International students speaking: 'Dutch directness, helpful people and roze koeken'
The new academic year is well underway and for most students it takes some getting used to being present at the KOG every day. What about international students? We spoke to three internationals who started studying at Leiden Law School this academic year.
'My name is Maria Theresa Sindico-Guillaume and I am from the Philippines. I work with the government of the Republic of the Philippines, enrolled in the one-year Advanced LLM in European and International Business Law under a scholarship programme that aims to enhance the government's collective institutional capacity to enforce competition law in the country.'
'My name is Atchere Asuah-Kwasi, but it is easier to call me Atchie. I am a Lawyer and come from Ghana. I am currently studying an Advanced LLM in International Children’s Rights. I live in Leiden and will be staying here for a year.'
'My name is Noor Hama and I am from Nottingham, England. I am studying an LLM in Public International Law and will stay in the Netherlands for an indefinite amount of time.'
Why did you choose Leiden?
Maria: 'Having worked for the European Union Delegation in the Philippines, Europe has a special place in my heart. I wanted to do my LLM at a European university that (1) is well known for academic excellence; (2) has strong core values and cultivates freedom of spirit, thought and expression; and (3) has an environment conducive to learning and well-being. Not only is Leiden’s law faculty ranked 24th in the World University rankings, it has consistently lived up to its motto Praesidium Libertatis – bastion of liberty. As I cycle through Leiden every day, the wonderful environment makes me well up with gratitude for being here.'
Atchie: 'When I decided to do my graduate studies, I decided to search for a master’s programme that was not only unique but will help me career wise. I found out that Leiden had that one course that was really unique. A course in Children’s rights. With my background from home, there isn’t much noise on children’s rights so I decided to come here and I am glad I did. Additionally, Leiden is a high-ranking university not only in the Netherlands but in the world and that was really exciting for me. It wasn’t going to be just any degree but a degree from a top university.'
Noor: 'I chose Leiden as Leiden has the best law school in the Netherlands. I also chose this city as I live in The Hague, and my course in Leiden has some classes taught at The Hague campus. It is really easy and quick for me to travel the short distance to Leiden from The Hague as well. I find this very practical. I also visited the city a year ago and I immediately took to it. It seemed like a smaller version of Amsterdam, with its green parks near the campus, beautiful canals, and amazing history. The fact that Leiden is smaller than Amsterdam is also good for me as I come from the countryside in the UK and don’t handle big city traffic too well.'
What struck you immediately about the university/the Netherlands?
Maria: 'While still in my country, the University’s concern, care, and responsiveness to our issues really struck me. From the introduction webinars and information bulletins to providing support for finding housing, ensuring that we have books, materials and are able to navigate the learning platform, organising a fantastic orientation week and connecting us to various wellness activities and student associations, among others, I felt that Leiden really has our best interests at heart and does all it can to enable us to focus on learning. When I arrived in Leiden, the beauty of the place, genuineness and openness of the people really made an impact and I immediately knew I had come to the right place.'
Atchie: 'The very approachable nature of people. Even though Dutch is the language of the NL, I liked how most people were really nice enough to switch language into English and help you with information if you needed it. That meant a lot to me in helping me not feel like I am entirely away from home.'
Noor: 'What struck me the most is how small the cities are. It is very quick and easy to get from one major city to another. From The Hague, it takes me around 10 minutes to get to Leiden and under an hour to get to Amsterdam. This is not the case for me in England - it took me an hour just to get to my university campus in England, and that amount of time is not considered a long journey! Moreover, I find walking and cycling through Dutch cities very scenic, much more than from where I am from in the UK.'
What did you have to get used to the most?
Maria: 'I had to get used to cycling. I hadn’t been on a bicycle for many years before coming to Leiden so I was anxious about cycling to school and back. Now I cannot imagine parting with my bicycle!'
Atchie: 'The weather, haha! I come from a very tropical region, so I had to get used to the weather and also the check in and checkout OV card system was really new for me.'
Noor: 'One aspect that I still find quite interesting is Dutch directness. Many times I thought I was caught in a tense conversation between my Dutch friends, but in reality, they were just doing what was normal to them: being direct. And there was no tension! Then there’s me being British, where I am super polite and sorry for being sorry! I have found that these qualities do not take well in my conversations with Dutch people. In fact, my Dutch friends get very confused whenever I say “sorry”. As a result, I am making an effort to apologise less and be more direct myself in conversations.'
What will you miss most about your homeland?
Maria: 'What I miss most about home is the variety of food that is readily available. With winter coming, I know I will miss the sun!'
Atchie: 'My family, is one thing I will miss a whole lot. It is the longest I am going to be away from my family. Maybe the local food too.'
Noor: 'I think what made me homesick was the Dutch directness. It took a lot of time to get used to, as I am used to British politeness. But the culture shock has passed and I am more used to the Dutch directness now.'
What are you looking forward to most during your time in the Netherlands?
Maria: 'In addition to completing my studies, I look forward to exploring museums, other cities in the Netherlands, and the wide variety of Dutch cheese!'
Atchie: 'Seeing all the beautiful cities and other places in Europe when I get some free time.'
Noor: 'I love learning new languages and about new cultures, so I am already making big efforts to learn Dutch and am immersing myself in Dutch festivities! I was even fortunate enough to be in the Netherlands for Koningsdag. Despite COVID, I witnessed a lot of the colour orange that day!'
Have you already tried a real Dutch snack that you would recommend to others?
Maria: 'I have tried poffertjes, saucijzenbroodjes, bitterballen, kroket, and stroopwafel. I will try kapsalon but I’m not sure about haring!'
Atchie: 'Yes! I had bitterballen and yes, I would definitely recommend it!'
Noor: 'I have had the traditional foods - pannenkoeken, poffertjes, bitterballen. But my favourite Dutch snack is roze koeken! I highly recommend them if you enjoy pastries!'
Text: Sanne van Hees