Universities in the region
Whether you are looking for a weekend trip to let your inner student loose, or preparing to apply for university, it’s good to have an insiders view of what it’s really like to study in the region. We cover four destinations in this article:
Den Haag – intimately cosmopolitan
Named the legal capital of the world with more than 150 international institutions including Europol and the International Court of Justice, Den Haag is known for bureaucrats and business people but perhaps not for being a typical student city. However, the 30,000-strong student population is proof of Den Haag’s wild side.
Amanda, an international business student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, says the small-scale city with a cosmopolitan feel offers a good balance between studies and social life.
“The Hague is the third largest city in the Netherlands, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. On the contrary, I get more of a village feel as you can bike everywhere,” she said. The cosy city centre, established around the political heart of the Netherlands, the Binnenhof, boasts a plethora of bars, local boutiques, shops and restaurants.
Student life is centred around “borrelen,” a word the Dutch have coined for social get-togethers involving drinks and deep-fried snacks. “You know you’ll have a good time in almost any bar at almost any time of the day. As for the nightclubs, many only play Latin and reggaeton music which is not my favourite,” Amanda said.
Within cycling distance, you find 11 kilometres of sandy beaches and a boardwalk filled with restaurants and beach clubs, open year-round.
The downside of the increasingly popular Den Haag is finding a place to stay, as is the problem in many Dutch cities.
“It was very stressful to find accommodation in a new city,” says Amanda. “I lived in a student flat my first year with a one-year contract, which is usually what you get. I paid roughly €800 a month, which is expensive on a student budget."
Münster – small town charm and bike mecca
If you thought bicycles were only a thing in the Netherlands, Münster in Germany paints a different picture. With over half a million “Leezen” (bicycles), there are almost two bikes for every inhabitant in the city. That earned Münster the title of Germany’s bicycle capital.
Julie is a first-year medical student in Münster. Because she started in the summer semester, the selection of universities was limited compared to starting in autumn. Nevertheless, the small size of the charming German city caught her interest.
“All the essentials are just a short bike ride away and if you go a bit further, you end up in a forest or a quiet walkway,” Julie said.
Starting on the outskirts and running into the city centre, the recreational area of lake Aasee is a popular spot to escape the busy everyday life. The park includes an Allwetterzoo (all-weather zoo), a horse museum, and the natural history museum with an adjoining planetarium.
With around 45,000 students, it’s safe to say the student life has a firm grip on the compact city, although Münster University offers a different take on the traditional campus life.
“The buildings are scattered across the city, so I’ll have one lecture at one end of the city, and the next at the other end, which I actually really enjoy,” Julie says.
With influences from the Middle Ages, the centre is characterized by historic buildings that contrast with the more futuristic architecture you will find across the city. What Julie does miss is a Luxembourgish community, which you can often find in other cities. “But it has made me connect with people from different backgrounds,” she admits.
Brussels – multicultural with a side of Belgian beer and chocolate
Brussels is not only known for being the beating heart of the European Union, but also for being the capital of beer AND chocolate. If the last two don’t scream student life, what does?
At the cultural crossroads of Flemish, Dutch and French traditions, combined with influences from many other European countries, Brussels is more multicultural than most cities. With over a dozen universities, and around 86,000 students, it’s a great place to reinvent yourself.
Felix is studying journalism and communication at the Institut des Hautes Études des Communications Sociales (IHEC). While he came to Brussels because of the programme, Felix is not disappointed with his new home. “The variety of languages and cultures in Brussels is great, although the Belgian way of doing things takes some getting used to,” he said.
The city’s diversity is reflected in its nightlife too, with options ranging from speakeasy bars to funky cafés. While there are a few concentrated student hubs, “guindailles” (Belgian student parties) can be held at almost any bar in Brussels.
“Around every corner you’ll find cosy cafés, with the best of Belgium’s 450 different beers, of course,” Felix said.
Finding a “kot” (student flat) wasn’t as hard as Felix expected, and the living costs are manageable. “I live 50 meters from my university and pay about €700 per month.”
Nancy – not too far from home
France’s second biggest university city (after Marseille) is located a mere 120 km drive from the Grand Duchy. The 60,000 students make up one-fifth of the population, and with 9,500 international students the Université de Lorraine is the leading French institution in the Erasmus mobility program.
Medical student Aditi has been in Nancy for 5 years now.
“It’s a great first city to live in after moving out from home. It’s not too big, which is nice if you’re not ready for a big city like Paris for example,” Aditi said.
The campus is situated outside the city centre, making it possible to keep studies and social life separate. “I live in the city centre, and I’m really happy with my choice because I am close to where it’s happening. With the tram, it takes around 30 minutes to get to classes,” she says.
At slightly more than one hour’s drive, the university attracts many Luxembourgish students.
“I think it’s also a pitfall because many get in the habit of going home every weekend. I only got to know Nancy once I started staying over the weekends,” says Aditi.
While she does perceive that connecting with the local community is difficult, “there is a large Luxembourgish community that is naturally drawn together.”