University of Utrecht students visit Rutgers as part of exchange program
In spite of the approximately 3,700 miles of Atlantic Ocean water that separates them, Rutgers students have a lot more in common with their counterparts in the Netherlands than they might think.
Thirteen undergraduate students from the University of Utrecht culminated their week-long stay in Rutgers–New Brunswick on Saturday. Their arrival was part the “Sister Republics” initiative, organized by the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program to celebrate Rutgers’ 250th Anniversary.
“There is this very sort of heavy Dutch connection with the founding of Rutgers, and part of that is connected with the University of Utrecht,” said Jennifer Jones, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program. “Many of the early presidents and teachers at Rutgers had been trained at the University of Utrecht.”
Founded in 1636, the University of Utrecht is the largest institution of higher education in the small European country with more than 30,000 students. When Rutgers University was established as Queen’s College in 1766, it adopted the motto “Sun of righteousness, shine upon the West also,” a variation of the Dutch institution’s motto.
To further explore the profound links between the two “spiritual” sister universities, a course was drawn up for students in the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, Jones said. Some of the participants were able to travel with her over spring break to the Netherlands and were welcomed by a group of students from the University of Utrecht.
Thus, an invitation, Jones said, was extended to the students who hosted her class to come to New Brunswick and learn about Dutch roots in the region.
The second and third-year students from the University of Utrecht — a bachelor’s degree is usually a three-year process in the Netherlands — arrived at Rutgers on Monday.
“It is very good to see where you (come) from,” said Mariëlle van Deelen, a University of Utrecht second-year student. “You always think that the Netherlands is such a small country — no influence — but then you come here and see all these traces of Dutch settlers.”
The visiting students were able to appreciate the influence of their country when they traveled with a group of Rutgers faculty and students to New York City on Tuesday. They walked around Lower Manhattan, the location of the former Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and visited the neighborhood of Harlem, named after the city of Haarleem in the Netherlands.
Since they are all deeply interested in political science, governance and public policy, the students enjoyed watching the frenzy that overwhelmed the city on primary day. Some of them even attended a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rally in Brooklyn.
The visit allowed Veronica Baas, a University of Utrecht third-year student, to realize that the media’s coverage of American politics is not exactly an accurate portrayal.
“What we see in the Netherlands on television about the American elections … is that (it) is so extreme on both sides,” she said. “But then when you come here ... the differences are much smaller, people are just people and they are just (as) nice.”
Most of the Dutch students were amazed at the size and complexity of Rutgers and said their University campus, which is located in an urban area, is a lot smaller.
“Everything is way bigger here and it doesn’t really matter what,” said Auke Montessori, University of Utrecht a second-year student. “Especially the buildings, they are huge.”
Roel Bos also found American cuisine very different from the food he’s used to at home.
“Your portion sizes here are twice as big,” the University of Utrecht third-year student said. “I think this has been the most calories (than) I’ve had ever.”
Although they valued the efficiency of the Rutgers bus system, most of them said they would like bicycles to have more prominence around campus. In the Netherlands, biking is the main form of transportation, especially for students.
“I think this whole campus is perfect for biking,” said Julia Shen, a University of Utrecht third-year student.
On Thursday, the group traveled to the Catskills Mountains in New York, the site of former Dutch settlements, and on Friday night, the students decided the best way to end their trip was to attend a staple of American amusement — a baseball game.
Even though he found the stadium food quite overpriced, Alexander Haan enjoyed seeing his first baseball game at Yankee stadium.
“It was awesome. I didn’t really like the game itself but still the whole stadium was really cool,” the University of Utrecht second-year student said.
Dean Jones is certain the strong bonds between both universities will endure for many years to come and is planning on hosting new Dutch students on campus again in the future.
For Britte de Groot, a University of Utrecht third-year student, the exchange of ideas that these programs provide is critical.
“What I really like about these kinds of trips is that you see that your way of doing things is only one way of doing things,” she said. “There are alternatives.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.