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What it's like to be a student in Groningen

Whether you’re a newcomer or considering applying to our top-notch university, this post will help you understand what life of an international student during a pandemic looks like! My name is Linda and I’m about to start my second year of the Psychology program at the University of Groningen. In this blog, I will guide you through my experiences during my studies in this beautiful and vibrant city!

Coming to Groningen in times of COVID

The past year and a half have been challenging in the sense that everyone was worried about the way the universities would handle off-campus education. Sadly, a great number of students from all over the world was not able to move to the city. That’s why I encourage you all, especially before moving to Groningen, to participate in the virtual Groningen game in which the entire city can be explored in an entertaining way! You’ll learn some witty facts about all the places you’re about to visit.

When I arrived in Groningen last August, a lot of my fears slowly disappeared. Coming from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands was pretty exciting but scary at the same time, because I had no clue how difficult it would be to make new friends and to figure out how my studies and other things work in the city (like BIKING!, accepting the unpredictability of the Dutch weather, etc.)

Luckily, the university assigned me a “buddy” within my study program, based on our common interests. Ever since, she has become someone I can always turn to and ask for help or support! Unbelievable, right? She shared a lot of wisdom with me about the issues and perks of becoming a student and made sure I got off to a good start. We even explored some cool spots in the city center like the Smooth Brothers and the lovely canals in a central part of the city called Westerhaven. I've also made a vlog about studying at the RUG, you can find it here.

Wrapping your head around academics

Now you may wonder, how does the Dutch university system work anyways? Let me explain these 3 basic things you need to know:

1. The block system: the 2 semesters are divided into 4 blocks, each lasting 8 weeks. After a block, 1 or 2 weeks of exams take place. Then, a new block starts with new subjects. If you happen to fail a course in, let’s say, the first block, you have to take the resit in the second block. Otherwise, you can just relax for a few days before the next block starts. I like this system a lot since it allows me to study more effectively with a smaller amount of workload, and I have the time to recharge batteries with friends!

2. The grading: in order to pass an exam or an assignment, usually it’s a 5.5 or 5.6 and above that counts! Anything below that is a fail. If you receive a 6 or 7, big congrats, that's a very solid pass! 8 and 9 - wow, the student elite gets these grades and you can be REALLY proud of yourself! Finally, a 10 is basically impossible to get unless you receive 100% of the points, that’s absolute perfection!

3. Nestor: is where you can find all your grades (which can be also found on Progress where you need to enroll for your courses before they start). Nestor provides the entire content of your courses, announcements from the university, student job opportunities, etc. For example, if you must submit an assignment, everything goes through Nestor. Moreover, you may want to check out your entire schedule of all the classes as well as the list of books you’ll need throughout your study program.

But don’t worry if this all sounds too complicated right now. There are always other classmates, the faculty members, study advisors, your buddy, or professionals you can reach out to and discuss your study progress and concerns related to academics, your well-being (like stress and time management, mental health issues, and more!). Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it, you’re not on your own!

Making friends and finding a place to stay - how hard is it really?

Okay, but how to make friends during a pandemic with all the social-distancing measures and online education? And what’s even more concerning for both newcomers and students already living in Groningen is: how to find accommodation?

To my greatest luck, the SSH student house “Blekerslaan” I lived in last year made it super easy to make incredible friends in a matter of a few weeks. If you’re a first-year international student moving to Groningen, I strongly recommend SSH for the sake of experiencing a well-balanced “student life”. Of course, you have to share all the facilities and common spaces like the kitchen, the bathrooms, and there may be less privacy if your student house happens to be famous for thin walls and loud parties. And who knows, maybe you’ll find your best friends there just like me! Except for SSH, it could be quite difficult and time consuming to find a nice place on your own as a freshman. Though Facebook and Kamernet are full of people looking for new tenants, you might need to be fast, patient (and lucky) if you want to find a nice room.

While following all the regulations about social distancing, it was relatively manageable to still have fun and study together with my friends and flatmates. Most of the time during the week we stayed in our rooms attending online classes, but fortunately I had the privilege of going to in-person lectures for a couple of months! Sadly, the situation in Groningen got worse after the winter break so we went fully online until the end of the academic year in June.

Three must do's when studying in Groningen

Finally, I’d like share 3 personal MUST-DO’s that I followed when juggling my studies with making friends during my first year of uni:

  • Find your (study) buddies and go to the University Library or to one of the Faculty buildings to study effectively.

  • Create a planner with realistic and flexible monthly, weekly and daily schedules. There will be a lot of deadlines and events to keep in mind so don’t forget to include a plan of your free time and breaks as well.

  • Even though it’s overwhelming to even THINK about moving to Groningen and starting from scratch, I’m absolutely sure you’ll rock it. Make sure to take good care of yourself first and remember that we’re in this together!

Do you want to see more of Linda as an Ambassador of Groningen? Follow Linda and the other ambassadors via the Instagram account of the Become a virtual Groninger game and stay in touch.