Picture this: You’re riding down a country road with a tulip field on one side and a windmill on the other. There’s a canal running along beside you, and you have only one hand on the handlebars because, in the other, you’re holding cheese.
Sounds Dutch as hell, doesn’t it?
Anyone studying abroad in Leiden needs to familiarize themselves with such scenes — I’m not saying they’ll be on your midterms, but you’re going to see them. A lot. Get used to it and learn to love it. Although, come on … windmills? What’s not to love?
Studying abroad in Leiden was one of the best experiences I have ever had. The people, the food and the culture all contributed to my amazing experience. Not to mention the Netherlands’ proximity to many other countries in Europe makes hitting up as many countries as you can and making the most of your study abroad experience a breeze.
I loved the language barrier in the Netherlands, or the complete lack of one. Everyone I met in the Netherlands spoke excellent English. While I don’t encourage speaking English in a raised tone of voice as your interpretation of a “foreign language,” it definitely lessened my anxiety levels when I wasn’t immediately expected to hold entire conversations in Dutch with the locals.
And then there’s the food — did I mention food? Let’s talk about food. Though there are exceptions — looking at you, raw herring — most Dutch foods are absolutely phenomenal. Definitely try pannenkoeken while you’re there. They’re pancakes the size of your face! ‘Nuff said.
The city of Gouda is just a train ride away from Leiden and it is dangerously easy to leave Gouda with an entire wheel of Gouda cheese. At grocery stores, it was actually twice as expensive to buy those fluorescent orange Kraft Singles than to buy fresh cheese. Dutch people have their priorities in order when it comes to cheese.
The city of Leiden is an absolutely adorable place to live. It’s so small that it already felt like home for me after a week of living there. It has remained relatively untouched since Rembrandt was born and raised there. If you’re looking for a good time, go to the Rembrandtplatz and take unsavory pictures of yourself with the Little Rembrandt statue. Believe me, Little Rembrandt makes it easy to make things inappropriate.
The easiest way to navigate Leiden is not by street, but by canal. As long as you don’t take a drunken dip in a canal, they’re beautiful landmarks to follow. I definitely recommend renting a canoe or kayak during the summer months in Leiden and just floating down the network of canals. No matter how well you think you know the city, the canals will always take you somewhere new.
I would definitely recommend studying abroad in Europe to anyone. The amount of day and weekend trips you can take to other countries is overwhelming. I made a list of all the countries I wanted to see before I returned home — I only made it to about half of them before I ran out of both funds and time. There’s a possibility for at least one daytrip every weekend. Even if you want to stay closer to the homeland, there’s a plethora of cute Dutch towns to see, like Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht.
And Amsterdam. Oh boy, there’s always Amsterdam.
The city of split personalities — small town by day, epic city by night. You can visit the Oude Kerk, “Old Church,” during the daylight hours, and need only to walk one street down until you’re in the seediest stretch of the Red Light District. And for all you potheads out there, yes, it’s true. There are coffee shops everywhere and nobody cares if you light up in the streets.
My favorite part of studying in Leiden, though, had to be how much it felt like home. I spent many hectic weekends traveling and it was such a relief to call a sleepy town like Leiden home base. I didn’t have to worry about hurrying somewhere or getting lost. I just let the canals guide me and I would always end up somewhere I wanted to be. It was difficult for me at first to leave the comforts of my home in the U.S., but soon Leiden became my comfort away from the other crazy cities in Europe and even away from my hectic life in the States. (Only taking 12 credit hours per semester, anyone?) Any piece of familiarity while you’re studying abroad can make all the difference in the world and that’s why I wouldn’t trade Leiden for anything.