Why study abroad?
Of all students registered in Dutch universities last year, about 12% came from countries outside the Netherlands. Why do young people from abroad choose to come to the Netherlands to study? What are their expectations? What challenges do they face? How can they better prepare?
We sat down with a girl who left India for the Netherlands some years back and asked her these questions. This is her story.
Vibha set off from Chennai, aka Madras, a city of 10 million and the capital of Tamil Nadu. She is currently working in Amsterdam and has several years’ work experience behind her. But she first came to the Netherlands four years ago, as a student at Hanze University Groningen.
Having completed an undergraduate degree in Business, Vibha wanted to ‘get away’ and come to Europe. She opted for the Netherlands for several reasons, firstly she would be able to follow a postgraduate course taught in English. Secondly, costs would be lower compared to other English speaking countries. Last but not least, she had managed to secure a scholarship to finance her studies.
Expectations when studying abroad.
Vibha’s expectations of what student life would be like in the Netherlands were from films she had watched about ‘life in the West’ but had no specific expectations about higher education or Dutch culture in particular.
Within campus, not speaking Dutch did not present a significant barrier, but interacting with Dutch shop-keepers, for example, could be awkward. Vibha socialised mostly with other international students, from India or elsewhere, but not so much with Dutch students. In hindsight, Vibha says she should have invested in learning some basic Dutch before her arrival.
Having no pre-conceptions, Vibha was somewhat taken aback by the openness of Dutch culture. She found it difficult to become accustomed to Dutch directness. Initially, she would take things personally or would think that people were being rude, and this became more prevalent when she started working. But Vibha has made an effort to adjust to this open way of communicating and has tried to meet the Dutch ‘mid-way’. She can appreciate that ‘openness’ means she can truly be herself. ‘I feel more empowered. I’m a very different person to who I was four years ago’.
Does Vibha feel she would still ‘fit in’ if she were to return to Chennai now? ‘Probably not’!