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The Hardships and Joys of Being an International Student in Rotterdam

When it comes to internationals relocating to the Netherlands, Amsterdam still holds the title of the favorite destination. However, Rotterdam has been catching up fast. The image of Rotterdam being little more than a harbor city no longer holds. The city has a lot more to offer, and with a #8 spot on the Rough Guides’ top 10 cities in the world for 2014, it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Last year, around four thousand international students rocked up to Rotterdam to study at the Erasmus University. In line with our Teaching the International Classroom series, this sparked a question within us: How does such an international crowd experience living in Rotterdam?

Running up to the Careers Made in Rotterdam event on the 3rd of December last year, we asked some of the international students to share with us their thoughts and impressions on living in Rotterdam. More precisely we asked them: What are the hardships and joys of being an international student in Rotterdam?

Needless to say, we were happy to find out that after the initial culture shock, they all seem to have grown quite fond of the city. Engineering and policy analysis student Trung wrote about his first impression of Rotterdam, which was quite a change compared to Vietnam.

“Living as an expat in a foreign country always means a difficult journey, except in Rotterdam, where you definitely have a chance to turn any hardship into joy. Two years ago, the first time visiting Rotterdam gave me an impression of a city without a unique character: Irregular building style, confusing metal statues, and crowds of people from all around the world which made me scared. That feeling was understandable for a shy guy who just began his trip far away from home in a small country in South-East Asia. However, after some time the initial feeling faded away and was replaced by an eagerness to discover every corner and aspect of the city.”

For Bulgarian RSM student Mariya on the other hand, the first thing that stood out were the many, many bikes which the Netherlands is so famous for. She also wrote about her biggest struggle with living in Rotterdam, which has everything to do with the complicated Dutch language, and as to be expected, the weather did not score any points either.

“To start with, there are bikes everywhere. At first, not getting run over by a bike could be a challenge, but later it gets difficult to imagine lacking this comfort, and there are all kinds of other transport for non-bikers. The Dutch language could be another hardship but, on the other hand, Rotterdam is extremely international, so there are job opportunities for non-Dutch speakers in nearly every field of expertise. What is more, most of the Dutch speak English, so everyday life activities are not an issue. Nevertheless, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service of the Ministry of Security and Justice uses Dutch almost exclusively in formal correspondence, which does present a serious hardship, in case one does not have Dutch friends close by. Last but not least, the weather in Rotterdam is like the typical Dutch weather – cloudy and rainy, only even windier because of the sea.”

Luckily, besides these understandable setbacks, she mostly sees the joys of studying in Rotterdam.

“Apart from the outlined relative hardships, in my opinion, there are only joys left for internationals in Rotterdam. There are beautiful sceneries, impressive bridges, modern sites, and parks.”


British student Timothy agrees with Mariya’s view of Rotterdam being a great city when it comes to its public transportation. Of course, moving to another country always comes with difficulties and the Netherlands is no exception. However, in his opinion, besides the ‘standard problems’ the city does not provide a lot of hardships. On the contrary, Rotterdam offers a rich cultural scene.

“Being an international in Rotterdam has many parallels with moving anywhere even within your home country. Looking for a room to rent when you are hundreds of miles away is both expensive and risky, relying on agents and web boards the system seems rigged against you as the systems are tailored for locals. Looking for jobs just as in any city in the world is a complex task, but even in an international city like Rotterdam where English is widely spoken, it can be harder to find jobs and placements because Dutch is preferred or required. Finding the agencies and companies that are recruiting like any city can be a time consuming task but that is the reality of our world. So the hardships are just variations upon the classical problems of moving to any new place, lack of information, familiarity, language and access which is normal to life as an international.
The joys of being an international in Rotterdam are a mix between the economic vitality of the South of Holland, the investment into the city making it a fanatically mobile city with easy access to metro, rail, bus, bike, walking and car transport. All the forms of transport are integrated in a constantly improving network making Rotterdam a great city to live in. The city has vibrant neighborhoods of shops and amenities. Rotterdam being an international city allows the meeting of many other internationals creating a good environment to live in.”

As mentioned before by Trung, Rotterdam is nothing, if not a multicultural city. Housing people from more than 160 different nationalities has had a big influence on both the character and the appearance of the city. For Mariya, this multicultural aspect coupled with diverse recreational opportunities is one of the things she enjoys the most about living in Rotterdam.

“People are very friendly, open-minded, and tolerant. Since there are so many other cultures present in the city, there are also many different cuisines, diverse interest and sports clubs, and abundant opportunities for nightlife. Despite the many constructions under development, organization and order are very good and make everything easier. I, personally, value the dynamics and the cultural variety of the city the most.”

A culturally diverse population, alongside a modern and urban outlook, combined with more traditional sceneries and an excellent public transportation network seem to be the favorite aspects for internationals living in Rotterdam. Besides the practical hurdles such as dealing with a foreign language and finding a job or accommodation, the joys of being a ‘Rotterdammer’ outweigh its hardships, making it a vibrant and dynamic city for internationals to reside in. Or as Trung sums it up:

“Obviously, flows of energy and creativity in culture and science seem to twist together to form Rotterdam into a hub of innovation and a challenging place for youth to stay and grow, to make friends and become an international-friendly person. In brief, hardships always exist somewhere somehow, but it is worth experiencing Rotterdam to live life to the fullest.”

Nique Brinkman

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