“Such a shame we’re having natte sneeuw today,” says Isabelle, a psychology student. She loves fresh and crunchy snow, although she is not crazy about the cold that comes with it. While she mostly speaks English to me, she will throw in a few Dutch words at times. That’s because her boyfriend is Dutch. At home they will speak either Dutch, Portuguese or English. “It depends on what we’re talking about. If it’s something to do with Brazil or the time we spent there together, we will speak Portuguese. When we’re discussing my degree programme, we’ll speak English, because the programme is fully in English. When we’re discussing our daily lives, we’ll speak Dutch.”

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Freshman Isabelle: ‘Guus Meeuwis helps me learn Dutch’

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At the moment Isabelle is unsure whether to embark on a Dutch language course or to find a part-time job. “Obviously, I’d like to have the money now, but a course would be a long-term investment.” She completely focused on her Bachelor’s degree in psychology for her first half year in Rotterdam, and with good results. “I don’t need to do any re-sits and I even scored an 8.5 and 9 out of 10,” she says with a healthy dose of pride. She worked hard to obtain those marks. “But most of all I’m really, genuinely enjoying my degree. A little while ago I woke up from an Inception-style dream, a dream inside a dream. And I’d just attended a lecture on sleep and the sleep cycle, so the next day I immediately immersed myself in my notes and textbooks to learn more about this. We discuss everyday subjects, which makes it even more interesting.”

Isabelle sits curled up on her grey corner sofa for the duration of our chat. She loves living in the small house in Nieuwe Tiendweg in Krimpen – one floor, one bedroom – that she shares with her boyfriend, Eelco. It’s not a regular rental, but rather a house for which she and Eelco serve as live-in guardians. She misses her family in Brazil a lot, but is not sure she’ll actually visit them this summer. “I was planning to, but my father told me to have a great time and see a little more of the world. Tickets to Brazil aren’t cheap, and I could also use that money to visit Greece. I think I’d love that.”

Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

“By the way, do you want to know some really strange differences between the Netherlands and Brazil?” Isabelle casually asks. “Crossing the road and eating on the metro. You can be fined for both in the Netherlands. Now that I know that, I’m afraid to cross streets when the lights are red, even when there are no cars to be seen anywhere. And a little while ago I was really hungry on the metro, and it was only just the one stop, but I did put Bram Ladage’s chips into my bag. I’m sure no one noticed I got one chip at a time from my bag.”

But the main difference is obviously the way Dutch people celebrate Carnival. “Drinking really is a huge part of Carnival here, isn’t it?” Isabelle was introduced to a Dutch-style Carnival as celebrated in Breda last year, on a visit to the Netherlands. She hated the music, but definitely enjoyed the experience. “Well, I had had several drinks. The thing that made me laugh the most was the fact that in Brazil you wear as little as possible [while out celebrating], whereas here I was wearing a long-sleeved onesie.”