Mingling with the Dutch

Stamppot, liquorice, and games: International students get an introduction to Dutch culture during Experience Groningen.
By Andriana Boyrikova and Emily Howard / Photo by Emily Howard

International students participating in the ‘Experience Groningen’ event this weekend have had their first taste of traditional Dutch food and fun. After a long day of exploring all the best hotspots in Groningen, students shared a meal with local families and ended the evening with games and gezelligheid.

Dutch hospitality

Irma Zijlstra stands at the door of her home, ushering guests in with a broad smile. Tonight she is an ambassador to students from Finland, France, and Ukraine. One night every year, Zijlstra hosts international students in her home and introduces them to Dutch food and culture.

Zijlstra leads them to a sofa and a coffee table loaded with traditional Dutch snacks. A student from Paris politely accepts a toastje met roomkaas and settles into the deep couch. She takes a bite and her face lights up. ‘OMG!’ she exclaims. ‘This is so delicious!’ She grabs her phone to take photos of the roomkaas package so she can find it later at the Albert Heijn.

A Finnish student gestures towards a large window. ‘Windows in the Netherlands are huge!’ he says. Zijlstra smiles – yes, big windows are pretty typical in Dutch homes, she explains. You always know what your neighbor is up to.


It is time for dinner; the excited students cluster together in the cozy dining room. ‘Wow, there are two pianos’, one student notices. ‘Didn’t you know?’ Zijlstra grins, ‘every Dutch house has two pianos.’ The students are visibly confused, and Zijlstra laughs. ‘No, this is not really typically Dutch. We just need to put one of them in the garage.’

She puts the finishing touches on the meal – boerenkool stamppot – adding some jus (meat gravy) and worst (sausage). This typical Dutch meal is especially good for a cold winter evening, she explains. The students don’t seem so sure, but fill their plates anyway.

‘Is this game even Dutch?’

Their stomachs comfortably lined with Dutch dinners, international students gather in the Student Hotel for a night of Dutch games – and beer. Latecomers are greeted by a wall of electronic music and shouted conversations. The party is already underway. This event is popular; bodies are packed into the space and party-goers have to swerve and duck to clink glasses or exchange introductions.

A crowd surrounds the football table, the game of choice. ‘Ajax sucks, man,’ challenges a Spanish student. ‘Real Madrid all the way!’ A rogue ping pong ball glances off his shoulder as a group of students across the room erupts with laughter and abandons their game of doubles. ‘Is this game even Dutch?’ one of them asks. He shrugs and heads off to get another beer.

‘Beer, please’

Most people aren’t bothering with the games. They are too busy making friends, swapping dinner stories, and sharing their impressions of Dutch culture. In a corner, a group of students try some typical Dutch treats, or borrelhapjesdrop (a salty liquorice), hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), and rookworst (smoked sausage).

A French student pops a drop in her mouth and her face contorts like a baby trying lemon for the first time. ‘This is not my thing,’ she spits.  A student from Spain grins around a mouthful of hagelslag. ‘Lekker!’ he declares, proudly, ‘I already learned some Dutch during the dinner.’

The room continues to fill and soon all the snacks are gone. Students surge back towards the bar, calling out that most important Dutch phrase: ‘Een biertje, alstublieft!’

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