Every first-year who arrives here has different expectations and different impressions, as Mare discovers as we follow three newcomers during their first year at university. "It’s unbelievably difficult to find somewhere to live."
"I've hardly seen my flatmate yet"
Muriel Mulder (21)
From: St.-Annaparochie (The Netherlands)
"Sometimes, the noises outside keep me awake at night", says Muriel Mulder (21), a first-year student of Japanese. She sees Leiden as a large, bustling city compared to the Frisian village she comes from. "It’s great that everything’s so close and the shops are open till late in the evening." She already knows that she doesn’t want to return to Friesland after university. "I’ve been living with my boyfriend for the last three years, and he still lives there, so it’s strange not to see each other very much anymore. But he doesn’t like towns at all, and he has a good job back there too. I’ll never find a job in Friesland with Japanese, so where we’ll end up is still very much a moot point." So far, she has spent a lot of time on her own, in a grand old house very close to the centre of Leiden. "My flatmate and I seem to be here in turns. We’ve been to IKEA once together and yesterday we stayed in together, which was fun."
She has been admitted to Leiden University after completing a propaedeutic year at a university of applied sciences, which took her two years. "I was just three credits short after the first year, so I’ll run into the problem of the penalties for long-term students as a matter of course, if it’s still around two years from now." She is expecting to be inundated with information at the first lecture. "But I am so looking forward to it. I hope I manage my propaedeutic year and Bachelor’s degree within the prescribed time." Accordingly, she wants to wait before becoming very involved at the fraternity she joined during the El Cid week, Studentenvereniging voor Internationale Betrekkingen (SIB). "But I might join Duivelsei – I just love playing games."
"It's ill at home"
Thijs van Moorselaar (19)
Studie: Cultural Antropology and Development Sociology
From: Alphen aan den Rijn (The Netherlands)
"Lucky for me, my fellow students aren’t open-toed sandals and woolly socks sorts", exclaims Thijs van Moorselaar (19), somewhat relieved, after the introductory lecture.
"We did a kind of assignment-scavenger hunt. I think we’re going get along very well in a close-knit group." He likes the fact that the course is has a small-scale feel to it.
"It’s nothing like Law, for instance, which is huge and impersonal. I think there are a lot of people there who don’t really know what they want to do."
He chose Anthropology during a gap year after finishing secondary school. "I didn’t know what I wanted to do either, but Law was not an option. Anyway, I didn’t spend all my time last year thinking about it: I spent four months as a ski instructor in Austria and I did volunteer work at an orphanage in Peru."
At the moment, Thijs is still living with his parents and two younger brothers in Alphen aan den Rijn. "I hope I can find a room within six months or so, through friends, but I would feel bad if I auditioned for a room that might be needed by someone from Maastricht or Groningen. I might have to help out with the odd job at home, but otherwise it’s ill there."
Besides, he doesn’t want to give his membership to the hockey club in Alphen aan den Rijn yet. "But I hope my circle of friends in Leiden grows quickly so that I don’t always have to be that annoying person who always spends the night on the couch the night after a party."
His plan is to finish his propaedeutic stage neatly in one year. "Well, who doesn’t want to do that nowadays? Mind you, I haven’t really looked into the penalties for long-term students and other political issues.
"Actually, I think two extra years wouldn’t be too bad for a four-year programme."
That is why he reckons he will have enough time to help out at his fraternity, on one of the committees. "And for the Draegersgilde, a group of ‘Quints’ who work as pallbearers at funerals. It’s an honour to be asked for that – and it’s a relaxed way of earning extra money, because now I’m back from South America, I’m really, really need a job."
"I've been sleeping on the floor"
Marton Tompos (24)
Asian Studies (Politics, society and economy)
"Being an international student, I had the opportunity to transfer five hundred Euros to Leiden University just for the chance of getting a room in Leiden, which I did - without any luck. But I did get my money back", says Marton Tompos (24) from Budapest.
Lectures for his Master’s programme in Asian Studies start this week. One of his best friends, who came to Leiden too, has found a room. "Though he paid the five hundred Euros later than I did. But never mind, he’s putting me up for now. I’ve been sleeping on the floor for nine nights in a row now and I’m starting to feel it in my back."
Nevertheless, Marton is enjoying himself here. "Leiden is a lovely town, not too big but not really small either. There’s enough to do and everyone is very kind. Even the bus drivers expect you to say hello, which doesn’t happen in Hungary. And from here, you can travel quite easily to the rest of Western Europe. In any case, I’m planning to visit Ireland and Scotland in the coming year."
There are some disadvantages to the town too, though. "It’s unbelievably difficult to find somewhere to live and I miss shops that are open 24/7. And I still have to get used to the price of beer. In Budapest you can get pint for about one Euro."
In Hungary, he practiced krav maga, a martial art and he is now considering taking up kick boxing at the University Sports Centre. "Or table tennis, which is very popular in Budapest. Many cafés have table tennis tables, like you have billiard tables or table football tables here." He doesn’t want to go to Asia when he has finished his course. "I want to stay in Europe but I don’t know where exactly, perhaps in Brussels as a consultant. That might be a good start to grown-up life."