America vs. The Netherlands Part 1: an American’s thoughts on the American and Dutch university experience

The Netherlands and the United States are two of the biggest destinations for international students. But, if you’ve never been to either, how do you make a decision on where to attend university? How does the experience differ?

Trying to choose a university is tough. So many different factors go into making a decision. Cost, ranking, culture and location are all huge aspects of the university experience. How do you really know what it's like somewhere far from home, in a culture you've never lived in?

Everyone experiences things differently, but I can at least give my thoughts on the differences between the US and Holland.

Housing, Housing, Housing

Housing is by far the biggest difference between the Dutch and American university system. American universities are defined by dorm life, while in the Netherlands, school and your living space are for the most part separated. Each system has its own pros and cons and some people may prefer one over the other.

I got my bachelor’s degree in Chicago, and stayed in a dorm my first year. Dorm life gives students immediate connections with other students and no worries regarding bills or food. While many students move to an apartment later, the first year is usually spent in a dorm.

The Cloud Gate in Chicago
One of Chicago's great landmarks, the Cloud Gate (or the Bean as most locals and tourists refer to it) is a great place for a fun photo!

 

Dorm life immediately connects students and eliminates worry over monthly bills and trips to the grocery store. Because of these benefits, rooms are often very overpriced, and meal plans (which are usually required) can be worse. They sometimes end up costing as much as 11 dollars per meal!

In the Netherlands, you’ll be renting a room or apartment. In Amsterdam, where I live, accommodations are scarce and rent is expensive. You also won’t necessarily be living with other students, which is very different from dorm life. Finding accommodations can be tough and deserves it’s own post!

Living in an apartment, you end up interacting with your chosen city way more as you shop for groceries (cheaper than meal plans) and commute through the city to class. These activities help you become integrated into the community instead of getting stuck in the sometimes insular university world.

Housing tends to be simpler (no bills to remember, and a guaranteed spot in a dorm) in the US, while in the Netherlands you live more independently, with all the benefits and stresses that includes.

International feel

Overall, most schools in the US will be dominated by US students. There are always international students though, and many international student organizations and clubs have events to connect people from the same countries.

In Holland, many schools will be mostly Dutch, but others are very international. I study at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and almost everyone I’ve met is an international student. It’s great to meet so many people from around the world and learn about their different cultures.

The Conservatorium van Amsterdam

The opportunity to travel when you have free time

For me, this was a huge reason to come to Amsterdam. In just six weeks, I’ve visited four different cities in the Netherlands. The trains are fairly cheap, some have free wifi (so you can work and not feel bad about taking a trip), and the distances are short.

You can even bike around the country, which I wrote about on my blog a couple weeks ago.

Also, on holidays or long weekends it’s easy to get a train, bus or a budget flight to any number of beautiful cities throughout Europe. When studying in Holland, remember you’re also studying in the EU!

Amsterdam Central
Amsterdam and many other Dutch cities have huge, pretty train stations.

 

The US also has plenty of beautiful places to visit. Distances are much longer though, and while there are budget flights, there is not as much competition as in Europe, and therefore prices are usually a fair bit higher. Trains between cities are frequent and usually run late.

One fun option might be a road trip. This of course requires a car however, and someone who has a driver's license (requirements vary state by state). Still, for many people who didn’t grow up in the US, taking a long road trip has an undeniably romantic allure.

Is anyone trying to decide between the US and Holland? Either way, both have great schools and you can’t go wrong, but If you do have any questions about student life in the US or Holland, I may be able to help! Leave any questions you have below and I’ll do my best answer. Stay tuned for part 2!

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