A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
I love being an international student in the Netherlands. You get to experience a new culture, meet so many interesting people and basically reinvent yourself from scratch. Even during the pandemic, I never regretted leaving home. If you talk to other international students, most of them will probably tell you the same thing. That it can be challenging but that it’s definitely worth it. And that they’d make the same decision again if they were asked to.
It’s great how enthusiastic everyone is about being an international student and I feel like this blog represents this enthusiasm very well. However, I always felt that it is really important to also talk about the aspects of international student life that are not all sunshine and rainbows. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s a privilege to be able to study abroad. But what many people (e.g. your friends and family at home, or prospective students considering to go abroad) easily forget is that this is not a three-year vacation. It’s real-life and comes with all the obstacles and frustrations life in your home country would throw at you. In fact, there are even more obstacles. You have to navigate a new culture, pick up enough of the local language to get by, and consider a lot of things you might have never even spared a second thought in your home country.
One example is that you have to make a lot of decisions, and need to plan way ahead when making them. Especially when your home country is far away or not easily accessible (e.g. because of a pandemic), it sometimes feels like you’re missing out on an incredible amount of things. While our Dutch counterparts can visit their family for a weekend and work around their pre-existing schedule, internationals will have to make a choice: Am I going to miss my sister’s graduation or will I sacrifice a month’s worth of appointments and commitments? This might sound like a whiny complaint to some, but what I’m trying to say is that we often don’t appreciate how stressful disrupting your everyday life is. Especially if you have to do it relatively frequently. You will have to reschedule that doctor’s appointment you were waiting a month to get or you won’t be able to attend a friend’s birthday. You just went on a first date with someone and had great chemistry, so do you really want to leave for a month to visit family? And what about the board meeting you were supposed to host? It’s usually a lot of small things that pile up until you end up feeling like you will miss out either way. Of course, this is also a matter of perception and mindset, but unfortunately, you can’t pretend that’s all there is to it. Because the fact is, you will miss out on some things that you wouldn’t have missed had you studied in your home country. To me, it often feels like you’re sitting between two chairs.
I can’t tell you how to get rid of that feeling. I’m not even sure there is a way to get the “best of both worlds”. In the end, it’s a very personal decision and everyone has to figure out their own priorities. I think it’s valuable for prospective international students to ask themselves whether they’d be comfortable missing out on events in their home country. Because if you’re not literally living next to the Dutch border, you will have to make a choice.
As I stated above, I love my life as an international student. It’s truly a great fit for me, I’d make the same decision again and would recommend it. The purpose of this blog is to warn you that even if going abroad is the right decision for you, it will not make you immune to the challenges of international student life. However, knowing what to expect can definitely help.