This summer, instead of setting off to the beach for a well-earned spell of relaxation after a taxing second year, I decided to take on yet more studying – at Utrecht University summer school. Why, you might ask? I simply missed learning about history and wanted to have a study abroad experience with all the socialising that comes with it. Two weeks in Utrecht – a small but picturesque Dutch student city, provided the perfect opportunity to revisit a subject that wasn’t related to my own degree, free from the stress that goes hand in hand with an undergraduate degree.
I was slightly worried about the prospect of spending my 21st birthday alone in my room, with only a bottle of wine as company, fortunately that turned out not to be the case. There was no excuse not to experience the famous Dutch nightlife for my 21st, which was perfectly timed to fall on a weekend. Bonding with other students on the various courses provided was unbelievably easy and the best part of my stay in Utrecht.
In a striking contrast to England, the lecturers encouraged us to go out as much as we could and even joined us for drinks. The relaxed environment of the course came as an extremely welcome departure from a frantic year of deadlines and seemingly endless essays. It was brilliant to be studying purely for enjoyment and without any pressure.
The stereotype that the Dutch have a brilliant command of English certainly proved to be true, as I was met with perfectly formed replies while attempting to navigate my way around the city – very useful indeed when you have a sense of direction as terrible as mine. Of all the places in Europe, the Netherlands in my opinion is probably the easiest place for a British student to settle in. While there aren’t many cities in England where I would willingly walk around alone at 3am, it certainly wasn’t a problem in Utrecht. The streets are clean, and generally seem a lot safer. The biggest threat is actually the thousands of cyclists that seem to pour out onto the streets at all directions.
In terms of food, I wasn’t overly impressed by Dutch cuisine, having regrettably tried a questionable bacon and apple flavoured pannekoek (a type of Dutch/Belgian pancake). Eating out at one of the many restaurants by the medieval canal was something special however, and the very reasonably priced availability of Kriek, and other Belgian fruit beers, would delight any lover of this beverge.
The idea of choosing to study at a Dutch university was brought to my attention by a BBC news article highlighting the ever-increasing popularity of the country’s universities with British students. According to figures this year, the number of British ‘refugees’ who are fleeing the hike in tuition fees, has led to quadrupled applications to some Dutch universities. This trend is expected to continue and understandably so, as the country boasts several top-100 globally ranked universities, offering degrees taught entirely in English for a fraction of the price.
Remarkably, in the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, tuition fees for EU students (that includes us) are zero. These nations are home to well-respected institutions that also teach courses in English. There are of course steep living costs in the Nordic nations to also factor into consideration, but even with these included, the overall strain on the purse is markedly less. Knowing all of this, it is a wonder that almost everyone isn’t applying to European universities. So for those thinking about taking a Masters, why not look to Europe?
Clearly, studying abroad is not suited for everyone; especially those who get easily homesick or are horrified at the prospect of missing Ocean Fridays. Yet if you are willing to spend two weeks of holiday time there, it really is a great experience and an easy way to discover – if you have doubts – whether studying abroad is right for you.