Whether you want to blend in socially, understand the culture or prepare for your future career, learning the language is important. Career advisor Laura de Reus: “There aren’t very many vacancies for which Dutch is not required. And students often face this reality quite late on.”

Planning one step ahead

Domen Peder – Milena Chopova
Master’s student Domen Peder is learning Dutch: “It’s much nicer to be able to communicate with the people you work with in their own language.” Image credit: Milena Chopova

Domen Peder (master’s in Clinical psychology) started going to Dutch classes in June and has just finished the beginner level. Initially, he wasn’t planning to stay very long in the Netherlands. Having realised that he liked the country, however, he started learning Dutch. Besides being useful for reading and understanding official letters, Domen feels that learning the language is just the right thing to do when you live in a foreign country. “If I want to work here, I’ll have more opportunities if I’m bilingual. And even if I find an English-only job, it’s much nicer to be able to communicate with the people you work with in their own language. I believe it helps establish good professional relationships.” He also emphasises the importance of networking and the fact that most networking events are in Dutch.

Learning Dutch can also help you blend in socially, says Domen. He’s found some segregation between international and Dutch students, which is partly down to the language barrier: “The two groups don’t really mix, also because Dutch students prefer to speak their own language. But if you show an interest and motivation to integrate and learn about their culture, that might change.”

Culture that comes through the language

Mariam Shaaban – Milena Chopova
Dutch bachelor student Mariam Shaaban is doing an English study programme and has a lot of international friends: “Dutch is useful to keep up with and understand the culture.” Image credit: Milena Chopova

“Dutch is my mother tongue”, says Mariam Shaaban (bachelor in Management of international social challenges). “But I’m doing an English course, which is why I have a lot of international friends. Most of them speak some basic Dutch – things that you learn through simple interactions in stores, for example. But none of them speak the language fluently. I do feel that learning Dutch is important to be able to communicate in other environments, not just in academic circles. It’s also useful to keep up with and understand the culture.”

In terms of the work environment, Mariam feels that the need to learn the language tends to depend on the nature of the job. “If you have a more manual job, speaking Dutch and being able to contribute to cultural discussions isn’t really relevant. Many of my international friends have been able to get jobs quite easily.”

Nevertheless, if integration and getting a good feel for Dutch culture is what you’re going for, Mariam feels that the most interesting aspects are hidden in the language. “Much of Dutch culture is expressed in language. It’s very dry and down to earth and that’s reflected in the expressions we use. For example, ‘met de deur in huis vallen’ might be hard for an international student to understand.”

Directions for future career

career advisor Laura de Reus – Milena Chopova
Career advisor Laura de Reus: “It seems easy to be an international student in the Netherlands. In practice, however, there aren’t many jobs available to them.” Image credit: Milena Chopova

International students often tell Laura de Reus, career advisor at Erasmus University, about the lack of time they have to learn Dutch. “‘The Netherlands is such an international country!’ This is what I often hear students say when we warn them about future job requirements. We do tell them that there aren’t many vacancies for purely English speakers. Obviously, it also depends on the kind of work you want to do. If you’re going to work for a Dutch client, then your Dutch needs to be really good.”

De Reus blames Dutchies for creating some confusion. “We probably like to show how open-minded we are. We offer lots of study programmes in English. We create an image, which is very positive for non-Dutch speakers, that it’s easy to be an international student in the Netherlands. In practice, however, there aren’t many jobs available to them. Unfortunately, students only face this reality when they graduate and start applying for jobs. They aren’t aware of the need until quite late. They come to us after two months of receiving rejection letters.”

Everyone has an equal chance of career success, whatever their study programme, De Reus says. And these chances are boosted by learning Dutch. Her main advice? “Students must try to have sufficient self-insight. They should try to understand what their qualities and values are. This could give direction to their future career, along with motivation and interest.”


Read more

Government says students must learn Dutch

Universities in the Netherlands must ensure that their students once again learn to read…