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Studying in the Netherlands – Femke Simms

Dutch case study (Femke)
Femke comes from London but studies at
Tilburg University

Born and raised in London by her Dutch mother and English father, at 18 Femke decided to embrace her mother's heritage and study at Tilburg University. Now 22 and fast approaching the end of her degree, Femke filled us in on what studying in the Netherlands is like for an international student:

What degree are you studying and how far into it are you? 

  • The degree I study is Liberal Arts and Sciences. It is a three-year course, with the first year consisting of a wide range of subjects, combining different scientific disciplines, with a distinctive focus on Europe in our ever-changing world. I personally enjoyed having a variety in my first year of University, especially as I was not 100% sure of what I wanted to do. This variation allowed me to figure out which subjects I enjoyed and which subjects I definitely did not want to pursue. This made choosing my major a very easy task.
  • Once you have completed your first year, you can choose one of five majors. This is the subject you will gain in-depth knowledge of for the last two years of the course. Throughout this time, you must also choose minors, which can be related to your major in order to deepen your expertise. Alternatively, you can pick a completely different subject to broaden your knowledge.
  • I am currently completing my third year of the Business and Management major so my study has focused on accounting, marketing, management and economics. The majority of the classes are interactive. You are actively encouraged to participate and ask questions as a group and even role play in some courses. We once had to act out a ‘buy and sell’ market, haggling for the lowest prices, and whoever had the most ‘money’ at the end was the winner. The ‘Consumerism’ course takes this one further by pairing you and your group with a small business, working with them on a report on how to improve their strategy.

Why did you choose to study at Tilburg, and in the Netherlands?

  • For quite some time I was unsure whether to study in England or Holland, but the decision was practically made for me when the UK government tripled the student fees in 2012. Why should I pay £9,000 for one year at a UK university when I can study six years in Holland for that exact amount? At £1,500 per year, studying in Holland couldn’t have been more desirable.
  • The other driving force was that I am half Dutch, so I felt more at ease moving to a country where I had family and already knew the language. However, everybody in Holland is pretty much fluent in English and my degree, like most in Holland, was taught in English.
  • After deciding on Holland I visited a couple of universities, but Tilburg was the one that stuck with me. Initially this was for shallow reasons, as visually, for me, it was perfect. It was how I had always envisioned a university: a pathway leading up to large academic buildings, surrounded by trees and students. That sounds like an average campus to many but after visiting other universities where the academic buildings were separated around the town, it was refreshing to see a community located in one place. 
  • Of course, looks aren’t everything, and after discovering the Liberal Arts and Sciences course, I was hooked. I had no idea a course as diverse as this even existed; if I had it would have absolutely been my first choice.

What was the application process like?

  • Having family in Holland meant I could combine University visits with seeing family so my application process was made slightly easier as I could talk in-person to the people in charge. However, this isn’t necessary as you can email back and forth any questions you have as well as having your interview over Skype. Nearly half the students accepted by Tilburg are international, so they take into account that you may be unable to travel.

How did your family and friends react to the news?

  • I had been debating between studying in the UK and Holland for a while, so my friends and family were aware that moving away would be a possibility. Most of my friends also moved to areas outside of London for their studies, so I don't think that being in Holland made too much difference to how often I saw them. Luckily Skype and social media has made being apart all the easier.

Were you comparing Holland with another country when you were considering your study options?

  • I had compared Holland with the UK but no other country was a consideration.

How did the fees in Holland compare to what you would have paid in the UK?

  • To study in the UK costs £9,000 for one year compared to £1,500 for one year in Holland. Despite the significant difference, this does not have any reflection on the quality. The education is brilliant and I actually feel that my money has been well spent, which I may not have done if I'd had to pay £9,000 a year.

What about the cost of living?

  • The cost of living is much cheaper than in the UK. Of course, that depends where in the UK you are studying, but I still think you would struggle to find an all-inclusive studio for £360 a month. My sister studies at the University of Exeter and is currently paying £310, excluding bills, for a large room in Falmouth. That's also a good deal, but some of my friends in Tilburg pay around £270 a month for a large room, all-inclusive, right on the University campus. This is all anecdotal evidence, but I do believe that these are the average prices for studios and rooms in Tilburg.

How are you finding the experience of living and studying in Holland?

  • I absolutely love studying in Holland! It truly feels like a community whenever I am on campus. You are constantly bumping into people you know, and you continuously feel supported by students and teachers alike. It has also given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, from Brazil to South Africa to France. I’ve learnt so much from the friends I have made here, from general language phrases to birthday traditions they have in their countries.  
  • I also love living here as I prefer the calmness of a small town. I do love London, but I think my personality is more suited to a cosy, relaxed area as opposed to a large, crowded city. If you prefer the latter then maybe Tilburg is not for you, but there are places in Holland such as Amsterdam that may be a better option. Even though not too much goes on in Tilburg, our study association makes sure that exciting events are constantly happening. We have a party at least once a month, and these are often themed. Aside from the parties, there are cultural activities organised monthly such as Museum visits, foreign movie nights and Thanksgiving dinner.

What do you plan to do after your course is finished?

  • I plan to do a masters course at Tilburg university. I knew I wanted to continue studying in Holland so I researched master courses at other Dutch universities, but none of them fitted my needs as well as the one I found in Tilburg. My hope is to have a career in either event planning or marketing, so I wanted to do a course that wasn’t too focused on one subject. That is why I am applying for ‘Business Communications and Digital Media’.

Are there any things you are finding difficult about living in Holland?

  • I miss my friends and family, but that's not exclusive to living in Holland. Most people move away from their family and friends when they go to university, and I feel I visit my family and friends as often as those who are studying in the UK.
  • One difficulty I did have when I moved here was accepting the direct nature of the Dutch. If they don’t like something, they will let you know. I found it quite shocking as I was used to the British attitude of hedging around what you want to really say. These direct statements sometimes felt like criticisms and at first I took them personally, however I soon realised how much less time was wasted, especially in group work.
  • Another difficulty, if you can call it that, is that you will have to bike everywhere! Owning a bike is essential in Holland, and although other modes of transport are available, when you have safe and smooth bike paths everywhere you turn, biking is the best option.

How do you think your experience of studying abroad will be viewed by employers and was this something that was a factor in your decision?

  • The opinion of employers was not a factor in my decision as I wasn’t sure that studying abroad would be best for me, let alone an employer. However, saying that, I do believe living abroad can help show that you are independent and that you are willing to move far from your family and friends. Despite this, bearing in mind that it is three years of your life that is affected by your decision, I think you should really be thinking what makes you happiest, not other people.

Find out more about studying in the Netherlands

Check out our profile for Tilburg University

Visit our International page for all our help and advice for studying abroad

See also