The Leidener

A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Leiden has nothing to do with the German ‘leiden’

Some of you may know what ‘leiden’ actually means in German…well if you didn’t know it means ‘to suffer’.

A German friend of mine told this to me when she learned that I was going to Leiden to study master’s. Since then – though it doesn’t sound logical – I felt a bit anxious and suspicious about this Dutch city. My uneasy feelings didn’t disappear right away after landing in Leiden for the first time on a gloomy, rainy, grey Sunday, especially, three hours after leaving the lovely summerish sunny weather in Istanbul. At first, it felt like I came to the middle of nowhere… There was not even a single store open and no sign of human presence in the streets. Tired of dragging two giant luggages, I sat down and watched the rain clouds move in light speed.  And this was the only time I was brooding over what if Leiden was really the suffering city.

Now I know that I was absolutely mistaken, and it’s been only a month! I must say that in reality it took me less than two days to realize that this town has nothing to do with pain or suffering or boredom. Instead, it feels like Leiden was only teasing me and this was the beginning of an enviable love story. Its beautiful canals that resemble Venice, student and bike friendly ambiance, cozy cafés and bars, polite and educated locals, close proximity to Amsterdam, and offering peace and entertainment at the same time… All of these things together made me fall in love with this lovely place.

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photo credit goes to my friend Aysegül…

So, some of the things I experienced and learned in my first month in Leiden…

You will probably not believe me, but the following two weeks after I arrived, it only rained perhaps once or twice, and sunglasses were needed during the days.  One weekend, we even went to the beach to swim and sunbath in Vlietland which is only 15 minutes away by bike from the center! So, unlike what you probably heard it’s not like you will never see sunshine here, but still it is always a good idea to carry an umbrella every day, and not to trust much in the weather report. Weather changes like seasons change here!

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Us sunbathing studying on the lawn-beach in Vlietland.

But… it really sucks that we live in Leiden, not Amsterdam.

If you agreed with what I just wrote, let me tell you a couple of things that may help change your mind. Schiphol (airport) is even closer to Leiden than Amsterdam! It only takes 15 minutes by train to come to Leiden central station. The Dutch people I spoke with here actually told me that they prefer living in Leiden than Amsterdam, because in Leiden they can find cheaper houses closer to the central station.  Plus, they don’t need to deal with the much tourist hassle, traffic and crowd of Amsterdam, while still being only 30 minutes away from the lively capital!

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Being someone who can’t drive, this is the country to be in! But, you should probably know how to cycle. Bikes bikes bikes… more bikes than cars. They are everywhere! I bought one with a great deal from the bike shop at Kaasmarkt. Lucky enough, the owners of the bike shop happened to be Turkish. So you can imagine how much time I spent there chatting, drinking tea and bargaining with these men. One month after buying my bike, I can already talk on the phone, eat and read when cycling. I can even ride my bike without my hands on the handle! Another amusing thing is going out at night with a dozen of friends, and we are all riding on our bicycles like a bike-gang! But, there are difficulties too, especially when you can’t remember where you parked your bike after drinking a bit too much on a Wednesday night in Einstein.

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where the hell did I park my bike? :-/

I am not the kind of person to enjoy frosh weeks, introduction days, welcome parties, – whatever you name them -, but I also don’t feel comfortable not joining the herd. So, I ended up going to the introduction days. It was much more satisfactory and fun than I expected!  The most rewarding part was of course meeting like-minded people with whom I could connect in a deeper level. There are a lot of international students from the Mediterranean countries, especially in the Faculty of Social Sciences, and you will quickly find your circle of lovely friends who will be invading your house spontaneously  and others who will be bringing olives, cheese and tomatoes to your house from the open market for a late Saturday breakfast.

It’s true that Leiden is a tiny city, but there is so much to explore in Leiden and the rest of the Netherlands as well.  But, these days I will take it slow, because they say it’s not good to spend your love rushing into a relationship with someone you have just met. And I’ve just met Leiden! (In any case, studying Research Master’s in Psychology doesn’t give you much free time to discover everything all at once). If you are in a similar situation, a good thing to do would be to slow down the pace of your pedaling and take some time to enjoy being surrounded by Leiden’s beautiful canals, serenity, and markets where you can taste stroopwafels and all sorts of kaas.

photo credits: Aysegül

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