Dutch students in Antwerp, affirmation of a stereotype?

Merel Entius

Very often people ask me why I, a Dutch person, decided to do my Masters degree in Antwerp. I often reply by saying that I like the experience being in a new city and that it saves me a lot of money. The last bit, however, is somewhat sensitive. I don’t like Belgians to think of me as a greedy Dutch student whose only purpose is to get a degree at low costs and then leave again. Nevertheless, just like many other students I cannot deny that this is part of the truth.

Dutch college fees are still relatively low (€ 1.771) compared to the small fortunes that you pay if you wish to study in the United States, for example. But due to budget cuts it is getting more and more expensive for the Dutch students to drown themselves in literature doing another masters degree. The main motivation for doing another masters degree, for me personally, is because chances at the job market are quite slim at the moment.

That is one of the main reasons that many Belgian universities encounter an increase of Dutch students. Tuition fees in Belgium are around € 578,- which makes it financially attractive for Dutch bachelor students but also graduates and postgraduates to follow a program in their neighbouring country. This trend is ongoing for the past ten years. Especially departments such as veterinary science and medicine deal with many Dutch applicants every year.

Given this information, how do Belgian professors and students receive their Dutch colleagues? During the first classes I noticed that there is quite a big gap between the (Flemish) Belgians and the Dutch. This also gets painfully emphasized because every professor I encountered start their lectures by asking who is Dutch. This immediately brings a distinction making it hard to blend in. This also can be illustrated when describing a typical lecture.

During lectures everyone remains silent when the professor asks a question, after a couple of seconds when nobody answers, usually a Dutch student will break the silence and give the answer. This even works in the advantage for some Belgian students who admitted to me that they think it’s easy that ‘the Dutch’ ask questions and give answers so that they don’t have to do it themselves. Even though they do share the same thoughts they are not likely to speak in front of the whole group. Why the Dutch are more vocal about their opinions than the Flemish I’m not sure. Maybe the Flemish are more modest and shy when it comes to participation in groups? This might also be one of the reasons why professors also do not have much interaction during their lectures, also making it harder to share thoughts between students. Unfortunately, this makes the lectures less interesting for me personally. Even though it’s scary to speak up I learned that education is also about dialogue, being able to share critical thoughts, and ask those questions that need to be asked.

We speak the same language but we have different social codes, sometimes making it a bit harder to blend in. We might look like rude and loud students who go to Belgium just to profit from the cheap education, but I hope it also shows that we dare to invest in our future. If the Dutch government isn’t prepared or able to invest in our future, we will look for other ways. Can we be blamed?

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