Of course one arrives in Utrecht excited about the coming semester, but first things first; before class begins comes orientation. What a week! Tuesday afternoon, a meeting with classmates and faculty from my relatively small master’s program in the city center; Wednesday evening, an international meet and greet at the Uithof; Thursday, all-day general orientation at the Uithof; then law school orientation on Friday in the city center. Quite a lot to absorb! And quite a Herculean task for the school, trying to acquaint so many students from all over the world undertaking diverse bachelor, masters and exchange programs, most struggling with jet lag and adjusting to new environs, with all the minutia of university email accounts and websites, enrollment issues, course schedules, residence permits, student ID cards, city registration, student bank accounts and the seeming hundreds of details that must be sorted out before one can turn to the academic task at hand. Despite the chaos inherent in such an undertaking, UU’s international program is quite well-organized. That is something you must understand about the Netherlands, chaos is always well-regulated! And somehow, it all works!
The lecture on Dutch culture and UU study culture was very fun and informative. This lecture was given by Emmeline Besamusca, who teaches Dutch culture at UU and who published a book that anyone considering studying abroad at UU should read: Foreign Eyes: International Students Reflect on Utrecht, Pallas Publications (October 2011). This is a book of essays by current and past international students reflecting on Dutch culture and academic life. Everything you wanted to know, but perhaps had not thought to ask, about the joys and hazards of biking in all sorts of weather, the idiosyncrasies of the Dutch palate and temperament, and the challenges of adjusting to new academic frontiers so far from home.
There is tremendous amount of support in place for international students. The school does a great job of ensuring that students are welcomed, informed, and not left alone to struggle with adjusting to a new school in a new country. Erasmus Student Network (ESN), can help with everything from pick up at the airport to finding a Dutch “parent,” to show you the ropes and acquaint you with all the best spots in Utrecht to eat, study and of course, go clubbing! (http://esn-utrecht.nl/) International Neighbor Group (ING), organizes social activities for foreign staff and graduate students. (http://ing-utrecht.squarespace.com/) There is also the Parnassos Cultural Center for those who wish to take on some creative coursework while studying at UU. http://www.uu.nl/EN/Parnassos/Pages/default.aspx. And of course, for those of you familiar with Meet Up, there are many active Meet Up groups in Utrecht and all over the Netherlands.
There is something for everyone. The only problem is lack of time and the danger of class becoming something you do between activities!