Adapting to Dutch culture as an international student

February 11, 2020 | 3 min read

I arrived in The Netherlands 18 months ago when my husband and I moved from South Africa for him to pursue an exciting opportunity here. After 11 months in Europe, I attended my first class at TIAS as part of the 2019|2020 full-time MBA cohort.

For someone who grew up on a different continent, in a very different context and culture (not to mention weather and climate), I prepared myself for the new reality of living in a foreign country. I expected some cultural differences, but I couldn't predict just how different it would be and how challenging some aspects of the 'acclimatization' would be.

A blog written by Full-time MBA student Marizel.

Cultural differences

Feeling like an outsider at times, coping with cultural misunderstandings, different currencies, and being far from your support network is a challenge for most internationals in new countries. The 'prominent' Dutch culture that you experience when moving here might take you some time to understand. Still, The Netherlands is known for being home to people from all over the world. The Dutch people's reasonableness and willingness to help made the transition easier from when everything was still 'new and exciting' to when it became 'normal.' During this period, I never felt that I had to compromise who I am to fit in with the culture.

Is a 'language barrier' a factor to consider?

An important aspect that makes moving to or studying in the Netherlands appealing is the fact that you will be able to get along quite well with English - in most cases. Most people in the Netherlands can understand and speak English, so language should not be considered a 'barrier' when opting to make The Netherlands your study destination of choice. It is good to prepare yourself for the occasional misunderstanding due to cultural differences, accents, etc. but these are in the minority.

The full-time international MBA environment is an excellent formation space where you attend classes with other international students. The MBA program is in English, and all correspondence is done and handled in English by TIAS lecturers and program administrators. The TIAS team does their best to assist students with their move to The Netherlands and to introduce them to the basics of the culture even before they arrive through an informational online course.

An 'introduction to Dutch' course forms part of the academic program. Through this course, we were introduced to the Dutch language and equipped with the basics to understand and start making conversations in Dutch. Cultural insights were shared, and we students celebrated traditional Dutch holidays together. The learnings in this course were particularly valuable to me as language and culture are undoubtedly interrelated, and it increased the pace at which I felt I became accustomed to the Dutch culture.

Students from different countries & cultures

In the full-time class, you will, however, not only learn about one new culture (Dutch) but also about many other cultures. In this year's class, there are students from 16 nationalities, and this ensures an insightful and inspiring learning experience. As we all get to work with and alongside students of diverse cultures with work and life experiences gained all over the world, we learn helpful and vital lessons from each other. This collective of global learnings surely influences the way we look at global issues, economies of the world, and international relations. Soon enough, this colorful classroom became home, and my classmates are turning into lifelong friends.

Expectations after completing the MBA

I am excited about the prospect of finding a job here in The Netherlands after completing the MBA. The Personal and Career Development program is curated to ensure students have sufficient information about companies in the Netherlands. It provides some helpful tips and advice on preparing CVs and applying for a job in the Netherlands. Company days, recruiter-contact sessions, and meetings with career coaches and personal coaches also form part of this program. We are being guided throughout the course to make sure we make informed decisions about what we will be doing as part of our next step.

My advice to potential students

My experience in The Netherlands has not been without its adapting challenges but undoubtedly a pleasant, enriching, and fun one so far. Being able to call TIAS home has certainly contributed to the positive experience.

Moving to a different country will have its challenges. Fortunately, my transition to a culture where people are more 'direct' than where I am from, where there are more bicycles than people and where efficiency seems to take priority over many other things has been without any significant unsettlement.

Some advice to keep in mind as you consider and start preparing for a transition of your own:

  • keep reminding yourself that 'different' is not 'wrong'
  • in most cases change and differences are good for us as people when we seek to understand, integrate, not compare and be open-minded
  • see the move as an opportunity to learn new things and embrace the new country and culture that will become home (even if it's just for a while)

And finally: The Netherlands and specifically TIAS is an excellent option to consider :-)

Want to learn more about studying and working in Europe as an international? Download our whitepaper 'Out and about: tips for a successful European career'.

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