Groningen—the Dunedin of the Netherlands

Groningen—the Dunedin of the Netherlands

Law and arts student Harriet McFetridge always knew she wanted to go on exchange. Spending her final trimester of study amongst the canals and bikes of the Netherlands was the perfect way to see the world and finish her degree.

Harriet spent her final trimester of study on exchange in Groningen—a bike-mad city in the northern Netherlands.

“Wow, that’s so far away! What are you doing in Groningen?”

This was the classic response after I’d explained that I was on exchange from New Zealand. It was normally followed by, “I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand”.

I’d always planned on doing an exchange while at university. It was hard to pick from all the University’s exchange partners, but I eventually settled on the Netherlands. After five years studying in Wellington, I spent the last trimester of my studies at the University of Groningen (RUG), two-hours north of Amsterdam. It was the best way to finish off my studies.

The city of Groningen is like the Dunedin of the Netherlands. It is a small student city but in a flat, bike-mad country. It’s not a major tourist destination but it has everything you’d expect of the Netherlands, minus the tourists that flood Amsterdam.

This year, RUG had their ‘Lustrum’ year, marking 405 years since the University was founded. Studying at an institution with this much history is quite neat. Despite feeling like a first year all over again, I enjoyed seeing how they teach in the Netherlands. All of my courses were in English and I was surprised by how similar some of the lectures were, particularly Art History. It shows that even though we are at the bottom of the world, we’re still getting a great education.

The University of Groningen (RUG) sits two hours outside of Amsterdam and is steeped in history.

I arrived at RUG knowing no one. Doing an exchange alone is a great opportunity—it forces you to approach people and be independent. You have no choice but to take the plunge. Almost everyone else is in the same boat, so it’s easy to make friends. For example, I spent a weekend in Germany with two people I’d met the week before. While I love my friends from home and took the opportunity to visit friends also on exchange (having a network of cool cities to visit is a great bonus), it’s liberating turning up to a place where no one knows you. It gives you confidence in your ability to adapt to new situations and challenges.

An exchange is also a fantastic opportunity to learn about other languages and countries. I was surrounded by not just the Dutch culture but so many other cultures. I lived in accommodation with 13 other international students from across the world, from Slovakia to Brazil. We had long discussions comparing our homes and sharing stories about each place. Meeting students from all over the world and hearing them switch between English and other languages is a humbling and fun experience. You know you’re not in Wellington anymore when you’re at a party chatting to a girl from Russia, a guy from Romania, and another from Peru while reggaeton music plays in the background.

Groningen has everything you would expect from the Netherlands—history, canals, bikes, minus the tourists that flood Amsterdam.

We’ve often joked that if you want to make friends with people from your exchange country, you need to go on exchange somewhere else to meet them. I found it was only though playing hockey, where I was the only non-Dutch speaker,that I got to know locals. It was challenging at times but they included me and gave me insight into the Dutch student culture here in Groningen. Getting involved in a club or team is the best way to break out of the international student bubble.

For me, my exchange has been a more valuable experience than simply travelling around Europe. Aside from the education I received, I’ve been able to make friends from across Europe and the rest of the world. I’ve been lucky enough to be hosted by many of these friends and have been immersed in their way of life, rather than just passing through.

There aren’t many opportunities to pack up and head to the other side of the world while continuing to achieve things for your life back in New Zealand. If you get the opportunity to go on exchange, definitely take it. The admin needed to get there is worth it. You’ll forget about the paperwork later.

Harriet McFetridge is a sixth-year law and arts student majoring in Art History and minoring in International Relations.

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