Why limit your exposure to only one foreign culture when you can study abroad in the Netherlands and get hundreds? At Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands you’ll find yourself surrounded by people from across the globe.
The Netherlands (commonly, though incorrectly referred to as “Holland“) is situated in the heart of Europe, and draws students from across the continent – and the world. I share a classroom not only with Dutch students, but also Norwegians, Fins, Germans, Brits, Italians, Canadians, Australians and other Americans, just to name a few. I’m not only immersed in one culture; I’m surrounded by many. This is a truly international experience.
The common language is of course English, so while it’s nice to learn Dutch, it’s totally unnecessary. Though seemingly a minority, try to meet at least a few Dutch students. The Dutch have got to be some of the nicest people in the world and are always willing to help you out or show you around (and they’ll happily do it in perfect English).
My Recommendations: When in the Netherlands do as the Dutch, and get a bike! Although public transportation is ubiquitous, reliable and affordable, you’ll be missing part of the experience if you main mode of transportation isn’t a bike. You can do it the legal way and pay 150 Euros at the bike shop, or you can bump into one of the many street salesman where you can usually find one for 10 Euros. But be warned: spend twice as much on the lock as you did on the bike, otherwise it’ll be your bike that’s for sale.
Also, travel! The Netherlands are ideally situated in the middle of Europe, and all the history it has to offer. School here isn’t as intense, so you should have many long (3-5 day) weekends to explore Holland and neighboring countries. Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Italy are all weekend trips away, and with affordable airfare within the continent (see: skyscanner.net) you may get round-trip for under 100 Euros.
Holland itself has tons of places to visit, most of which are within a few hours train ride away. Of course you need to visit Amsterdam, be sure to check out the Red Light District. And know the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop. The capital, Den Haag, the quaint city of Utrecht, Castle de Haar, Keukenhof (flower gardens), and St. John’s Cathedral in Hertogenbosch are all worth the trips.
If you can, try to come during the spring. With a maritime climate, the Netherlands have weather very similar to Seattle. It gets pretty cold, rainy and windy during the winter, so coming in spring when all the tulips are blooming is perfect. This way you’ll also catch Queen’s Day (April 30th), which is a national holiday on par with Carnival, an experience you won’t want to miss.