Going on exchange to another country is an opportunity not to be missed. Even though going away to Asia or Australia may be your dream exchange spot, it isn’t always financially feasible. That’s where the Erasmus program comes in. With Ryanair having flash sales every second week, and the free travel granted with an EU passport, moving to another European country for a year can be even cheaper than living in Dublin.

While there are many options to choose from, there are only a few English-speaking ones, Groningen being one of them. Groningen is a relatively small city of around 200,000 people located in the north of the Netherlands. It is a city predominantly made up of students, with over 50,000 attending either the University of Groningen or Hanze University. I attended the former, and I was glad to be able to experience a university that is ranked 100th in the world. I study psychology and the modules over there were engaging and fascinating and in one of them I got to see a real human brain!

However, the focus of Erasmus isn’t academia even though it can be surprisingly rewarding. People go on Erasmus to meet an array of people from a myriad of cultures, to live somewhere unique, where customs are ‘unusual’ and where the beer is cheap, because, let’s face it, alcohol is cheaper almost anywhere in the world than in Ireland. Socialising is great craic since you get to meet people from all over the world, people you might never have met otherwise. And everyone loves Irish people, no matter what country you’re from! But don’t worry, you won’t be the only Irish person in Groningen, there’s usually a good contingent of us over there, just in case you’re missing the Irish accent.

Erasmus is all about trying new things and Groningen is perfect for this. Every other night there was something different on, be it a table quiz, free concert, funfair or music festival. Within my first two weeks there, I had already explored an island off the coast called Schiermonikoog and not long after I went to a techno festival called Nazomeran. These are things I wouldn’t have normally done, but because you’re in a new country, with new friends, all you want to do is try novel and unique experiences, which Groningen and the Netherlands has plenty of.

But let’s not forget one of the best things about living there… Your bicycle! It is your mode of transport, your best friend, your ‘taxi’ home after a night out, your faithful companion that will get you from A to B no matter what the conditions. Groningen is famous for its bicycles, with an average of 1.4 bicycles per person (not that anyone is carrying around parts of a bike), and with a city centre built for cyclists and pedestrians. If you’re a fan of the environment and clean air, what better way to contribute than by riding a bicycle everywhere for a year? We all hate spending money on taxis, but it’s a necessity in Dublin on nights out. In Groningen, taxis are almost non-existent, and I’d swear to the fact that you cycle better when you’re drunk, and you save money. Groningen allows you the benefits of eco-friendliness as well as the freedom of transport whenever and to wherever you want, provided you’re not feeling too lazy. But be warned: It’s inevitable to have your bicycle stolen at some point, as happened to me within a few months. It’s heart-breaking when it happens, but eventually you’ll move on and be able to transfer your love to a new bicycle. My only tip to you: buy a good lock!

If you’re into sports, then Groningen is the place for you. I’ve never been a sporty person but I decided to join the kickboxing club and that was one of the best aspects of my Erasmus experience. The University of Groningen and Hanze University have an amazing sports facility called the ACLO, which has a huge variety of sports for all tastes, as well as various fitness classes and a state of the art gym. Joining a club allows you to meet Dutch students and see what it’s like to be a native student as opposed to an exchange student. I made some fantastic friends in the kickboxing club who brought me to their favourite bars and taught me a bunch of Dutch swear words which I’ll let you find out for yourself. Just get involved in university life and partake of everything on offer, you will not regret it. Erasmus is a chance for you to explore things outside of your studies, so take the opportunity and go to Groningen where you’ll have some of the best months of your life.

Senan Tuohy-Hamill – Features Writer