Anna Blake, British student at the University of Groningen, Netherlands
I have successfully completed my first year at the University of Groningen. A time I both longed for, as it signified the end of exams, but also that I never wanted to come, since it meant leaving the student house that became my home and family.
But this isn’t going to be a blog for mourning. These people will all still live in the same city as me and I’m already excited to see them again. I’ve appreciated this year so much and want to give some advice I wish I could have known before starting my beginning my studies overseas.
A degree abroad isn't a holiday
When I made the choice to study in the Netherlands, I viewed it as a sort of semi-permanent holiday. My mindset was that if I moved to a foreign country I would always be on holiday, slightly overlooking the getting a degree aspect. In hindsight, this was not my best move. I have enjoyed myself no end, but my grades suffered the consequences at times.
The thing that makes a holiday a holiday is an absence of work, where you can relax and have fun. However, this is not the attitude one should have whilst trying to obtain a law degree.
While taking leisurely strolls by the grassy canals, I tried to convince myself that everything was fine, but in the back of my mind, there was an ever-present lingering voice repeating ‘I should be studying, I should be studying’. I became good at quashing that voice and followed those canals to the end, but the only destination they led me to was misery when my first set of grades came out.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t explore your new city – of course you should, but be realistic with timing. Perhaps you should take that city boat tour on a Sunday afternoon, rather than as a frantic escape from studying the day before your exam.
University can take time to adjust to
My second piece of advice I wish someone had told me is that teaching methods at University are very different from sixth form. But just because you are not achieving the best grades possible, it doesn’t mean that you are any less intelligent.
In the past I’d always got away with minimal studying for exams and thought this same approach could be applied to revision at university. I was very much in the mindset of leaving it until the last minute and pull an all nighter for studying. This was a big mistake. Rather than doing well, I only scraped a pass and I took this to heart, suddenly feeling a bit sub-par amid so many super intelligent people. But again, I was wrong.
Teaching methods at university for me have largely consisted of one person standing up and lecturing you for two hours. If you lose your trail of thought for five minutes, it is very difficult to get back on track.
Rather than getting disheartened like I did, perhaps create other inventive ways to study, such as study groups with friends and writing flashcards. This will make concepts easier to grasp and help you to gain a better understanding of your subject.
Learn the language
A huge piece of advice to my former self would be to learn the language of the country you are moving to. In my case, I didn’t find it necessary to learn Dutch due to the fact so many people in the country spoke a fluent level of English. In hindsight, it now seems silly to remain in ignorance, as learning the language would have allowed me to make many Dutch friends and finding a job would have been easier.
Most Universities, including the University of Groningen, will offer free language courses for the local language, therefore it's an easy and effective way to integrate into your new home.
Don't hold back
This has to be my most important piece of advice. Throw yourself out there and delve into every opportunity you possibly can, whether that be joining windsurfing classes or becoming sufficiently fluent in a new language.
Living in the Netherlands over the past year has helped me to learn about and meet so many people from different cultures, but has also strengthened and educated me as a person in a way that staying at home never could have. It has pushed me far beyond my comfort zone, which in turn allowed my comfort zone to expand.
Living and studying abroad somewhere completely new has been the best thing I have done with my life, so if you are thinking about doing the same with yours, I promise you, it’s worth it.