For my semester abroad, I decided that I’d like to go the Netherlands; I’ve been to several countries in Europe before and the Netherlands had always been on my list though I had never found the right time to try it out. So when I saw that I would have the opportunity to study there my interest was immediately piqued, though this was shortly followed by concerns of the horror stories of annoying tourists in Amsterdam; having come from London, I wanted to try something new. After a bit of research into my choices I landed on the city of Utrecht; a beautiful medium-sized city just half an hour on the train from most other major Dutch cities though with a certain quaintness I felt other cities in the Netherlands simply didn’t capture. Not only that, but Utrecht is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world which as an already frequent cycler was incredibly important to me. Of course you don’t need a bike to get around, but it certainly makes life much easier. There’s a lot of different ways to get a bike; around the city you can find electric Tier bikes which can be rented for a single ride through their app. These bikes are probably the quickest way to get around the city though the price of single rides certainly adds up quickly, and I have on occasion had issues with getting them to work properly. I’d recommend hiring a bike with Swapfiets; you can rent a Dutch bike (or one with a handbrake which I preferred!) for around 10-20 euro depending on the type of bike you get. They’ll also drive out for you for free repairs!

A photo of the Oudegracht; one of Utrecht’s busiest shopping streets. Not only does it have a very wide range of places to go out for food or a drink, but simply walking through this area never gets old.

While it was difficult to make friends in Utrecht at first, mainly due to my nervousness with living in a new country which I’d never done before, both the locals and other international students were incredibly friendly which definitely helped to alleviate some of my nerves. Almost every single Dutchie I met spoke fluent English which made getting accustomed much easier. And with international students you can, at bare minimum, always relate on the fact that you’re all probably a bit nervous with living somewhere new and not knowing anyone else and it ended up being a brilliant social reset. Not only that but it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to meet people from places I had never visited, and it gave me the chance to learn a lot more about different cultures.

Two of my closest friends were Jakub (on the left), a Catholic Pole, and Ibrahim, a Singaporean Muslim (on the right). We met originally at a guided tour of the university’s main campus; the Science Park (or the Uithof in Dutch). Ibrahim wasn’t even originally supposed to be in our group, so our friendship was a really happy accident. I invited them to play some pool one night and had a great time together. We ended up getting a bit too drunk, and someone jokingly suggested that we go for a daytrip to Luxembourg and it was at that moment we knew it wasn’t really a joke!

After some (admittedly not enough) planning, we began our journey to Luxembourg not even a week after we’d first talked about it; we would set off from Utrecht during the night to take a train to Rotterdam and from there a 6 hour coach ride to Luxembourg City, getting us there at around 3am. Why we decided to get into the city for so early is still a mystery to me, though after an hour of walking to the city centre, with a stop at a hotel who very generously allowed us to crash in their lobby to charge our phones and hide from the rain.

Eventually the city came to life, the sun rose, and the rain cleared up. While waiting for the only thing we had concretely planned to do, a guided tour of the history of the city, we decided to take it upon ourselves to do some exploring. The city centre itself was fairly small, we guessed that the tour would mostly stay in that area so we took the chance to explore further outside the centre which was raised in comparison to the rest of the city. As you can see above, there was an elevator which you could take from the city centre down to a residential area. To Jakub’s delight, we found a Polish shop in the area and after a half hour long conversation with it’s owner, emerged with a classic Polish treat; a poppyseed cake. I’d never heard of it before and thought I’d give it a go, suffice to say from the picture below I wasn’t a fan but it was still interesting to try food from different places! (he also showed me pierogi which I absolutely adore)

A picture of the route we took to get back to the city centre (really wish we would’ve taken the elevator again)

The lower area of the city, as seen from the old castle walls.

Eventually it was time for our guided tour, our tour guide was a Spaniard who had fallen in love with the city and so he was able to give us a very detailed explanation of it’s history and showed us many of Luxembourg’s landmarks. The return of the rain dampened my mood a bit, though with it’s clearing and my increasing interest in the country’s extensive history I quickly cheered up.

A door with the Freemason’s logo, indicating it as one of their meeting places.

The city surprisingly had many areas underneath buildings in which you could walk, not only that but the influence of both French and German culture was blatantly clear and made for a very unique culture.

Following the tour, our time in the city was coming to a close, so we strolled again in the city centre looking at various shops (I decided to buy a fridge magnet to give to my mum, which I like to do for every country I visit) and stopped to enjoy a hot chocolate. We eventually waved the city goodbye and returned back home to Utrecht; while we had been there for less than a day, it’s an experience I doubt I’ll ever forget and I knew that day that I made two friends for the rest of my life.

My semester abroad gave me this opportunity, and so many others which before I would have been far too nervous to take and so I’ll forever remember the positive change it had for me as a person. For that reason I cannot highly recommend enough giving it a shot.

My Semester Abroad in Utrecht – An Adventure in Luxembourg

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