Culture clash: moving from India to the Netherlands

It was 8:40 in the morning when I was first carried into the Schiphol airport in a sea of people, people that were way too tall for me, and who smiled their biggest smile at me. Some even came up to me to ask if I needed help, yes, I might have been visibly struggling with my 3 suitcases. My whole life was packed into these suitcases, bright red for my own comfort, I was ready to move into the Netherlands, I was ready to study harder, learn better and live the grand, vibrant Dutch life.

Posted by Krittika Choudhury at Jul 11, 2018 01:15 PM

One thing no amount of avid googling can prepare you for, is the extent to which the Dutch rely on their cycles. That, and the fewer number of people here. I come from India, I am used to not getting a space to sit on trains and buses, I am used to waiting hours for a bus that never shows up. And when it does, it is so full that people have to hang off of the doors of it. Imagine my surprise, when I got up on the train to get to my official address in the Netherlands and I found that everyone had a nice, sole space to sit on. I was almost overwhelmed when every connecting bus and train that I had to take, was so perfectly on time and so unbelievably clean.


When I said overwhelmed before, I really did mean it, but it was even more real a feeling the day I stepped into my first class here. It was at about 1:45 and an odd time. As I did my best to pay attention to the class instead of the growling pangs of hunger in my stomach, I stared in shock as my classmate pulled out a bag of bread and cheese from his bag, made a sandwich with a lot of concentration and care, and continued to eat it in the middle of class with utmost pleasure and satisfaction. It is not something I had seen before, and it is something that continues to amaze me even today, after completing a whole year of my master studies. I am reminded of all the times I have been reprimanded for trying to eat between classes, I am reminded of every time I had to sneakily put in a mouthful of my own food in class or find a spot at the very back of the class just so that the teacher does not catch me eating food. Where I come from, teachers are worshipped, they are believed to have all the right answers, all the right reasons and absolute, correct judgement. Eating food in class is equated to disrespecting them, engaging in a back and forth dialogue, or challenging their opinion is viewed as completely unacceptable. Therefore, when my very vocal (very passionate about biomechanics) Dutch friend contested the validity of the presented a research proposal in front of the entire classroom, I was stunned. I was not aware that it was an option available to me, that I could question, argue and debate with my elders, my supervisors, in the spirit of science and in the quest for knowledge. Thank you, Universe, for granting me that choice in life (you were late by only 23 years) and thank you, parents for enabling me with that choice. This new world is wonderful, and I am going to make the most of it. By that I mean I have never ignored my hunger, my passion, my questions and my invaluable opinions ever since that very first day in class. Believe it, it is true, it really is a magical place!

Krittika - UvT

Another thing that Google, or any of the sites that you frequent before getting here will not tell you is that the Dutch love their sandwiches, they love it. Nothing wrong with that at all, since the number of options for bread, meat and especially cheese that are available to you, is extraordinary. But I hope you are prepared for it, I understand that for most of us, food is one of the most important part of our cultures and that adaptability is the key to conquering the world, or at least becoming part of it, so I really do wish you luck with it. This, and early dinner times. It is extremely common in student houses to cook for one another, and to eat together. Personally, that is something I really like, there’s always food on your plate and company on your dinner table. The usual dinner time in the Netherlands is between 6 to 7 PM. That basically means food right after classes, and more time towards the end of your evening to spend on yourself, on studies, on parties, or sports, whatever it is that you like and enjoy. That said, this aspect also requires a little adjusting to as in most countries, the common dinner time is between 8:30 to 9:30 PM. I urge you however to look on the brighter side, as an early dinner means that you have just enough time for a second dinner.

As I said before, I have lived here for almost a year now and I have been forced into being physically active. The Dutch are very healthy in their food, their outlook and their lifestyle. It is common for most to be involved in some sports or activity every evening. People go for runs even on the coldest winter nights, and people cycle always, and everywhere. Everyone does this, especially the cycling bit, across all age groups and it is a delight watching someone your grandmother’s age cycle away from you faster than the speed of light.


My journey in the Netherlands so far, has been nothing sort of wondrous. Every time when I have a few days off, I try to travel to one of the European countries. I have only been to 5 so far, but there’s way more on my list. Every place is only a few hours away by train or flight, and it is so tempting to make sure I leave my footsteps on as many places as I can before it is too late, or before I run out of wonder. That is the thing about the Netherlands though, you never run out, of wonder, of passion, of compassion, of spirit and of knowledge. It welcomes you with heartwarming pleasure and it makes you a part of it, gradually and then all at once.

Like a responsible senior, I will leave you with a few pointers that have helped me embrace the Dutch culture and lifestyle further, feel free to try it too and go ahead and comment on this post, if there is anything you did differently or if there is anything you want to add to it:

  • Learn to understand Dutch traditions, like Sinterklaas or King’s Day. It is of course a lot of parties, and beer but there is a deeper meaning to it.
  • Be accepting to the openness and frankness of the Dutch, they mean well and they just cut right to the chase.
  • Learn to make your own food, it is a great money saver but also gives you the time and opportunity to try out new stuff.
  • I hope you know how to cycle, if not, it is never too late to learn.
  • Learn to study hard, but party harder.


I hope this article has helped, and that it excites you even more to be here. Proost!

Posted by Krittika Choudhury at Jul 11, 2018 01:15 PM