Being a foreigner

02 Nov 2022

After two cancelled exchange semesters, English Language and Culture student Julia Vosmeijer is going to study in England for the upcoming semester. For Vox, she is taking part in a letter exchange, discussing her experiences in the UK with Holly Hartley – an English Literature exchange student from the University of Exeter who came to Nijmegen for her own exchange.

Dear Holly,

I arrived in the United Kingdom about a month and a half ago, and it’s interesting being an ‘international student’ for the first time. Though there’s almost no language barrier, I’m often confronted by the fact that I’m not a native speaker of English. My accent has become a hodgepodge of all the people I talk to. I’m like a linguistic chameleon, I have no accent of my own. Native speakers of English notice that something’s ‘off’, but they don’t immediately assume I’m foreign. It’s often a case of mild bewilderment, followed by an ‘ahhh’ when I tell them I’m Dutch. After that, they usually tell me about their holiday in Amsterdam, and the more courageous ones ask me if I smoke weed, or if that’s just a stereotype.

I have picked up some new English words. One of my British housemates (or ‘flatmates’) taught me the word ‘neeky’, which is a neat mix of the word ‘nerdy’ and ‘geeky’. It’s an adjective which means that someone is dull and obsessed with technology. Amusingly, I’m often caught in the crosshairs of linguistic battles between my British and American flatmates. My British flatmates throw their empty drink cartons in the bin, while the Americans throw them in the trash. The pronunciation of the word ‘camomile’ also caused a lot of controversies, and one of my flatmates was not able to find his beloved ‘cilantro’ in the supermarket. Little did he know that he should’ve looked for coriander instead.

I stand out as a foreigner when I go clubbing in Canterbury because I’m significantly taller than most British women, and even men sometimes. I also lack the feminine attire (dresses, long eyelashes, done-up hair) that British women often seem to wear when they go out. This look is different from the “jeans and t-shirt” look that seems more common for women in Nijmegen. I’ve grown to appreciate the dolling-up, though, it makes going out a more special occasion to look forward to. Experimenting with your hair, makeup and clothing is great fun.

I hope the Dutch have welcomed you as much as the English have welcomed me!

I look forward to reading about your experiences,


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