In the past year, there were more than five thousand international students who chose to study at UvA, making up about a sixth part of the total number of enrollments. Amsterdam, travel destination for thousands of tourists every week, appears to have become a good alternative to the United Kingdom with regards to higher education: besides the well-known views, the bright colours of its canals, and the unique way of enjoying life around here, this city is also a cradle of nationalities and culturally-diverse opportunities. In short, a worthwhile challenge for your mindset and previous convictions. But what are the reasons for young students to move to the Netherlands, leaving thousands of kilometres behind them? What are the implications of such a decision?
From Mexico City, to Paris and Amsterdam: a life-changing experience
Dalis (20) was born in Torreón, and lived in Mexico City for most of her life. In 2015, she moved to Paris where she graduated from High School. Dalis: “Paris is the place where your life might be f*cked, but your house will be decorated nicely, and you will dress up nicely. You’re going to look great at it, you know, […] you might be crying but wow, buildings are still beautiful. Even when you’re blue, your life is pink. I believe this is the essence of being French.”
Her stay in Europe eventually led her to apply for a degree programme in Amsterdam, where she is now studying Communication Science (English track). Aware of the strict routine awaiting her during the upcoming semester, she reflects upon the first months of her student life here in the Netherlands.
“It may break your perspective to think you were made to do this and later realize that you are not worth a ten. This breaks your perspective, but it does so even in a positive way: you come to understand that – unfortunately – you’re not the greatest thing that happened on this earth, so you’d better work it up. Personally, I don’t believe in those convinced of ‘being special’: everybody is, in his own way. You can be special for what you do, but this doesn’t necessarily make you unique or irreplaceable. If you really want to achieve something, you got to put a lot of effort in it.”
The Dutch capital through the eyes of a Mexican student
Amsterdam, the capital and most populated city of the country, also opens the door to the projects of the youngest, giving them the chance to follow their major inclinations and accomplish their goals, as an investment for the future.
“It smells like freedom to me. Freedom, and opportunity. If you try hard, you could actually make your dream come true here, without need to rely on anyone else than yourself. Let’s say you love plants: you will probably find a way to open your own plants store at some point, you know you are not going to be a gardener for the rest of your life. That’s what really matters. Your future doesn’t need to be based on what someone else tells you to do or not to do: it will be your plan, and yours only.”
Beyond cultural shock: praising a gender-neutral society
Despite being “shocked” by the difference between Northern Europe and Mexico when it comes to mealtimes, – “I can’t believe people here seriously have dinner at 18:00, I wouldn’t call it in that way until 21:00!” – Dalis seems to truly appreciate the gender equality characterising each level of the Dutch system. Nevertheless, what amazes her the most are especially Dutch women, their manifest strength and determination.
I generally admire Dutch women, since they are so strong and can do whatever they’d like to
“The first Dutch person I met was a woman. She was my host in the city for a few days while staying in an Airbnb. I seriously admired her in a way; the thing that I liked about her was that she was very determined, which is something that reflects me, being myself in the exact same way as she was. She didn’t have this complex, as many women do, of being the feminine in the relationship, the woman with breasts and amazing hips, perfect smile, wearing lipstick all day long, you know? But also, she was strong. I am still amazed of how strong Dutch women are.”
“Have you ever seen these women who take 5 children in front of their bikes? Well, I can’t even take a suitcase of 20 kilos. I generally admire them, since they are so strong and can do whatever they’d like to: this was very new to me. Even in France, they do have this scheme of the ‘French girl’, a term that I personally hate. “French girls don’t wear sneakers”: they talk about French people as if they were not humans. I am glad that the first person I met here was someone I could admire because of that. And there’s something I really appreciate of guys as well: I like the fact that they are graceful, showing their feminine part. The way they can be sensitive, graceful, looking pretty themselves, and having their own beauty. It’s not something you would see in many movies, or advertisements nowadays. It is just different.”
Cover: Salma Millán / Final editing: Tamar Hellinga