The twenty-year-old IBA student Helena Aires de Campos, moved to Rotterdam in September 2018. Together, we visited a typical Dutch place, namely the New Church in Delft (this is where the royal family is buried after their demise). Helena is originally from Portugal, a country with a lot of churches. She pointed out how different the architecture of the New Church was from the churches in Southern Europe, and how she liked the abundant glass stained windows.
When Helena moved to Rotterdam, she found herself in a completely different culture. “I like the Lisbon culture, but on the other side I also like the Dutch culture. In a weird way, the Dutch people are more open and real: they will tell the truth and aren’t fake. It is also completely acceptable not to speak Dutch. In Portugal, not even attempting to speak Portuguese would be seen as an offence, since you are not trying to integrate with the culture. Here, no one minds, they are still nice to you.” Helena feels elements of both cultures comforting. “Even if you are born in a certain culture, that culture isn’t always the best for you.”
The food in the Dutch culture is another aspect that took some getting used to. Helena both likes the Dutch cuisine, and finds it confusing. “I absolutely love bitterballen, I’ve eaten a lot of them. Oliebollen are also really good, I gained so many pounds during the Christmas period”, she laughs. “Some things that really confuse me though are sparkling ice tea and hagelslag. I had never heard of sparkling ice tea before I got here, and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) are just such a weird concept to me, where did that come from?”
Making new friends
Even though Helena didn’t go to the introduction events of the university, she made a lot of new friends in Rotterdam. The means of social media also helped with that according to her. “Instead of going to freshmen weekend, I posted a message in the IBA WhatsApp group if anyone wanted to hang out. Together with some other students who weren’t going to freshmen weekend, I went to Rotterdam centre to explore the city a bit.”
Next to exploring Rotterdam, Helena hasn’t really seen a lot of the Netherlands so far. “I only went to Amsterdam, which was when my family came to visit me, not even because I wanted to see the Netherlands for myself.” Therefore, when Helena and I went to visit the New Church, I could explain her a bit about the history of the Dutch royal family, while she could point out architectural facts about the church. A good match to spend the afternoon together.
Although Helena has made a lot of new friends, almost none of them are Dutch. “It’s not that I don’t like Dutch people, it’s more that it is hard to connect in Dutch groups. When there are no other people around, they obviously speak Dutch, while with my international friends, we always speak English. But next to the Dutch weather, there is nothing that I don’t like about the Netherlands.”
Helena definitely recommends studying in Rotterdam to other international students. “Rotterdam is a nice city for students and the university also helps you to make friends, for instance through the mentoring programme. So far, this has been one of the best years of my life. You keep meeting new, open, interesting and intelligent people and places, Rotterdam really is a nice place to live.”