One long honeymoon

Some people have difficulty adjusting to being back; others are relieved

BY IlkiZ Erdogan

For most international students, there comes a time when they have to say goodbye to Leiden and return to their native country. Three students who have exchanged Leiden for their land of origin tell their stories.

Malin Tirfing (21), Sweden

Tirfing came to Leiden in August 2011 to take six months of her Biomedical Science course here. She was on an exchange programme and changed places, including lodgings and a place on the course, with a Dutch student. "Friends of mine in Stockholm had been to the Netherlands and would sing its praises, so I decided to take a chance." It was a spontaneous choice, but one she doesn't regret. "My time in Leiden has done so much for my personal development: I managed to survive in a strange country where, at first, I didn't know anyone. I've met lots of new people whom I can now call friends."
She didn't speak any Dutch and that could be a problem sometimes. "Because I couldn't understand the language, every day was a challenge," she sighs. "Shopping was often rather difficult and sometimes I felt lonely among Dutch students."
She returned to Stockholm in late January 2012. "I didn't have any trouble fitting back into my routine, but that's probably because I only stayed in Leiden for six months. Biking to lectures, the canals and that quaint little house in Leiden are very far away now, unfortunately. Although I'm glad to be back with my family again, Leiden was certainly an experience I'll never forget." She misses the student life here too. "My friends in Sweden don't usually go for a night out."

Lucine Gevorgian (28), Armenia

Gevorgina graduated from university in the Armenian capital Yerevan in 2007 and became a lecturer of English language and Culture there. Soon afterwards, the university set up a Dutch department and was looking people who were willing to travel to Leiden to follow the whole Dutch Language and Literature programme. Gevorgian won the grant and arrived in the Netherlands in 2008. "It was an unforgettable experience," she says in perfect Dutch. "I met so many colourful people in Leiden whom I would have missed otherwise." She has been back in her native country for two months and now lectures on modern Dutch literature at the university. "I would have preferred to stay in the Netherlands - after all, I lived, studied and enjoyed life there for four years. It's hard fitting back into life here. I miss the market on Wednesday and Saturday, the ancient buildings, the churches and the multi-facetted international circles I moved in." In Armenia, she's now called "the Dutch woman" by her friends and family. "Here, they think I'm too punctual and blunt, which is ironic because those are the two Dutch characteristics that annoyed me when I lived in Leiden." That was not the only thing that she didn't like about the Netherlands: "It was really difficult to find somewhere decent to live, something affordable that met my standards. I moved umpteen times and I can't say that I lived anywhere nice at all in that time." Our Armenian visitor also found that the weather took some getting used to and initially she hardly ventured outside. "I soon realised that I would have to get used to the rain or else I would never leave the house."

Gábor Bécsi (26), Hungary

As he was reading Dutch in his home town of Debrecen in Hungary, Bécsi wanted to visit the cradle of his study. He chose this course because not many people in his native country decide to do it and that would increase his chances of a job. "I had heard about Leiden University and it had a good reputation." Accordingly, he decided to move to Leiden for the first six months of 2010 as part of his bachelor's degree. He started to enjoy himself and soon he was in no doubt: he would come back to do his Master's. He achieved his ambition in the academic year of 2011-2012. Just before he returned to the West, Gábor got married. "My wife came with me and our year in the Netherlands together was one long honeymoon." The couple had to rely on each other and consequently got to know each other much better."
Bécsi found studying Leiden quite hard at times: "I had trouble getting used to the teaching methods, especially at the beginning. In Hungary, the students have more hours of face-to-face instruction so they don't have to do so much work at home. In Leiden, it's the other way round. I also had to learn how to schedule things and I realised that I was responsible for preparing for lectures. In Debrecen, that responsibility was assumed by the lecturers." However, studying in the Netherlands had advantages as well. "It was very pleasant to attend classes by lecturers whose native language was Dutch. They have more feeling for the language and you can learn more about linguistics than you can from the lecturers in Hungary where Dutch is often the second language of the lecturers." Gábor has been back in Debrecen since last August, working for a multinational. "I put the things I learnt in Leiden into practice daily and that places me in a unique position." It's one of the reasons why he's glad to be back: in the Netherlands, his knowledge would not have been "special" in the Netherlands. "When I first arrived back here, I had to get used to the chaos in my country – everything is always very well organised in the Netherlands. Now I realise that the chaos makes Hungary so charming."

1,366 international students

Currently, there are 1,366 international students enrolled at Leiden University, of which 393 are taking a bachelor’s degree. The majority, 973, are on a master’s programme. Most of the international bachelor students in Leiden are from Germany (72), Belgium (47) and China (22) while the master’s programmes are attended mainly by Greek (104), German (85) and British (60) students. The most popular bachelor programmes among international students are Law, Dutch Language, Culture and Society/Dutch Studies and Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges with 49, 48 and 46 applications respectively. The most popular of the master’s programmes is once again Law (125), followed by Psychology (118) and Public Administration (30).

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