Last Thursday afternoon, just after 5.30. The soft sound of a small bell broke the silence in the packed Erasmus Pavilion. A procession of professors, dressed in gowns and coloured sashes, entered the room and, once inside, faced 180 exchange students. The ritual greatly impressed the students, who just a little earlier had met a man with a green face, holding a large book in his hands. Only a few of them would have known that this was none other but the great Desiderius Erasmus.

An orange-coloured spring

The welcoming ceremony mainly served to pique the freshly arrived students’ enthusiasm for the time they are about to spend studying in Rotterdam. For instance, the President of ESN told the students that the coolest parties were being thrown by her own society, while substitute Rector Prof. Ellen Hey told them they were welcome to drop in on the Rector any time between 7 and 8 a.m. without the need for an appointment, and MC Adri Meijdam predicted an orange-coloured spring full of love.

In addition, the speakers did a great job raising expectations for ‘tomorrow’s campus’, Dutch people’s straightforwardness and the local delicacy called kapsalon (“hairdresser’s”). That said, they also did their best to debunk all this chauvinism: they admitted that tomorrow’s campus is still being constructed, that the locals can be just a tad arrogant, and that the Netherlands is also the country of disgusting salted liquorice. Although the students softly sniggered at this honesty, the awkwardness caused by this unabashedly self-deprecating humour was tangible.

The substitute welcoming committee

After having shaken the hands of the substitute Rector, substitute Erasmus and the substitute king, which was also a rather awkward event, the motley crew moved on to the sports café to sample some typically Dutch food. While enjoying a pancake, Syrian refugee Adel Al-Baghdadi told the students about his expectations and impressions of his new homeland. He said he had found the diverse society he had hoped for, but had also found it very individualistic. Robert Sevinsky and Markéta Pokorná had lost no time to explore Rotterdam’s nightlife, where – “contrary to Prague” – people stopped partying at 3 a.m.

The bizarre story told by Singaporean Emanuel Benedict was the most pity-inducing. After seeing gorgeous images of Dutch skies in his Google searches, he, a professional landscape photographer, had decided to attend uni in the ‘tropical’ Netherlands. A well-intended “With a bit of luck, you won’t have to wear your winter coat come April” failed to lift disappointed Emanuel’s spirits, which resulted in a rather awkward end to the festivities.

By the end of the evening, the new students must have realised that there is much more to the Netherlands than tulips, windmills and weed. The Netherlands is also the country of ever-so-Dutch cosiness, bad jokes and, every once in a while, unabashed awkwardness.