Universiteit Leiden

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Starting university with a sleepover

El CID, the University introduction week, has begun! We spoke on Sunday evening to the first new arrivals who had come to Leiden to spend the night at the University Sports Centre. New students can sleep here all this week as well as at the ice rink or in a student house.

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
Three of the eight dorm monitors who are keeping an eye on the new students.

It’s Sunday evening and the new first-years are making their presence known in Leiden. On Stationsweg and Steenstraat, large numbers of young people can be seen walking – alone or in groups – with trolley bags, rucksacks or big sports bags. But very few appear to be walking from the station to the University Sports Centre (USC) on the edge of the city. And at the USC, a steady procession of cars come and go at around 21.00 hours, as fathers, mothers and often whole families bring their child/brother/sister to Leiden. One car even has a trailer with a washing machine tied on top, ready to be installed at the offspring’s new lodgings.

Back home again

Some newcomers dump their luggage before returning home: they will be able to travel luggage free to the opening of EL CID at Lammermarkt on Monday morning. They’ll spend the rest of the week sleeping in the dormitory. The big sports hall is mixed sex; upstairs are two smaller dormitories that are female only. The female dormitories appear to be fuller than the mixed one. There’s an educational-but-fun quiz in the canteen at 22.15 this evening. Then it’s time for bed. And, as the rules say, no alcohol and definitely no drugs in the dorms. A team of eight students keep watch, led by dorm-monitor-in-chief Yves Stevens, a second-year law student.

It costs 30 euros to sleep in one of the dorms. Minibuses driven by volunteers depart from a stop in the city centre to the USC and ice rink in the evening to deposit those new students who don’t yet have a bike at the dorms before curfew.

EL CID 2019 USC dormitories
These four are enjoying themselves in the dormitory. Tim, Dave (l) and Gijs (r) are going to study International Business Law. Joey (pink T-shirt) opted at the last minute for Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology.

Tim, Dave, Gijs and Joey

Tim, Dave, Gijs and Joey are chilling out on their sleeping bags. Dave is blowing up his air bed. Tim, Dave and Gijs are all going to study International Business Law. ‘We came to the Open Day and Experience Days together too.’

They didn’t choose the same programme because they can’t live without each other, they say: ‘It was pure coincidence.’

Gijs originally comes from Leiden but his family has since moved to Flevoland. Both his parents studied in Leiden too, so for him, it was a no-brainer. ‘I’ve known since I was 15 that I want to study law,’ he says, ‘and I couldn’t wait. It felt like I was serving my time at secondary school, so I really am ready for it. I can’t believe the time has finally come.’ He decided to do International Business Law because he also likes English. 

Joey had no idea what he wanted to do until he discovered Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at an Open Day. It appealed to him, also because the representatives were so enthusiastic about it. ‘I’m a bit nervous about this new phase, but more than anything I can’t wait to see what it will bring. I can cook already, which should help me fend for myself. Apart from that, I’m just going to see what happens.’ 

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
An internship abroad is already beckoning free spirit Maartje.


Maartje has come to study biology in Leiden and wants to focus on the marine biology side of things. ‘And I then want to do an internship abroad. I could have gone to Utrecht or Wageningen, but the big advantage of Leiden is that the sea is close by, which means I can go surfing. And my family in Alkmaar isn’t too far away either.’

Maartje wants to specialise in deep-sea life or large marine animals. When she explains that she has a camper van, the image starts to develop of a free spirit who knows what she wants. ‘That’s about right. I took a year out and went to Australia. I did my snorkelling diploma there and worked in a turtle sanctuary.’ One of her priorities now is to find a room, but she can also stay in her camper van at a campsite if need be. One more thing, ‘What really decided it for me was Catena, the alternative student association. I really want to join.’

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
Alex is going for his passion: English language and literature.


Alex comes from Leiden but is currently living in Alphen aan den Rijn. Although he did science and maths at school, he has come to study English. ‘It’s what I like best of all, so I decided to study it too. I really love English literature, Shakespeare in particular. And I want to go into writing and journalism.’

Alex considered Amsterdam too, but he found it too expensive there. He repeated his fifth year at school, so is a year older than most of the other newbies. This makes it even more pressing for him to begin this new phase of his life: ‘I’m more than ready.’ Leaving home is part of this, but it’s not his number-one priority. ‘That’s for the second or even the third year.’ 

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
Floor (l) has come to do history and Eva China Studies.

Eva and Floor

Eva and Floor are sleeping next to each other. Eva has come to Leiden to do China Studies. Why she chose Leiden isn’t relevant because Leiden is the only place where you can do China Studies. But why Chinese? ‘China is an interesting country and I wanted to do a language. Leiden’s really nice too, luckily.’ She’s looking forward to Asian Night next week and sees her new life as a fun, new challenge.

Floor has come to study history. She wanted to do biology but had to catch up in physics and chemistry. She did an extra year at school, for those two subjects, but unfortunately, she and the two subjects were no match made in heaven. She finished the year anyway. ‘The advantage was that I had a lot of free time and almost automatically started taking care of and cooking for our family.’ Good preparation for living on her own in Leiden, she says. ‘I can take care of myself. History was my second choice, but it’s really fun too.

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
Nova opted for the oldest university in the Netherlands

Nova and Femke

Nova, Femke and Marita are neighbours in the girls’ dorm too. Nova and Femke are also doing history – more on Marita later. Nova always knew she wanted to study history, and what better place to do so than the oldest university in the Netherlands? And she comes from Gouda, so can carry on living with her parents. She’s looking forward to student life. ‘Secondary school was great fun, but I think growing up at university will be even more fun. And I expect student life to be better than school life.’

Femke has an extremely broad interest in history: antiquity, Russian and Asian history and global history. Luckily, she can find all of the above in Leiden. She says, ‘Leiden has a lot to offer already, but the city is in the middle of all sorts of national libraries and archives too. And the programme has a very good reputation.

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
Marita and Femke both come from the distant (if they say so themselves) Nijmegen.


Marita has also come for a unique programme: Korea Studies. She finds Korea interesting, but didn’t know at first that you can study Korean. She only found out when a friend began the programme in Leiden. And the friend’s stories didn’t disappoint. Marita and Femke both come from Nijmegen and know each other from secondary school. They think that Leiden is a long way away from Nijmegen and are sure they’ll miss their families at some point, particularly if they need a bit of comfort. Femke says, ‘But I’m glad to have left Nijmegen. I know it like the back of my hand and am ready to leave home!’

‘It’s still really quiet tonight,’ says dorm-monitor-in-chief Yves. ‘But as of tomorrow, a few EL-CIDlings will stumble in each night, having had a few too many. We help them find their way to bed.’

EL CID 2019 dormitories USC
The house rules

Text: Corine Hendriks
Photos: Marieke Epping
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