Leiden is a lovely little city in the Netherlands. It sits between Amsterdam, the notorious, tourist-filled capital, and The Hague, the international city of peace and justice. Of course, being in the Netherlands, Leiden has the obligatory windmills, clogs and swarms of bicycles, but it actually has some of its own sights and traditions to offer too. In fact, Leiden has been called the most beautiful city in the Netherlands, (which if you’ve ever visited the region, you’ll know to be a tall order). Everywhere you turn you can find some hidden treasure amongst the canals and coffee shops and there will always be some reminder of its rich history, such as the ‘Burcht van Leiden’ hiding behind the artisan shops.
Leiden’s unique, historic element really comes to life on 2 and 3 October. Actually, the whole of this usually laid-back city comes to life on these dates every year and makes it the most memorable part of the fall semester. Locals, visitors, pretty much every man and his dog come out to remember the siege of Leiden during the Eighty Years War and its relief on 3 October 1574. But it’s not all (boring) history. It is also a great way to get to know many of the local customs, including the handing out of the local delicacy, mackerel (not for everyone!). To be honest, it seems like any excuse to throw a big party. There are funfairs, parades, street concerts, fireworks and lots and lots of beer. You cannot come to the Netherlands without sampling Dutch-brewed beer after all.
The University is very different to UEA, but it is in a whole other country, after all, and that is sort of the point of a year abroad. A huge advantage of doing an exchange year is that it can enable you to meet so many wonderful people. It’s been said many times before, but people really do make the place. The Dutch directness is far from the excessive politeness that us Brits are renowned for, but it is rather refreshing. It’s not just the locals that can give you an experience of other cultures either; you will inevitably mix with students from all over the world and learn more about diversity in practice than you ever could have in a lecture.
To those considering a year abroad in Leiden, well, it can be tough. There will be days when you just want to come back to home comforts and swap the chips and mayonnaise for a roast beef dinner. A bit different to the usual ‘the year abroad is a fantastic experience and I’d recommend it to everyone’ line, right? The truth is there are ups and downs to any year abroad. It isn’t all fun and games and there is a lot of hard work too, but being in such a wonderful city makes it an awful lot easier.