Discover Studying Abroad

Going Dutch

If studying abroad does not equate squarely with going only to the US or UK, then give Holland a serious thought. Small, beautiful and on the whole, accepting of foreigners, Holland offers high quality and affordable education.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   02-01-2012
Photo by: photoidias, Flickr 

Tiny and Tenacious

Holland or more formally the Netherlands is small: it measures only 300km North to South and 170km from East to West.And to top that, two-thirds of the country lies below sea level – hence the name, ‘Nederland’ – or low country.

Their precarious location has had the Dutch develop ‘a survival through consensus’ concept. Now commonly known as the Polder model – the approach essentially consists of encouraging people from all walks of life to contribute their opinion when it comes to national problem-solving.

The practice is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages when those living in the same polder (essentially low-lying land regained from the sea) found greater wisdom in burying their differences and working together to keep the sea out, even when at war, so as to prevent flooding.

This philosophy has served them well in not only holding back the sea (they have 17,000km of dikes) but also becoming masters of nearly anything concerning water.

Excellent Education and Research Opportunities

Partly inspired by the Polder model and its emphasis on getting everyone on board, the Dutch are known to value ‘debating a question without settling it rather than settling a question without debating it’.

As a result, their education system is characterized by unusual openness, interactivity and informality apart from also being renowned for a ground-breaking pedagogical practice: the Problem-Based Learning model which rigorously encourages a spirit of independence in study.

Not surprising then that Dutch researchers are believed to be among the most productive in the world. There are 14 research universities and 40 universities of applied sciences across the country of which 13 are ranked among the world’s top 200.

With an eye to attracting students from across the world, over 1,500 study programmes are taught entirely in English, the largest such choice in continental Europe.

Curricula are intensive, advanced, practically-oriented, and designed to meet the expectations of students seeking specialized knowledge.

The courses alternate theory with practice in (real or simulated) work situations. Most study programs and courses lead to a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a PhD degree, a diploma or certificate.

Relatively Affordable

State subsidies make tuition fees relatively reasonable in Holland when compared with say the US or UK.

And this affordability extends to student life as a whole. The latest Worldwide Cost of Living Survey shows that the cost of living in Amsterdam is modest compared with cities such as New York, London, Paris and Beijing.

However, if you don’t plan to pay your way, then the easiest and cheapest way to study is through an exchange program. Contact your local university staff to find out more.

Unlike several other major capitals of the world where transportation can mean additional costs, biking is common in Holland and bikers are always given right of way, making getting around affordable and safe if not also healthy!

International Environment

Acutely aware of their country’s tiny size, the Dutch are known to say ‘The rest of the world is a big place’. This rather modest and self deprecating view has held them in good stead for centuries by blessing them with an attitude of openness towards the rest of the world. And an openness not only in business (what with Holland located in the delta where several major European rivers flow into the North Sea, making it ideally situated to become a centre of trade and transport for all of western Europe) but also in social life and culture.

This has resulted in Dutch society being richly multicultural with over 190 nationalities living within its borders.

The Dutch are as a result accustomed to interacting with people from around the world, and, above all, to working with them. They are also by and large, open, friendly and tolerant towards foreigners, a big plus in finding your feet when you are a new student.

Although Dutch is the national language, the majority of the population speaks English and very often another foreign language, such as German or French.

Student Culture

In general, the Dutch higher education community seeks to be part of society rather than isolated from it. This means you will end up partaking of everyday life of the Dutch without making much of an effort to ‘break-in’.

The seamlessness between student life and the rest of Dutch society and culture is partly enabled by the fact that the higher education institutions are spread throughout the country and very few have demarcated campuses. Nevertheless, there is of course a student culture.

A network of associations brings students together for study-related activities, sports and recreation. These associations are mostly run by students and some are even especially internationally oriented. It goes without saying that students also have their favourite pubs, restaurants and other meeting places.

Central Spot in Europe

Becoming a student at a Dutch university also means you readily acquire an ideal base to pursue study tours and exchanges with other European countries. Holland’s geographical location on the west of continental Europe makes it possible to travel fairly quickly (and relatively cheaply) to several major European cities including Paris, Madrid and Berlin.

'Going Dutch'

So, there is a great deal more to Holland than the commonly used saying, ‘let’s go Dutch’. But no amount of reading about the country’s various attractions will do: you will have to take a plunge into the ‘Nederland’ to know more.



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Mridula Sen
Its great to know that Columbia has a versatile journalism program. This interview has a good mix of hard facts and color on Columbia J-school.
22 May 2011

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