Moving to a new place to study comes with a steep learning curve. While there are many things you can figure out on your own in Groningen - after all it’s a safe and cool town - a head start by learning from someone who’s been in your shoes never hurts.
Claire Evers wrapped up her studies at the University College Groningen (UCG) in 2022. While she’s half-Dutch it was her first time living and studying in the Netherlands. She found Groningen to be an amazing and fun place to study in and highly recommends it. Claire told Make it in the North about the top things she wish she knew before studying in Groningen:
1. Health insurance
I didn’t know that you need to have health insurance if you plan on working in the Netherlands. If you don’t get it you’ll receive a penalty from the Government. Many of my friends also didn’t know it was required. There are different rules for different circumstances particularly if you’re only studying or if you’re also working. Read up on the rules here.
Networking is super important in Groningen. It can get you jobs, a room and a bike. When first arriving in the city everyone is in the same boat. Network with as many people as possible. Social groups will form pretty fast but if you’re not clicking I suggest leaving and finding another group. You can learn more about building and maintaining your network in the North here.
3. Evaluate job perks
Many student jobs are quite similar - you’re either in hospitality or riding a delivery bike. The pay and the kind of work doesn’t vary too much from place to place so what you need to look out for are the specific perks that a place offers. Like do they give you food while you’re on duty? Also check out who’s working there and see if they are people that you’ll get along with. Another thing some people don’t realise is that the pay you get often depends on your age. A 19-year-old and a 22-year-old might be doing the exact same tasks but the latter could be paid more. Click here for more insight into student-friendly jobs in the North.
4. Good study-work balance
While we’re on the topic of jobs, it’s important to find a realistic split between studying and working. I know so many people who came here thinking: Ok, I’m an adult now and I need to get a job while studying. But it’s incredibly unrealistic to work 20- or 30-hour weeks while also studying full-time. I’ve had friends who’ve broken down crying in front of their student advisors telling them they can’t seem to get anything right. Then the student advisor tells them that it’s practically impossible to balance a full-time job with a full-time study programme. So focus on your mental health and get in a good mix of study, work, and social life.
5. You can get financial aid
I wish I knew this! You can get financial aid from the government. It varies if you’re Dutch, an EU student, or from outside of the EU. But there’s assistance for housing, insurance, travel, and study loans. Apply for the funding as soon as possible as it can take some time to come through.
6. Read housing contracts thoroughly
Make sure you Google Translate everything. If something sounds sketchy, it doesn’t hurt to contact one of the free legal services to get it checked out. I’ve been through it with sketchy landlords and trusted them about something thinking it might be normal for the Netherlands only to have it backfire later. You’re going to be dependent on this person who is literally owning the roof over your head. Do your due diligence. While many landlords and agencies are legitimate, that doesn’t stop some people from scamming unsuspecting victims. Inform yourself about the various scams that one can come across.
7. Do not procrastinate adulting
Do not procrastinate! Pay your bills ASAP. They’ll come back to you later down the line (often with a penalty). Pay your bills, pay your rent, and pay any outstanding government fees. Don’t throw letters away, respond to them immediately.
8. Score food discounts at the market
The market at the Vismarkt (on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) is a good place to buy food. Sometimes towards the end of the day you can get good discounts on produce.
9. Seek a student advisor sooner rather than later
If you’re struggling to cope with your studies, seek out your student advisor ASAP. Even if it’s a small thing, don’t let it snowball. These are professionals employed to help you. If you’re having mental health issues, facing homesickness or you’re dealing with something else that’s preventing you from studying properly: book an appointment. It’s also handy because the advisors will keep a paper trail of your struggles. So if something you’ve dealt with in the beginning of the year comes back to hit you months later the advisor would be able to show an exam board that you have a history dealing with the issue and that you’re not just making something up after you’ve failed an exam to try to get off the leash. An advisor might also help you break up your study blocks a bit to help you cope with your workload. RUG students can learn more about student advisors here and about student counselling from here.
10. Get a bike ASAP
A bike is very helpful to get around the city, so get one early on. If you don’t know how to ride a bike, get your Dutch friends to teach you and have a fun day at the Stadspark. It will be very needed. It is also helpful to know who’s at fault in the case of an accident and what to do. To learn more about cycling in Groningen, check out this article.
11. Know your drugs
There are drug testing facilities which you can use to ensure the drugs you’ve been given are safe. There are also charts that show you which drugs can be mixed with alcohol. I’ve come across these situations often while out partying. Dutch people are prepared for this - they’ve had talks about it in school and saw programmes on TV. If you’re a foreigner you have no idea what’s happening. Lots of people are jumping straight into it with absolutely no idea about what they’re doing. Don’t be one of them. Visit these links for information on drug testing, mixing alcohol with drugs, and help with quitting.