Universiteit Leiden

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Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken/Jan Holvast

The magic of El CID

For almost fifty years EL CID has been the whirlwind start of their studies and student life for thousands of first-year students. With up-and-coming DJs, food trucks and informative workshops, ambitious EL CID committees have made sure that the introduction week has grown into a mega-festival.

Getting law alumnus Armin van Buuren, now a world-famous DJ, to perform at the first-year festival: every year there is a new EL CID committee, but some ambitious plans keep coming back, says Frank Parlevliet. Frank is now the University's adviser on recruitment of bachelor's students, but in 2002 he was a student of political science and chairman of the committee organising the introduction week. 'It was an enormously exciting year and I learned such a lot.'

EL CID chairman Frank Parlevliet addressing the first-year students in 2002 in the Hooglandse Church.

Outdoing past EL CIDs

After that, for five years he used his practical expertise to advise successive committees. 'Every committee wants to outdo all the previous years, but students also have to learn to handle limitations, such as the budget and the rules of the local municipality. That's what makes organising the week such a good learning experience: you learn to work in a team, make plans with an absolutely hard deadline and you have a lot of responsibility.'   

The EL CID poster from 1973.

First EL CID in 1970

Before 1970 there was no central introduction week. The student associations each organised their own introduction for the first-years, who had to find out everything for themselves. The associations themselves approached the Executive Board with the idea for a University-wide introduction week. That week came in 1970. In the early days, EL CID was organised by staff at the University, but  the task was soon taken over by students, with support from the University.

More than the big five

In 1987 Prince Willem-Alexander, then a first-year student of History, took part in several of the EL CID activities.

A lot has changed since the first EL CID in 1970, but the key theme - getting to know your study programme, the city and the student associations - is the same. Ernestine de Groot, committee member in 2005 responsible for the EL CID mentors, stresses the importance of taking part. 'This is the only time in the year that you can take a good look around. Leiden has more than the big five associations and during the EL CID you also get to find out about the small clubs, like the surf club or gaming club. There's something for everyone.' A lot of students make friends for life during the EL CID week and every year alumni look back nostalgically on their own EL CID when they see the thousands of first-years stream into the city.'  

Students at the university of applied sciences join in

In the course of the years, there has been an explosive growth in the number of students taking part. Since 2014, students from the Hogeschool Leiden have also been included and this year a total of 3,600 students are expected to participate. The budget (which is made up entirely of sponsor funding and the fee for taking part) has now become a professional festival with a budget of 5,000 euros. The programme also becomes more professional every year. EL CID is actually made up of at least fifteen separate festivals, Parlevliet remarks. 'The whole week is one big party.'  

The number of students taking part has grown explosively. This year, around 3,600 first-years will be taking part.


Every committee has its own ideas, but some popular elements come back year after year. A giant barbecue, an information fair in the heart of the city and a first-year festival, complete with up-and-coming DJs and food trucks. The bands booked for EL CID are often ones that make a real breakthrough later. Popular Dutch band Racoon, for example, was the house band of EL CID for a number of years.   

Doing the dance

The EL CID dance is also a hit every year. It started during De Groot's year. 'We wanted to introduce something universal that could create a sense of togetherness. Something that could be done at all locations, whether at Minerva, Catena or anywhere else. One of my housemates who did ballet at an advanced level, thought up the choreography. It was something of a complex dance to the number Kylie by Akcent that was top of the charts that summer. We did wonder beforehand whether the students would think it was a bit silly, but it was an immediate success. Everywhere you went, you could hear Kylie and everyone was doing the dance. It made for a really warm feeling. That EL CID year was my best year ever.'  Like many other former committee members, De Groot played an active part in EL CID for many years. 'It's a sort of community.' 

Ernestine de Groot (centre, with the yellow T-shirt) practising the dance with mentor trainers het dansje.

If it rains - improvise

Even with very precise planning, there is one thing that can't be organised: the weather. Parlevliet remembers the rain-drenched EL CID week in 1999. The first-year festival on Thursday was under threat of being rained off - until the committee quickly improvised and decided to move the festival to the Kamerlingh Onnes Lab, which happened to be empty at the time. The crew worked through the whole night to  convert the building into a festival site, finishing just as the first visitors turned up. It was one of those magical EL CID moments, Parlevliet remembers. Nonetheless he is hoping it will stay dry this year. 

Banner photo: The EL CID committee in 1989

The student members of the EL CID committee halt their studies for a year so they can devote themselves entirely to organising this one week. They are supported by members of staff of the University and by former committee members. Besides the EL CID week there are now two other introduction weeks: the Orientation Week Leiden (OWL) for international students and the Hague Orientation Programme (HOP) form students in  The Hague.


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