The Kralingse Bos is a small forest on the northeast side of the city, a place to relax, run, cycle or have coffee at the Kralingse Plas, a lake in the middle of the forest. Maria Świstuń, a 19-year-old student from Poland, came to share the experiences she’s had since she moved from Poland to Rotterdam. It was a sunny day and we sat down in a cosy cafe with a beautiful view of the lake, full of boats and surrounded by windmills. We ended up having a long conversation on various topics concerning her studies, Dutch culture and the charms of Rotterdam.
So Maria, what brings you to Erasmus University?
Well, it was a spontaneous decision. It took me a few months to figure out where I wanted to be. I searched everywhere, explored a lot of options, but when I found EUR – I just knew this was exactly where I wanted to be. So I went with my gut feeling and decided to “stake everything on one card”. I didn’t apply to anywhere else, and I’m very happy with my decision.
That’s good to hear! You said it was a gut feeling, but there must have been something else that attracted you. Can you tell me what it was?
Yes, I liked the idea of problem based learning (pgl). In general, I appreciate different, creative ways to study. It can be a little bit overwhelming at times, but it’s still great.
You told me you come from a small town in Poland, named Krapkowice. Integrating into a new society and culture can be as difficult as overcoming the academic challenges. How did you adjust to the different lifestyle here?
There were a lot of concerns from my family. They were worried regarding stereotypes of Polish people, for instance. But I didn’t have any negative experiences; people here are very friendly. Most of my friends are international students, but we interact a lot with Dutchies also. Communication is not an issue – everyone speaks English. However, to be honest, it is not that easy to make Dutch friends. Generally, people from the same nationality tend to stick together. You would notice, all nationalities have their social circles on campus. Unfortunately, I am the only Polish student on my course. On the other hand, this allows me to learn more about other cultures.
Rotterdam is a very international city. Anyone can find somebody who shares a background or interests with them, even through social media.
Yes, exactly. I found a Facebook group which helped me a lot. When I first came here, I thought there were no big cultural differences but later, I realised there are plenty.
Can you give me an example? I would be curious to hear something from your personal experience.
I can give you even the smallest example. When I cycle, cars are willing to wait and let me pass. That is super weird, I cannot trust it. It wouldn’t be the case in my country. But it’s amazing! And I know this might sound strange, but no Polish person can get used to the Dutch bread. It’s so different in texture. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
And how about more cultural aspects? Tell me what is your perception of Dutch tradition?
Well, for instance, I admire the tradition of having a family Sunday. People care about their families so much that they spare time specifically for this purpose. I think this is fascinating and admirable.
Tell me more about Rotterdam. How do you like the city? Do you have a favourite place here?
I do like to explore the city, find new places. There is this amazing garden right next to the university. It is called Arboretum Rotterdam, and it’s simply beautiful! You can go there to relax, eat cake, enjoy the atmosphere and rest.
I also enjoy simply walking in the back streets. Dutch people make so much effort to beautify their surroundings. Every photograph you take in Rotterdam looks like a postcard. I always had an interest in arts, but this got me into photography. Consequently, I started observing architecture. I think Rotterdam is a wonderful place to be if you are into architecture. I arrived here and I just fell in love. I feel like Rotterdammers gave a chance to a lot of different, new ideas. There are so many intriguing buildings and sculptures all over the city. After the war, what my country did is rebuild the cities mimicking the old – restoring the old history. What Rotterdam did is rebuild the city by creating a new history. It’s fascinating! This inspires me to move forward. I am so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to realise my dreams. My parents have never had this opportunity and I feel truly blessed to be able to follow this path.