A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Something that no one quite emphasises enough is just how little sun one receives in a Dutch winter. They mention it of course, but never quite get to exactly how little sunshine there really is. Coming from a sunshine-filled sub-Saharan country, this was shock to me. I had never experienced darkness at 16:00 and overcast Monday to Sundays, and it took some getting used to. Yet, something that shocked me even more is how the absence of sun actually improves one’s relationship with the sun itself. There is no one who appreciates and gives their full time to the sun like the Dutch do.
While being at Leiden University, I have inherited this appreciation for the sun. It was one of the first things I was taught during orientation: “When the sun is out you must appreciate it, forget studying and university for one afternoon and give your time to the sun”. Upon first hearing this I was taken aback. I could not comprehend why the sun required so much of my time. I found my answer quite quickly. This city, The Hague, is not like my previous sub-Saharan one. The sun was not the default setting but rather the exception.
My first few days of sunshine were horribly misused. Instead of fleeing to the beach or congregating in a park I remained inside, reading frantically for my next lectures. It was only a few weeks later that I realised how detrimental my actions had been. Those weeks that followed were drenched in rain and increasing darkness – the sun barely showed its face. I came to regret my indoor behaviour and vowed to rectify it as soon as the temperature peaks above 10 degrees and the sun showed itself again.
Now, when the sun does appear, I use the solar power to its maximum potential. There are two acceptable ways to spend sunny days in The Hague: the beach or the park. On these glorious sun-filled days you will observe a flocking of students to your local grocery store where they emerge with a pack of beers and bags of crisps. Thereafter they will diverge. Some will hop on their bikes and dawdle down to the beach where they will listen to their music, watch the sunset and drink some beers all in the good company of friends and the sun itself. Others will saunter to the nearest park and do much the same as those beach goers. The decision of whether to park or to beach depends mostly on how far you want to travel and what you and your friends decide – both options allow for maximum sun appreciation and utilisation. Regardless of the day of the week or time of day, you will observe this migration when the sun is out. Books are packed away, assignments put on hold and vitamin D is order for the day.
So, although no one appreciates the sun quite like the Dutch do. No one quite drops their responsibilities quite like students at Dutch universities do.