The moment is finally here. Acceptance letter received. Passport is valid. Mum’s cried a lot. Dad’s made sure you’ve got enough funds for the first months food.
You are on your way to the adventure of a lifetime. Yes! This is Erasmus in Utrecht!
As a graduate of the Utrecht Erasmus year 2008-2009, I am pleased to share my top 10 (less traditional) tips*:
*I am a very social person. I loved my Erasmus because other than studying I made life long friends, had amazing experiences, traveled and lived the local life.
1) TAKE SSH ACCOMODATION! It is a well known fact over many Utrecht Erasmus Generations (UEG) that SSH are the WORST accommodation specialists ever. Low and behold however, this is the first hurdle to having the best semester or year of your student life. Prices may seem unjust, locations certainly not the best – but please take my word when I tell you that this is the key to your friendships. Many a dinner party, birthday party, themed party, just-because-its-wednesday party (maybe even a study party) will be hosted at these apartments. Living and breathing the experience of living in one of them is not something I would trade. I had many a friend who believed their own accommodation would suffice but low and behold they were always having to bike over and crash at the SSH locations. It’s one of those Just Do It cases.
2) PACK LIGHT. Yes, there are shops here. No, you won’t have money to spend in them. You’re precious funds will be of much more use for partaking in activities, evenings out and traveling to as many destinations as possible with your new international friends. Those RyanAir flights are too good to miss and with a ready-made group of hostel buddies, you’re weekends away will be taken to a whole new level. Extra tip for the ladies: don’t even bother with high heels and cute dresses. It’s all about jeans, t-shirt and kicks here. Trust me you’ll regret bringing that sparkly outfit and killer heels as you’re stumbling (and breaking your ankle) on the cobble-stoned paths.
3) JOIN ESN UTRECHT. You can do that here. They are your ticket to Intro-Week and their parties are seriously fun! Other than parties they arrange great activities which let you explore Holland for a really low price. International student night (Tuesday’s at Club Poema), Weekends away, Night Canoeing, Ski trips, Hitch-hiking adventures…the possibilities are endless and with like minded people all around you’ll make friends for life. Great tip: the board of ESN are always local Dutch students who will have a wealth of knowledge on how to integrate with the local students. I loved mixing with internationals and Dutch alike; I think you’d be silly not to at least try to get to know some locals!
4) BUT FIRST, BUY A BIKE. Feel free to personalise and name it (see above picture of my beloved “Squash”). Don’t buy it from a junkie; check out Marktplaats.nl and the local bike shops for something that will last. Oh and grab a lock or two; and a puncture repair kit from HEMA. Don’t argue with me on that.
5) SHOPPING FOR ESSENTIALS: Supermarkets include: Aldi (great sangria mix), Jumbo, Albert Heijn (the fancy one) or Plus.
Get everything else you need from aforementioned HEMA, Action or IKEA. Simple as that.
6) OKTOBERFEST. Hire a van from the University (I hope they still do that), drive to Munich with a bunch of friends, arrange accommodation as early as possible and prepare for by far the best weekend you will have. The sheer size of the event combined with the intense amount of internationals will just blow your mind. It’s also a really pretty city to explore in between the Steins and Pretzels!
7) HOST A THEMED PARTY. With all the socialising you do it’s nice to mix it up by dropping a theme into the night’s activitites. You’ll be surprised as to how creative you can get on a small budget. Don’t forget to provide a few basic snacks, a bowl of punch (sangria) and to tape a colored plastic bag around the hideous lights that don’t dim in your apartment. Better yet if you live in accommodation with multiple apartments off one hallway (I am looking at you; Parnassos building tenants)- theme each apartment differently.
8) MUSIC & FESTIVALS! If you come from Australia like me, you’ll be shocked at how relatively inexpensive festivals are in Holland. Check out the possibilities here and get planning with a group of new friends. In addition to festivals, there are always great artists touring. You’ll find some great indie bands and singers at Tivoli Vredenburg here in Utrecht or if you don’t mind heading up to Amsterdam; try Bitterzoet, Melkweg, Sugar Factory and Paradiso.
9) GET A JOB! Not just to fund your fun, a job helps you meet locals and keep some sort of a routine in between all the surrounding madness. I was a nanny twice a week for an international family and had friends who picked up bar or cafe work. It may seem as though no one will hire an English speaker but there are loads of cool new bars and restaurants popping up all the time and English is becoming much more acceptable. Give it a shot and go door to door. Forget retail though.
10) LIVE LOCAL! Looking back on my Erasmus and chatting with those friends we all agree that we wish we had explored the local bars and cafes more. We got really stuck in the same routine for food and drinks and living here again now I can’t believe everything I missed out on! Save that €15 per month for a meal out. Go to the movies, buy tickets to an FC Utrecht football game and do all of those ‘normal’ things which will all seem extremely exciting simply because you are not at home. If you need tips on new cafes, restaurants or night spots – just ask me or check out my instagram feed.
If you want any other specific information about this amazing city – don’t hesitate to drop me a comment!