.

My entire family came with me, including my dog, two weeks prior to the start of my exchange year. I was incredibly excited to start it and had trouble waiting to finally start. The first night I slept in my new place, without family, I slept like a baby. I was thinking of all the adventures, stories, and laughs this year would bring me. But the reality was nothing like I imagined it 14 months ago, but in fact way better! I met wonderful people, I enjoyed every second of it, and fell in love in every way the word could be described. I believe going on exchange is a life experience that everyone that has the opportunity, should take. For me, it literally changed my life. It opened my eyes and I discovered what I truly want in my future. It made me become even more independent, strong, and brave than I was before. When I returned to Spain after my exchange, it felt everything was different. It seemed everything had changed in only one year, but the reality was that I was the one that had changed. I did not want to continue going to my University in Spain, it didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore. So, I made a bold move, and in less than 3 weeks I had turned everything upside down: I had left my masters in Spain, found a job in the Netherlands, applied for a masters at TU Delft, and said goodbye to my loved ones in Spain. This time I had no idea when I’d come back, if at all.

The 5 o’clock dinner

Life in the Netherlands is very different from the life in Spain. You have lunch at 12 in the afternoon and at 5 o’clock you’re already thinking about what to have for dinner, or even starting dinner. For a Spaniard like me, that was a complete game changer. The Dutch have a very different idea of gastronomy. They eat a cheese sandwich (or ‘broodje kaas’) and they don’t eat ‘real food’ till dinner. During the first months I refused to follow that schedule, but eventually gave in. You get used to it. My biggest obstacle during my exchange was without a doubt the Dutch banking system. They have a different bank system based on Maestro and the majority of cards, such as Visa or MasterCard, don’t work in most places. So, imagine me making my first big groceries acquisition to survive my first days alone, standing at the checkout to pay, and none of my cards are accepted. Neither did I have cash with me, you can imagine the fuss. Online they use a payment method called iDeal, and some services can only be paid with that method or by Visa plus expensive fees.

To survive in Tuliplandia, as I like to call it, you don’t need to know Dutch as almost everyone speaks English. Most online websites also usually have an English version of the pages. The only vital thing is to have a Dutch bank account, as I mentioned before. Every time I hung out with Dutch people, they didn’t have problems communicating in English. However, I’m determined to learn the language and am taking classes at this moment. I also don’t think the Netherlands is expensive compared to most living costs in Madrid. The only place where I noticed a little difference was the price in the restaurants.

Connecting is key

My fondest memory is one that I currently look back on often as it was around late September, early October, when I went out with friends. It was an average Friday, nothing special, we didn’t battle any Dutch god, just a fun night out with friends. Around 3 in the morning, we decided to go back home. We took our bikes and while cycling home, in the middle of the night, I remember feeling so incredibly free. There was no one on the streets and I was happy, happy to be there, happy for all the people I was meeting, and really looking forward to the other surprises that year. What a life!
It was easy to connect with other international students. I’m quite a social person, so I could meet complete random people at any event and make a connection. Also, when you’re on exchange, you’re far away from home so you try to connect with others quicker and it’s also easier to create a small family abroad. Next to the international students I’d meet I’d hang out with a couple of groups. Firstly, I decided to become more active during my exchange year, so I joined the board of ESN Delft, which is till this date the best decision I’ve made. I was responsible as Activities Coordinator to design all the parties that I’d later attend with my friends. I met a lot of new people throughout ESN and developed amazing friendships. Next to that I was part of a student association where I met plenty of citizens, not only internationals, but also Dutchies! Lastly, I played basketball. I’ve been playing it since I was 9 years old so I joined the Delft Basketball Team. While playing in this team I met 4 amazing Spanish girls, yes in a Dutch team, and we quickly became really close. The activities the basketball club organised gave me the opportunity to be part of the Dutch community and mingle with the locals.

As the Netherlands is such a small and beautiful country, I recommend you discover every corner and every centimetre of it. NS will be your best friend in achieving that. I believe I visited the biggest cities multiple times and went to 10 out of the 12 provinces. I enjoyed Amsterdam as a real tourist with a canal tour included, went to Rotterdam almost every week, enjoyed several sunsets in Scheveningen, The Hague, saw the tulips around Leiden, weekend trips to beautiful villages/islands, discovered the wonders on Zeeland, visited Maastricht and thought I wasn’t in the Netherlands anymore, and millions of other things. A week in my life was hectic, but it looked a little like the following: Mondays were for lectures, gym, and basketball. Tuesdays I’d have Dutch lessons and I’d prepare for the classic ESN night that day. Wednesdays I had no obligations, so I’d meet with friends, work on my thesis, go to the gym, etc. Thursdays were the same as Mondays, but I’d end up in the club at night. The rest of the week I’d have a basketball game, boat parties, weekend trips, nice brunches, and so on. I was living the true Erasmus experience.

Return to the poffertjes

On the one hand I would’ve loved knowing that I would stay in the Netherlands after my exchange. I spent so much money sending all my stuff back to Spain, paying the first fee for my MSc in Madrid, etc. All those expenses could have been saved if I knew it all before. On the other hand, thinking that I would only stay in Delft for 1 year made me experience everything more intensely and enjoy every minute as if it were my last. I don’t regret anything because thanks to everything I did, I am writing this post today in my Delft office desk and not in Madrid, which is where I was supposed to be. If you’re thinking of going on exchange, don’t think twice about it and go for it! If you’re thinking about the Netherlands, yes yes YES! Something you have to try is called poffertjes. They’re incredibly delicious! It’s like mini pancakes, but don’t call them that in front of a Dutchie haha, and they taste so much better. Something else you cannot miss is seeing the tulip fields or renting a boat and sailing through the canals. Truly amazing experiences. Returning here was the best decision I’ve made. I wasn’t ready to go back to Spain permanently. I’m a super cheerful girl, but when I got back, I spent my days sad and depressed. I was attending lectures that I absolutely hated, and after days of crying, I decided to have an honest conversation with my mum and that was a huge relief. She was incredibly supportive, and she gave me the final push to go to my university’s headmaster and say ‘Hi, thanks for everything, but I’m going back to the Netherlands’. Now, I’m still in touch with my friends from here as it wasn’t too long ago that I was on exchange. I was in Spain for less than a month. I would say that if you told me one year ago that I would drop my plans in Madrid and that I would fall in love during my exchange I would have laughed so hard! But guess what? That is exactly what happened. You must grasp the opportunities to go abroad if you get them, go go GO!

Honestly, we can’t add much more to try and convince you, we’re confident that Lydia has done just that. Thank you, Lydia, for taking us on such an insightful journey through our small country and seeing how you (literally) fell in love with the Netherlands! We are glad to see you back in Delft!