Weird things about living in The Netherlands that shock me as an international student

Dreamy as it may seem as a destination for international students, the Dutch culture still shocks me with some of its (bizzare) facts. These below things may not be everywhere in this land of tulips but at least what I have experienced for the past years.

1.No hot water in the winter!

If you are like me and come from tropical kind of weather, you might also be taken aback by how people in The Netherlands bear with the cold water no matter what. This doesn’t mean hot water is not a thing here, it just surprises me to have to use cold water in public places. At least at my university, cold tap water is consumed regardless of how low the outside temperature can be. So instead of complaining, all I can do is live with cold water while shaking my body and having my teeth clashing against each other while washing my hands after using the toilet

2. Thinking about going to a coffee shop in Netherlands? Think twice!

Why? Because coffee shops in The Netherlands are not what you might think it is. In The Netherlands, coffee shops are where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption takes place. So don’t be surprised if your Dutch friends give you a weird look if you ask them out to a coffee shop. Instead, the word “cafe” is normally used when you mean a place where you can get your comfort cup of coffee. So, be careful when inviting or being invited to a coffee shop.

Bikes everywhere in The Netherlands, even during Covid time!

3. Shops closed at 6pm? Yes, it is true!

Since I come originally from Viet Nam where most of the entertainment activities occur in the evening, moving to Europe where most cafes and shops close at around 6pm-8pm hits me really hard. However, in The Netherlands, Thursday is also often known as “Shopping Day” when shops and stores opening time can be slightly extended till 8pm or 9pm. So bear this in mind if you want to plan something fun with your buddies.

4. Privacy is highly valued!

Unlike Viet Nam where people are more used to the “togetherness” way of living, the Dutchies tend to respect each other’s privacy. They do not like to be looked at in an over-friendly way or if you see their windows are closed with curtains, do not try to look inside even when you are just addicted to the cat lying lazily by the window. I did this once and the owners shut the curtain right in front of my eyes, which did scare me a bit. But yeah, be careful when you want to do something that might violate people’s privacy. However, do not hesitate t say “Hi/ Hoi” to a random person on the street who might also greet you back with a warm smile.

5. Separate lane for bikers

The Netherlands is globally renowned for having a massive number of bikes. It has even been said that there are more bikes than the total population in The Netherlands. Therefore, if you come to The Netherlands, you will see that infrastructure here has been made to accommodate this healthy habit of the citizens and tourists. Bikers can and are required to ride on the lanes that are outstandingly painted in red, which makes it safer and less competitive to other kinds of vehicles for bikers.

6. Want to meet up with your Dutch friends? Maybe next month (or even next year) :D

What also shocked me when I first relocated to The Netherlands from Viet Nam is that it is quite hard to set up a meeting since my Dutch friends is always functioning based on their (usually tight) agendas. When I was in Viet Nam, it is just fine to make an appointment with my friends days or even hours before the desired meeting time. However, in NL, you may need to wait until next week or even next month(s) to be able to have a slot in your Dutch friend’s busy schedule. Uncomfortable as it may be sometimes, this habit of stick-to-your-agenda of the Dutch shows that they are quite organized and disciplined, doesn’t it?

Is there anything about The Netherlands that you may want to share? Feel free to let me know!

Dutch winter food that you should never miss

Are you ready to conquer winter depression? Don’t worry, food can fix everything!

1. Stamppot

For me, Stamppot is the Dutch national food as every single Dutch friend of mine has this “ritual” dish every now and then. Stamppot is seen as the comfort food of the Netherlands. It is simply mashed potato mixed with your favorite type of vegetable (kale, broccoli, carrot, etc.), topped with smoky sausage (vegan sausage of course if you’re a non-meat eater). You can also add a finishing touch by topping the dish with some ketchup, or any kind of sauce you like. For me, this dish is healthy as it is rich in fiber and starch. One plus point is that is it also easy and time-consuming to make.

2. Pea soup (Erwtensoep)

Who doesn’t like a hot bowl of soup on a winter day? I had my very first try of pea soup at the canteen of my university. A basic pea soup meal composes of peas, pork (can be replaced with tofu for vegetarians/ vegans), some kinds of winter vegetable like onions, carrots, leek, potato, celery, etc. Although the smell of pork meat does not seem to be attractive to me, I personally like the texture of this soup. It is thick, sometimes to the point that you will think it is more like a stew than a soup. However, due to this thick consistency of the soup, it is served as a main meal, not starter, and can help to fill your stomach long enough until your next meal.

3. Oliebollen

Personally, this is a CAN’T-DO-WITHOUT winter snacks. It is symbolic snack for not only winter but also Christmas occasions for me. This simple flour-made “balls” taste a bit like donuts to me, and yes some people even call it the Dutch donuts. However, the way how it has been revolutionized with raisins, and chocolate brings it to another level. At first I did not like it because it is too oily and boring to me (I called it the greasier version of donut :D. However, as years go by, I find Oliebollen fun snacks to have after class or when hanging out with friends, especially a cold winter afternoon. It is not also affordable, especially if you buy on New Year’s Eve, you may get good deals of 20 Oliebollen for shocking 10euro!!!


4. Chocomelk

Big fan of chocolate cannot miss the chance of having a cup of hot Chocomelk (the famous Dutch brand). Chocomelk can often be found in menu of restaurants and many terras in The Netherlands. A cup of hot Chocomelk topped with whipped cream (slagroom) will be a taste of heaven. If you want to be a little bit “sassy”, then a little addition of Beiley is also a good choice.


5. Apple pie (appeltaart)

Simple but flavorful, this national Dutch dessert will blow your mind. The perfect combination of the sourness of apple and the temptation from cinnamon can bring you the coziest winter vibe. Have no oven? Don’t worry, cheap servings of apple pie from Albert Heijn at an unquestionably reasonable price can still make you feel over the moon.

6 easy ways to make the best of autumn as an international student in The Netherlands

Busy as you might be, remember that life is so much more than just studying!

The academic year has started means that students’ life can be occupied by so many deadlines which can drain you at some points. Don’t worry, you can always find ways to have a school-life balance!

Take a short walk whenever possible

It may sound simple, but trust me, Dutch nature won’t disappoint you. There’s a close scientific link between strolling for a walk and health benefits. Too good to be true? Well, taking a short walk has been shown to ease nervousness and boost relaxation. What’s more? Strolling away from your study can also help to improve creativity. So get stuck? Just spend some time away from your laptop and step out for some freshness.

Treat yourself to good food!

Personally, this works for me every single time. Do you agree that maintaining a healthy (and tasty) diet is a fancy solution to a happy life? For me, whenever I feel stressed, or depressed, I always rely on delicious dishes to revive my energy. You can choose to either order food online or eat out in restaurants with your buddies. I know it can be costly to eat out sometimes, but trust me, you’re worth it. If life is not about food, what else? Or if you are like me and love to cook, then spending time exploring new recipes can also help. I love the feeling of spending hours in the kitchen cooking my favorite dishes, and feel even better knowing that cooking at home can save me lots of money too.

Keep a positive attitude and have something to look forward to!

I know that life sometimes can be hard on you, but keep in mind that the hardships are just temporary and they exist to help you stronger. Enjoy the process of your journey and believe that the obstacles will just train you to be wiser. I tend not to focus too much on the negativities that the bulky workload can cause, instead, I make plans for the winter break which is something that I can look forward to. Searching for where to go, what to do, and where to stay or how to make the winter vacation as much fun as possible is just a much more relaxing and exciting process than reading 40-page articles for my study.

Groningen city in autumn

Do some shopping! But do not exceed your budget (as a student)!

The feeling that you can investigate in yourself and make yourself look nicer or embrace your styles and charactersitics through what you wear is one of the best feelings. And especially, in the autumn there are many good deals from fashion chains, which makes shopping a good “excuse” to spend money. Furthermore, from October onwards, Christmas decorations will have been displayed in quite a number of stores. Need a change for your mood? Then I bet cute and cozy Christmas ornaments or candles can also bring you warmth. However, as a student, you may not want to surpass your monthly limit! So make a good budget plan so that life will be easier.

Have a short vacation (if possible)

Taking a day or two from home sounds like a good idea too! You can choose to explore the autumn nature in The Netherlands (trust me the Dutch nature in autumn won’t disappoint you!). Or a day back to childhood to some theme parks in The Netherlands sounds fun too? List of where to go can be infinite so don’t worry if you cannot decide yet! Take your time, sit back and relax, feel free to take my recommendations on such places as Efteling, Wildlands Adventure Zoo, Moco museum or simply taking a walk in De Hoge Veluwe which is the biggest national park in The Netherlands (and many more)!

treat-yourself-good-sips-of tea-or-coffee
Treat yourself to good food and drinks

It is totally fine to be lazy!

Don’t feel like doing any of the above-mentioned activities? It is totally fine if you decide to spend a day in your own room. Reading your favorite book(s), Netflix and chill, cooking, cleaning and re-organizing your room can still be a source of happiness. Or strolling around and having a sip of hot chocolate in your favorite cafe while looking out the streets that are full of autumn leaves can be so tranquil too.

Overall, my tip is to do whatever makes you comfortable and happy. Each of us will have different ways to spend our time and whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it!