Dutch culture

Studying in another country is very exciting and can be an experience of a lifetime. But it can also make you aware of big and small cultural differences. It’s therefore good to know more about some Dutch habits and ways, so you’re not so surprised when you start studying here.


”While the Netherlands may be a small country, the Dutch are very open to the rest of the world.”

Estelle Desplats (France)

For example, the Dutch are known for their open mindedness, down-to-earthiness, and their love of ‘gezelligheid.’ This is a difficult word to translate, but it basically to do with enjoying being together. Our students love to hang out or work together, party and go to festivals. If they’ve had fun, enjoyed the company, had good discussions and a laugh with each other, then it’s been ‘gezellig.’

The down-to-earth characteristic of the Dutch can also be seen as been direct. The Dutch can be very outspoken and straightforward. This comes from the ingrained belief that everybody has a right to have an opinion and by discussing different angles and views, we can learn from each other and make things better. It’s not considered rude to tell somebody how you feel about something and it’s not a personal attack. Make sure you participate actively in the classroom and don’t be afraid to give and receive feedback. Another characteristic is punctuality. When making an appointment, the diaries are on the table, plans are made, and you’re expected to be on time.

Dutch celebrations and events

Festivals, markets, and events are organised throughout the country in every season. In April you should prepare yourself for the largest national party of the year: King’s Day. Every year, on 27 April, the Dutch celebrate King Willem Alexander’s birthday with markets, music and fun activities. It’s a national bank holiday so everyone gets a chance to celebrate. In the summer, there's a wealth of dance, music and theatre festivals, while the autumn sees the start of the artistic and cultural season. And bringing warmth to the cold winter months, the Dutch love to celebrate Sinterklaas on 5 December (St Nicholas), visit Christmas markets and, if possible, ice skate on the frozen canals.

Student life in Holland

Cheese, ice-skating, Sinterklaas and of course bikes. In the ‘Student Life in Holland’ videos, NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences introduces their foreign students to student life in the Netherlands. In each episode, our foreign students try out a typical Dutch product or experience and are asked to rate it.

Though some aspects of Dutch culture may seem unusual at first, our students quickly feel at home in the Netherlands. The great student life is even one of the #6 reasons for students choose to come and study at NHL Stenden. You can find out more about our students’ experiences here.


Everywhere you go, you will see bikes…there are actually more bikes then people in the Netherlands!  Our advice is that one of the first things you do when you settle in the Netherlands is buy a bike. Cycle paths and routes all over the country are well laid-out and cycling is a wonderful way to get around and explore the city and the countryside. But stay safe! You’ll need to learn the highway code and get used to rules of the road like giving priority to the right. As there are so many bikes, it might not surprise you to hear that they also get stolen quite often. You need to make sure you have a really good lock, or two, on your bike.

Dutch food

A major part of spending time in another culture is of course experiencing the local cuisine. Dutch food certainly has its delights, but it can take a little getting used to depending on the culture and cuisine you are used to. Here are some Dutch treats we think you really shouldn't miss:

  • Pannenkoeken (pancakes): you’ll be astounded by the variety of pancakes you can order in a pannenkoekenhuis (pancake house) with toppings ranging from the incredibly sweet to salty savoury – and even a combination of the two. Give bacon pancakes with treacle a try!
  • Patat (fries): try them with mayonnaise at least just once. And with satay sauce!
  • Kroket: a beef and mashed potato mixture coated in breadcrumbs then deep fried
  • Hutspot: potatoes, onions, and carrots mashed together and served with sausage and gravy.
  • Haring (herring): eaten raw, preferably smothered in onion and lowered into your mouth from some distance above your head. You hold its tail in your hand.
  • Kaas (cheese): the Dutch are known for their cheese, of which there seems to be no end to the varieties available, and it is truly delicious. 
  • Stroopwafels: delicious biscuits consisting of two thin wafers sandwiched with caramel
  • Drop: this is kind of like liquorice, but so much more. And in so many flavours! Sweet, salty, and extra salty. The Dutch love for this sweet knows no limits!