The most annoying difference – when you are an exchange student this it’s even more true – is that at the weekend all the Dutch students go home. This was a shock as many even went back during Intro Week. Why go home when people are still putting events on for you and during ample making new friends time?
I thought it was perhaps a phase. At least for the first few weeks while they got used to the university lifestyle, but it is still happening.
I never went home during term time at Exeter and this is not only true for myself. Perhaps people would go home twice a term, but defiantly not every weekend. I was suggested that this is because Exeter is four hours away from my home town, but this isn’t the reason as people who live in the next county still follow the same pattern. If they weren’t around it is more likely they were visiting other friends universities or were on a trip with a society.
Two things are due to this, I think quite substantial, difference in university lifestyle. The first being that all students (if they are Dutch anyway) get to travel for free on public transport with an OV card (I am very jealous about this!). They can either choose to have weekdays or weekends free and for the other they get 40% off normal price tickets on trains. I can see how this would allow you to travel home a lot more as student pockets are small and why would you pay £30 to travel home when you could be spending it on food and drink.
This cost of transport is especially true for the UK where train prices are not rational. You’d think that the further you travel the more expensive it would be but this isn’t true. For instance the journey on the train I most often take at home, which is Exeter to Lancaster, can cost anywhere from £60 – £100. This is with the young person 1/3 off rail fare card, which you have to pay for yourself or get it free with your student account. Only from one particular bank though, which has since stopped this scheme. Hence new students can no longer get it for free. Without the card you’re looking at £100+.
The second is that UCU is the only University in the Netherlands that has a campus. This means that many other students are still living at home with their parents and commuting, hence the OV card. This means there are still parties and things to return home to. Whereas if I was to go home then it would most likely only be my parents there and who wants to hang out with them? Well actually the Dutch do, I think they have a stronger family bond, they say things like “I miss my Mum” when they have only not seen them for one week.
The reason I think this one difference is so substantial is that it changes the idea of university life style completely from the view we have of it at home. University is the place to discover yourself and to learn how to live by yourself and also with others. Running home to mummy and daddy every weekend stops this progression as you can get them to do your laundry and cook for you, which are two valuable lessons you will need for moving out. I don’t know what the average age for moving out in the Netherlands is but I guess it would be much higher than in the UK (omitting the fact that getting a job is really hard at this point so people are having to move back in with their parents after uni). It just generally stops the role of becoming independent as you still have a strong line to your home. I am not saying this is bad and having a strong bond with your family is wrong but I think it blocks an important life lesson that university is there for.
At the end of term Exeter people often get the same feeling of wanting to go home so they leave as soon as possible, but the time when they choose to return is different from the Dutch. These people then realise that home isn’t as great as they thought it would be as they are bored and there isn’t much happening, so they also return early as well. The Dutch, on the other hand return quite late.
Dutch universities (this one at least, and I think many others too), appears to me more like a boarding school where you can go home at the weekend and hence only actually go because you have to study.
The other part of this, especially if being present at university is mainly because you have classes that day, is it leaves a hole in socialising. You just don’t get as much time with the Dutch as you would like, because as soon as they don’t have class they are off on a train back home and then only returning Sunday evening. Plus with the work load here high, the only real socialising available is in dining hall, the odd movie when people are procrastinating or the preparation before going to the bar. Big groups of people having an adventure over the weekend is something that is talked about, yes, but it doesn’t manifest as there is always some tie at home left that they need to attend to.
I think for us the University town is where you live, but for the Dutch their home town is where they truly live.