At first, I felt overwhelmed by what seemed to be a lot of admin from Stellenbosch University’s side. Little did I know that was only the beginning. I can, however, say that all the admin was totally worth it. An useful tip: make sure to scan through your e-mails every day in case you received important information or a deadline. Especially be careful when applying for your visa that you are on time and have all the necessary documents. Again, I can say that all the admin was totally worth it and the Dutch Immigration office, especially, made life very easy for me. They guide you step by step and tell you exactly what procedure to follow. After I applied for my visa it only took 5 days before it was ready for collection. Super service. And a lot of super service was yet to come.
I initially tried to get into Verbs, a hostel like environment, where a lot of international students live and each floor share a kitchen and a bathroom.
As there is limited space, I did not get in and had to search for private accommodation. I made use of the website Kamernet.nl. There are also a lot of other websites (which Tilburg University will provide you with) and Facebook groups like I*ESN Marketspace and Students looking for a room in Tilburg/Homeless students Tilburg. I was very lucky to find an opening in a flat with four other girls, very close to the university (1km away from most of my classes). It was important for me to stay close to the university, as I biked everywhere and it can be a bit inconvenient to bike in the winter as it rains often. The university also has a train station that is like 1km away, so if you live close to the centrum, you can use the train or even the bus. There are various bus stops all over the city and one on campus. I preferred to pay a little more on rent and live closer and save on transport. My rent was €500 per month, where Verbs is much cheaper. There are also places like CobbenCampus where you can rent studios, but that costs are in the range of €900 per month. I would say you can get a decent room for €350 – €400. Make sure to get a rental agreement or contract as you would need it to register at the town council (Tilburg Gemeente).
Registration and Orientation (Top Week)
Tilburg University has a day specially set out for international students to register. Not much happens on that day, but, if you can attend it, it is very useful to do so. The university arranged with the city council to be present, so you can make an appointment to get your residence permit. The bank were also there for you to make an appointment to open a bank account. Super convenient.
After that, TOP week follows. It is like orientation week at Stellenbosch where the international students get divided into groups with mentors and get to do a lot of fun things during the week. I made my best friends during TOP week. I would highly recommend.
Our classes got cancelled in middle March and we immediately switched over to online teaching. All our classes and presentations were done online. Except for our March exams that were moved to June, we did not lose any classes and our schedules continued as normal. My exam finished two weeks later than planned, but luckily we could finish the semester more or less in time.
The lecturers were all very helpful and understanding and made a lot of effort to make the transition as easy as possible. It was thus very important to have a stable internet connection and a decent laptop (with a webcam) as all our classes, presentations and tests were done from home. Our exams were done through Test Vision or Proctorio.
I extended my time in Tilburg with a month. I asked my landlord for two extra weeks and spent the other two weeks either travelling or with friends. I initially struggled to get a flight through the embassy or SAA, but I found one with KLM. Their service was extremely quick and effective and I would recommend flying with them (direct). I also applied for self-quarantine so that I could quarantine at home and not at a government facility.
I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed my exchange. In spite of Covid-19, I had the best six months of my university career. I tried to stay positive during the difficult times and just embraced everything.
I made some really good friends (both international and Dutch). I would recommend for you to join a club or an organisation. I play table tennis, so I joined the table tennis team of the university and we played league matches and trained every week. That was super fun.
I also joined a church (Ontmoetingskerk) where I joined their international meeting group, Connect. There I made some Dutch friends as well as met a lot of international students.
I think it is important to take part, does not matter where, as long as you are willing to get out of your comfort zone, meet new people and experience new cultures, ideas and adventures.
Although Tilburg is not a typical Dutch city, it is a student and family city with a lot of international students and you will easily feel at home. Small enough for you to experience all parts of it and find your place, but big enough to have a lot of fun places, shops, bars, restaurants and parks.
I made use of the public transport in the Netherlands (with a weekend vrij subscription on my OV-chipcard) and were able to see more than 20 Dutch towns. I also went to Bratislava (Slovakia), Prague (Czech), Vienna and Salzburg (Austria), Zurich and Luzern (Switzerland) and Frankfurt and Cologne (Germany). I think if it wasn’t for Covid-19, I would have travelled more, but I am happy with what I did in the time that I had. Also make sure to try some Dutch cuisine when you are over there. They might surprise you.
I would go back in a heartbeat.