A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
I moved to Leiden straight from London, the capital of the UK. I don’t know if you have heard of London, but it is large. I grew up in a village but have lived in big cities since the age of 18. So what’s it like moving to a city with 7.9 million fewer people?
The most obvious change is how quiet it is. In London, I used to fall asleep to the sound of sirens, dogs barking and people in the street shouting to each other, even when living in a ‘quiet’ area. The upside of this is that you could stay out whichever night took your fancy, dancing to pop music until dawn, and then catch a bus home with early-morning commuters who did not judge you too hard for your life decisions. In Leiden, I have had more sleep. A friend of mine came to visit and was disappointed that everything had closed by 1am. However, if you’re really keen to go out the Hague is only eleven minutes by train, and Amsterdam is only twenty.
Everything really is that close in the Netherlands. In London I used to spend two hours on the bus every day, which was great for my Goodreads challenge, but not hugely exciting. I have used the bus in Leiden exactly once, to get to Leiderdorp for a vintage festival. On the way home, there was no bus for half an hour so we enjoyed a 3km walk back to town. Of course, the most obvious way to travel in the Netherlands is cycling, something I could write about at great length, and something that you can read about here. I love cycling so much that I even cycle when going to the bar next door.
One similarity between the two cities is the sense of community. There is a myth that London is unfriendly. On the Tube, it is true that people will look at you as though you are contagious if you try to talk to them. But in the area south of the river, our neighbours spoke to us whenever we bumped into them. We sent each other Christmas cards, and one couple even invited me in for a cup of tea when I had forgotten my keys. And it is the same here. The people who run the bar near our house always say hello in the morning and people recognise you in the supermarket (particularly if you’re ‘that foreign girl who tried to pay with a foreign card’). Because there are only so many places you can visit in such a small city, people remember you, especially if you’re that annoying one who insists on practising Dutch. This can backfire when you come across someone in real life with whom you matched on Tinder, but on the whole, it’s quite pleasant.
It was a good choice to move somewhere calmer and smaller for a year. I will reassess at the end of the year whether or not I am a ‘city person,’ but for now sleeping better, cycling everywhere and maintaining a sense of community are really agreeing with me.