Campus Fryslân

Leeuwarden isn't so bad

Forget what you think you know – Leeuwarden might just steal your heart. Campus Fryslân students Anniek and Frida say it’s not a boring town at all, but a vibrant city.
By Eva van Renssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Renovation of the old stock exchange building, Campus Fryslân’s permanent location, will be finished within the year. Then Anniek Wiertsema (20) and Frida Nillson (19, originally from Sweden) will get to move into the modernised, fully electric, sustainable faculty premises, which can accommodate a thousand students and staff.

Until then, they have to make do with the Z building, an old waterworks building near the Frisian Museum that has been turned into a temporary, flexible workspace. ‘The museum is really great! During our introduction week we got free tickets’, Anniek enthuses. Frida agrees: ‘The introduction week was fantastic! I immediately knew we had a good group here.’

Temporary buildings are par for the course for the first group of students starting a brand new programme at a brand new location. This September, the first class of 26 students started the programme Global Responsibility & Leadership at the RUG’s eleventh faculty: Campus Fryslân.

A well-lit hallway leads to the staff offices. Staff all keep their doors open. There are two classrooms. ‘We only have two groups, so it’s perfect’, says Anniek.

Fair trade

The ‘library’ consists of only a few books so far. ‘We’re all taking the same classes and fortunately we don’t have to buy our books ourselves.’ To the back is the ‘living lab’ where students work together in groups. It’s also the location for the networking lunches with programme ambassador Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (former secretary general for NATO). Prospective student officer Donna Noonan walks by and the students greet her merrily. ‘She’s like… the mom’, says Frida.

Students in front of the Beursgebouw 

The campus is focused on sustainability; even the teabags are fair trade. The two students light up when they talk about their study programme, which has been composed with the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ of the United Nations in mind. The goals have been given a prominent spot in one of the classrooms as well: they are featured on a large sticker on the window.

‘I’d love to have a career at the UN, or WHO’, says Frida. She is taking classes on politics, psychology, health, the environment, languages, and culture. She’s also being trained in research skills and programming.

This programme has everything I want

For Anniek, the programme was a great opportunity; she studied business administration for a year in Rotterdam, but it wasn’t what she needed. She wanted to be of value to the world. After ‘hours of googling’, she finally found the new RUG programme, which aligned with her sense of global responsibility. Frida, who studied medicine for a year in Sweden before coming to Friesland, feels the same way. ‘This programme has everything I want: it’s diverse, yet in-depth.’

The Global Responsibility & Leadership programme is arranged like a university college. The students all share living quarters. ‘It’s really great. We all go to class together in the morning, stay and work on assignments, and then we see each other again at home’, says Anniek.

Twice as expensive

Studying at the UCF may be twice as expensive as a regular bachelor programme, but the education is small-scale and interactive and the students are motivated and ambitious.

They only have great things to say about their programme and the educational staff. Anniek: ‘It’s really easy to talk to the lecturers here. It fits with the programme theme of leadership. Leaders have to work together. Sure, the lecturers exude authority because they’re experts in their field, but we don’t have to fear them.’

It’s a much different vibe than she is used to: ‘At my last university there were eight hundred people in a single class. I didn’t even know what my lecturer’s face looked like.’

There are three vinyl stores!

Both girls admit that their original expectations of Leeuwarden as a student city weren’t exactly high. ‘But I loved the programme so much that I didn’t mind living in a boring town’, says Frida.

All the same, the Frisian capital has captured the students’ hearts. ‘It feels young’, says Frida. There is a lot going on in the weekends, there’s a market place, there’s nightlife. She says everything has exceeded her expectations. ‘And there are, like, three vinyl stores.’ Even the library, which is used to be an old prison, is cool, she says proudly. ‘But it does close before midnight, which is a shame.’

Anniek Wiertsema (left) and Frida Nilsson (right)

In spite of all the weekend activities in Leeuwarden, most Dutch students at the university college go home on Saturday and Sunday. Two students from Leeuwarden even go home during the week to have dinner with their parents, Anniek says, laughing.

But the internationals, who make up half of the group, don’t get to travel for free, which means they stick around. And while programme aims to attract more international students in the future, Frida thinks that might be a challenge. ‘The tuition fees are even higher for people from outside the EU.’

Student association

Leeuwarden has student associations, but the UCF students don’t interact with them. ‘It kind of feels like they’re only meant for Dutch students’, says Frida. Fortunately, she doesn’t really feel the need to join an association right now. All her classmates arrange get togethers and make plans to go out in a shared WhatsApp group. ‘We’ve done so many things together: we went to the TEDx conference, to yoga, a language café: you name it.’

The first month everyone was focused on settling down in Leeuwarden, which didn’t go all that smoothly since the living quarters weren’t finished yet. The students are currently working on setting up a student council. Once the faculty building is renovated, Campus Fryslân will be able to welcome a larger number of students, and the student community will grow.

Whether their initiative will actually result in a party that can join the faculty council or in a study association, the students don’t really know. ‘But we’re full of ideas, such as a travel committee, an athletic committee, and an environmental committee’, says Frida. Anniek adds: ‘But right now we’re organising a Halloween party.’



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