Back in 2008 I had the biggest adventure of my life. I went alone to Netherlands to complete my Master degree, under the Erasmus Programme.
Before going to Wageningen, where I completed my studies, I stayed in Utrecht for around 2 weeks to attend the Erasmus Intensive Language Course (EILC) at the Utrecht Summer School.
Finding a room in Utrecht
I had the possibility of renting a room offered by the Summer School, but the high price (425€ for less than 3 weeks) and the tight schedule to pick up the key (I had to be there till 16:30) made me look for another option. I decided to look for a room in Utrecht by myself.
This was the best choice I could have made. I found a much cheaper room (275€ for all month) and it was located in the city center, at a walking distance of 20 minutes from the University College Campus.
The room offered by the Summer School was outside the city, at around 8km from the University College and, if I had chosen this one, I would have to had looked for a place to stay overnight after my arrival, because I arrived at Utrecht after 16:30.
But how did I find a room in Netherlands from Portugal and knowing nobody there? Simple, I used the internet. I found this Dutch website where I registered myself for free. Being a member, I could see all the room offers for free. But to respond to any room offer I had to pay some money. I payed around 13€ for a pack of 10 responses.
I got one answer from one of my responses to a room offer. The arrangements were done by internet and telephone (signing the contract, paying the room, etc.). There was just a small problem, the couple who were renting the room was leaving to China to assist the Olympic Games on the same day of my arrival. They solved the problem by asking one of the other tenants to give me the keys.
The first day in the Netherlands
This adventure began in the morning of the 3rd August 2008, when I caught the airplane at Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport (Oporto, Portugal) to “Luchthaven Schiphol” (Amsterdam Airport Schiphol), the Netherlands’ Main International Airport.
Just some curiosities about these two airports:
Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport was inaugurated in 1945 by the name of “Pedras Rubras”. In 1990, its name was changed to honor the Portuguese Prime Minister Fancisco de Sá Carneiro, who died in 1980, in an airplane crash when he was heading to this airport.
Schiphol opened in 1916 as a military airbase. Before 1852, the place where the airport lies was a lake where many ships were lost because of violent storms. In English, Schiphol is translated to “Ship Grave”, a reference to the number of ships lost there. Nowadays, this airport constructed below sea level is the 15th busiest airport in the World.
After leaving the airplane, I had to walk for a long time before arriving at the luggage area (very big airport!). But the luggage took much more time than me to arrive there, I had to wait more than 40 minutes for it.
Then, it was time to look for the railway station. It was easy, I just had to follow the directions and I found myself at Schiphol Plaza, where I immediately saw the yellow ticket machines.
I bought the ticket to “Utrecht Centraal” and, a few minutes later, I caught a train where I read “Utrecht”. According to the information I had obtained on the official website of the Dutch Railways, the journey should take around 30 minutes. However, more than 40 minutes had passed and there was no sign of Utrecht.
I started thinking that perhaps I was in the wrong train, but a guy seated next to me told me that the train was going to Utrecht. It was taking so much time because it was the stopping train, instead of the intercity train. That guy was also going to Utrecht and, when we arrived there, he accompanied me to a taxi and asked the taxi driver to take me to the address I wanted to go.
There was a problem, though. I had written on a paper the address (Mulderstraat), but they read “Hulderstraat”. They were looking in the GPS for Hulderstraat and telling me it didn’t exist, but I was completely unaware they were talking about Hulderstraat instead of Mulderstraat. Several minutes later I finally understood that the problem was my handwritten “M”… Next time I write an “M” I must be more careful…
I finally arrived at the house where I was going to stay the next 15 days. I rang the bell and…no one. Rang another time…no one again… Meanwhile, I had already tried to phone the girl who was supposed to give me the key, but there was no answer. Hmm…this wasn’t good.
I must say that the guy I met in the train was a precious help here. The girl’s mobile phone number which was given to me didn’t have the first two digits that all Dutch mobile phone numbers have, the 06. It was that guy who told me I needed to dial 06 before the number I had.
Hey, I received a sms message from the girl! She was late. She was in the train, but she was almost arriving. OK, I just had to wait for her under the light rain and eat something I had brought with me, I was starving. After a long wait, the girl arrived and I finally went inside the house. My room was on the first floor, so I had to climb some steep stairs with all my luggage. It was a very big room, there was even a couch and a washbasin, and I had a TV!
Later, following the indications of the girl who gave me the key, I bought dinner at a shop named “Dado” which sold take away food. I must say it was Sunday and on Sundays there’s no supermarkets or shops opened in the Netherlands (at least there wasn’t). I saw almost nobody outside, it seemed a ghost city.
EILC at Utrecht Summer School
Next day, I left home at around 8:30 to go to James Boswell Institute, at University College Campus. I found a completely different city. It was so busy! The streets were filled with cars, there was people walking fast and so many bikes! I never had seen so many people cycling. But the most amazing thing for me was to see some mothers cycling with two kids on their bikes. Another novelty for me was the bicycle carts for kids.
Along my way I crossed a very beautiful park named Wilhelminapark. This park, designed in the English landscape style, owns its name to Queen Wilhelmina, who was enthroned on 1898, the same year the park was opened. The Wilhelmina Park is bisected by a bike path, along which it stands the statue of Queen Wilhelmina, besides several other works of art. Also located along the path, there’s a historic tea house with a thatched roof, dated from 1925.
I took around 20 minutes to arrive at James Boswell Institute.
The EILC students were divided in two classes and we were seated in groups of 4-5 persons. In my class there were people from several European countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Lithuania, Finland, Germany, etc. We were provided with two study books and with a dossier. We had two teachers, one on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I confess that these classes were not easy for me. It was very difficult for me to speak dutch, I had a terrible pronunciation. This language has some sounds that are hard for me to pronounce, the “g” is the worst. And it is present in almost every word, even in “Portugal”! Come on, why was I the only one coming from a country with “g”? How I would like to be from another country, at that time. “Spagne” (Spain), for example, so easy to say. But no, I had to be from PortuGal.
Every time I had to speak in front of the class, it was a torture for me. But at least I wasn´t completely alone in that matter. There were two other students, one from Spain and the other from Italy, who also had some difficulties with the pronunciation. Wait! I see a similarity here. Our mother language is a Latin language. Is there any relation, or just a coincidence?
But even with these troubles, I enjoyed this course and I recommend it. Although I’m still a terrible dutch speaker, I learned many vocabulary and grammar, which was very useful, special during shopping time.
In my opinion, James Boswell Institute is a great place to learn Dutch and probably other languages. It houses good facilities for students, such as languages laboratories, which are very useful for individual self study. We can practice our writing and oral dutch, there.
We had a class with a speech therapist that helped us improving our pronunciation. This class helped me a lot. I just think it should be one of the first classes instead of one of the last ones.
On Friday 15th there was another excursion, this time to the Kröller-Müller Museum, an art museum and sculpture garden located in Otterlo. But I had to go to Wageningen that day, so, unfortunately, I couldn’t participate in that excursion.
I returned to Utrecht to be present for the final examination that took place on Tuesday 19th. After that, I went back to Wageningen, where I spent one year.