Last year in the UK around 27,000 students dropped out of university in the first 12 months, many because they started studies that just weren’t right for them. Six years ago, I could have been in the same position. Back then I was restless. I didn’t want to be pushed on to a university course that I wasn’t fully committed to but I knew that I wanted to continue my studies. At the same time I had a nagging feeling that I wanted to go on an adventure. I wanted to learn a new language (something I had not really achieved at secondary school) and I wanted to experience a different culture.
After looking at the course provisions at many universities in various European countries I came across the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. They were just about to start a new multidisciplinary programme called Liberal Arts which included social sciences, law, history, economics and much more. Importantly, it would satiate my many interests while allowing me to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket before I really had a chance to decide what I wanted to do in the future. I applied and, before I knew it, I had been accepted and was one of the very first students on the course.
As I stepped off of the plane at Eindhoven airport for the first time I was struck by the landscape. Apart from a few undulations of earth around some of the edges of the country, it is extremely flat. This is the perfect environment for cycling and the number of bikes in the Netherlands is staggering. At all of the train stations there are literally thousands of bikes propped up waiting for their owners to return and in every city and village, people can be seen cycling at any time of day.
At first, the class of about 50 split in half, one group comprised of the Dutch students and the other the international students. Very quickly this division wore down and the Dutch students proved to be very friendly and eager to show us all what their country had to offer. They showed us the sights (in Tilburg, this consisted of the nightlife), how best to enjoy typically Dutch activities such as the Kermis (funfair) and Carnaval, which is a four day festival of fancy dress, parades and drinking.
Learning the language proved to be quite challenging. Dutch itself is not particularly difficult for an English speaker to be able to grasp but the Dutch people are generally pretty good speakers of English. When they hear a foreigner mutilating their language most Dutch people will politely switch to English, which makes it hard to practice the language in real life situations.
Tilburg is a great place to live for those not content with just exploring the Netherlands. Although the main Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are not very far away, Belgium and Germany can also be reached very easily. I was able to make many trips to places such as Antwerp, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Aachen and be home by evening.
After the great experience of my first year I chose to specialise in my second year with a major in Law. Once I had successfully completed my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to continue studying and eventually have a career in the law. With this in mind I decided to stay in the Netherlands. I had made many friends there and became familiar with their culture (although things still keep managing to surprise me about the Dutch). I had learnt the language by that time and more importantly, I had a Dutch girlfriend!
I stayed in Tilburg, which has a very well respected Law faculty and enrolled in the International Business Law LLM. This was a major step up from my undergraduate degree and I was immediately immersed in a high level legal studies environment. The classes were taught by experts in their fields and many of my colleagues already had a successful career as a lawyer in their home countries. The programme was also quite varied, with many optional courses which could be taken thereby enabling students to tailor their studies to their interests. I enjoyed my time at Tilburg University and definitely feel that the experience has made my character stronger, my outlook more international and, of course, it has provided me with four years of university education.
After my studies I moved back to England to find a job. Despite the economic climate at the time I found a position quite quickly, in a company where my international background gained as a foreign student overseas is appreciated. I believe that I have Tilburg University to thank for preparing me to work both in the legal field and an international environment.
By George Lake
George Lake received his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Tilburg University. He works as a Support Assistant at ASG Immigration in London. ASG Immigration focuses on business and employment related immigration to the UK, US, Australia and worldwide.