It is a surprise for most Frisian people to find out the amount of foreign students that come to Leeuwarden to study. Why Friesland?, Why Leeuwarden?, How did you find out about this city? are amongst the most common questions that I have been asked throughout my stay so far. People have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that foreign people know about this Dutch province. And as an Eastern European who emigrated to seek new opportunities, I have tried to make the most of my stay.
Coffee drinking & Western Europe
At first, I did not pay a lot of attention to the cultural differences that exist between the East and the West in the continent. I mean, it’s Europe, right? I probably should not experience the so called cultural shock? (I did not move to Mars?). And this is mostly correct. Except there are those little things that just grab your attention eventually.
It’s not that much about being in the West as it is about what makes Dutch people Dutch. What is that tradition to drink coffee constantly, especially in the evening? My folks back home who are waiting for the sun to go down so that they can pour their 40-something percent alcohol drink would laugh so hard at that. “Is that what modern Western people do?”
What’s with the shops on Sundays?
The same reaction would probably be applicable when finding out that barely anything works on Sundays. Most stores are also closed on Monday mornings! My friends that I met in Leeuwarden told me that up until some years ago, not even the supermarkets were open. If you wake up early on a Sunday and go around the city, you will barely see any people. “So what do these people do?” Back at home, everyone goes out and you can see the whole city crowded. All the shops stay open, especially small businesses that strive to gain as much profit as possible.
Moving on to another more student-relatable point, going out in Leeuwarden is fun. Seriously, you do not have to spend hours worrying about your make-up, with which dress to grace the club or which shirt to choose because barely anyone cares how they look! This is probably a result of the not-so-fancy places that students visit as part of their nightlife. Who needs chairs or tables? All you need is a bar and a dancefloor and you are set for the night. And there is something very beautiful about that.
In all seriousness, I did my best not to sound superficial but these are things that most Eastern European students notice when coming to Leeuwarden/ the Netherlands. And as for me, I embrace those little changes to the fullest.
With lots of love for the Netherlands.