Things are getting highly emotional at Schiphol Airport’s Arrivals 2 section on this particular Thursday afternoon. Those who have stayed at home come to pick up their loved ones, holding balloons and flowers to welcome them. What follows is a lot of smiles, sometimes replete with tears of happiness, whenever the travellers emerge from the baggage retrieval section with their heavy suitcases. It is right next to these scenes of joy that the International Office has erected a service desk.

Quiet Day

The service desk provides students with a free train ticket (including the Intercity Direct surcharge and a single trip on RET’s buses, metros and trams) allowing them to travel to their Rotterdam digs. Twice a day a student representing the International Office will travel with the international students. In addition, there is a daily shuttle bus that calls at various spots in Rotterdam. Some days are busier than others. “Typically, we will have forty to fifty students arriving in one day,” says Paul.

Internationale studenten, schiphol
From left to right Paul, Hansi and Sophie from the International Office Image credit: Amber Leijen

Along with Hansi and Sophie, Paul has been hanging out at Schiphol since 17 August to help incoming students get to their new homes as smoothly as possible. “Today is a quiet day,” he tells us. “Since this morning seven students have come and seen us for free tickets and a SIM card.” He looks at his list of people who have signed up. “Later on we’ll have ten students taking the bus to Rotterdam.”

Different types of students

In addition to a laptop and mobile phone, the desk features different types of gift-wrap ribbons and a pair of scissors. “We came up with a colour-coding scheme for the ribbons we attach to the luggage,” Hansi explains. Silver ribbons are for suitcases that need to be removed at the Woudestein Campus, white ribbons are for suitcases going to SSH, blue ribbons for suitcases going to the Student Hotel, golden ribbons for suitcases going to StayOkay, and pink ribbons for suitcases going to Central Station or Erasmus MC. “But today we’re only getting students who are going to the campus or SSH, so that will keep things easy,” says Sophie. The three students have tucked the train tickets and SIM cards safely away in a drawer. “Initially we had them out on the desk, but random tourists would come up to us and ask if they could get free SIM cards, as well,” says Paul.

In the two weeks they have been here, the trio have come across many different types of students. “Some international students are quite relaxed about the whole thing. They come to pick up their tickets and travel to Rotterdam on their own,” Paul tells us. “But we also had this one guy who came with his mother. When we explained to him how to get to his student flat in Kralingen, we could see the panic in his eyes.” Paul, who is taking a Master’s degree in Finance & Investment, believes the shuttle service is a very valuable service for students like that.

Heavy suitcases

The bus to Rotterdam is leaving in three quarters of an hour. Three international students are standing next to the service desk, waiting. Wang Chenyu from China has been under way for over 24 hours. “I had an eighteen-hour stopover in Moscow,” he tells us. “So I’m really tired now.” Standing next to him, looking rather fresher, is Giulia Affanni. “I’m from Rome,” she says, smiling. “So my journey wasn’t too bad.” For her part, Vietnamese student Khańh Hā thought her seventeen-hour journey was OK, but didn’t enjoy lugging her heavy suitcases around all the time. “As far as that’s concerned, I’m really happy with this shuttle service.”

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Khańh and Giulia made friends while waiting for the shuttle. Image credit: Amber Leijen

The three international students are all carrying an immense lot of luggage. “Because basically, you’re bringing your entire life,” Khańh says with a smile. She is carrying ‘over forty kilograms’ of luggage: clothes, shoes and coats, as well as food. “I’m not sure how easy it will be to find Vietnamese products, so I decided to bring them myself.” Giulia completely understands. She is not carrying any pasta or mozzarella in her suitcases herself, “but my boyfriend will be visiting me next week, and he’ll be bringing a lot of food.” Chenyu looks at the two in amazement. Even though he is bringing seventy kilograms’ worth of luggage (‘all books – do you have any idea how expensive textbooks are in the Netherlands?’), he did not bring any food products or spices from his own country. “I don’t want any trouble with the customs officials.” However, he does know that it’s easy to find Chinese shops in Rotterdam and has already arranged for the delivery of a rice cooker. “I bought it from a Chinese student in Rotterdam who is returning home.”

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Khańh with her stuffed bunny. Image credit: Amber Leijen

Food is not the only important thing the students are bringing. A paper bag on Khańh’s trolley contains a stuffed rabbit toy. “This is my favourite toy,” she says with a shy smile. “It was the first I bought using my own money, so she had to come to the Netherlands with me.”

While we are talking, two Russian exchange students named Polina Litvinenko and Liza Kononova arrive. They will only stay in Rotterdam for one semester. Is that why their suitcases appear to be relatively light, compared to the three other students’? “Oh, no. We’re just going to do a lot of shopping in Rotterdam,” they say, laughing.

So green

It’s 2.30, but the bus is not yet departing. “We’ll wait for fifteen more minutes,” says Paul. “Maybe someone else will turn up.” As it happens, this is the right decision, because exactly when the students are setting off for the bus stop, Clover Nguyen arrives on the scene, panting. “This is EUR’s shuttle service, right?” she asks, sounding somewhat panicky.

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Clover took photos from the bus. Image credit: Amber Leijen

Once the driver and Paul have put the suitcases – neatly colour-coded and organised by destination – in the boot, the bus journey to Rotterdam can commence. During the trip, the passengers admire the Dutch landscape that is greeting them outside. Some can’t help taking pictures with their mobile phones. “So green, and so many cows,” Clover enthuses. She lives in downtown Hanoi, so she hasn’t seen this much green in a long time, she says. So what would she like to see in the Netherlands? “As soon as I have the time, I’ll definitely visit a windmill,” she says, sounding quite determined.

Long day

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International students at the entrance of the Woudestein campus. Image credit: Amber Leijen

Chenyu is amazed once the bus enters Rotterdam. “The city seems to be quite small, but very modern and clean. I think I’ll be very comfortable living here,” he says enthusiastically. “I read that the Netherlands is a cyclist’s paradise. Now I’m seeing it for myself! How cool that cyclists have their own separate lanes here.”

Everyone gets off once we get to the campus, except for Khańh and Polina. They stay on until the next stop, which is close to Oostzeedijk. The suitcases have now all been unloaded, but Paul and Hansi, who are travelling with the newly arrived students, have a few more things to arrange. Chenyu wishes to travel to his place by bus, while Clover orders an Uber to her bed-sit in Capelle aan den IJssel. The rest of the group goes to the Hatta Building. It was a long journey for the international students, but it was also a long day for the students representing the International Office. “I’ll be quite happy once this day is over and I can hit the sack,” Paul says while waving goodbye.