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How to navigate the intercultural student dating scene in Groningen

Groningen is an exciting city filled with young people of all different nationalities. This creates lots of dating opportunities, but how do you navigate the student dating scene in Groningen? Here are some tips and tricks from international students.

Many students in their early and mid-20s are in their tender formative years, figuring out who they are, who they want to be, navigating relationships, and thinking about their future. Dating in one’s twenties can be a ball of a lot of confusing, beautiful, heart wrenching emotions and crucial lessons.

In a city with young people from all over the world, many international students find themselves exploring the realm of intercultural dating. Dating someone from a different cultural background from one’s own can be invigorating and rewarding. It can teach you so much about another culture and, simultaneously, so much about yourself.

However, intercultural dating does come with its set of obstacles that must be handled with care.
I spoke with a couple of international students about their experiences with dating interculturally to gain insight into what it’s really like. Maya is a 21-year-old Canadian exchange student who has been studying at the University of Groningen for 9 months. She has dated Dutch guys during her time in Groningen and says that the experience taught her a lot about differences in communication and ideas of romance.

‘There is a large stereotype about the Dutch being cheap. It’s a stereotype for a reason, and it’s not necessarily negative… it’s just different,’ she says, ‘Back home in Canada, the guy takes you out somewhere and usually pays for the date, whereas here (The Netherlands), I just expect to pay.’

Consistent communication is essential

It is no secret that communication plays a crucial role in whether or not a relationship is a success. Intercultural dating comes with its own set of challenges as it relates to communication.

Factors such as language barriers, cultural norms, being direct vs nondirect, and non-verbal cues such as body language can even vary between cultures and can often lead to misunderstandings. With this in mind, it is imperative to be as clear and direct as possible when it comes to communicating your needs and boundaries within a relationship.

Maya reflects on how intercultural dating has strengthened her communication skills. ‘Canadians can be really sensitive sometimes. Intercultural dating taught me that if I need or expect something from someone, then I need to say it; otherwise, people will not pick up on it,’ she says, ‘Back home, we’re not as direct, so people pick up on the subtle cues.’

If you find that you and your international cutie are getting serious, Joshi advises that you two discuss how much each partner wants and can afford to travel. ‘Discussing how much you like to travel is important for intercultural dating because odds are, you’re going to be in a long-distance relationship at some point,’ she explains, ‘If you do see [the relationship] going somewhere, you should consider realities of “are they actually going to come see me?” “Do you actually like my country?”’ With factors such as money, time, and education, intercultural relationships between students –especially those formed during semesters abroad – can quickly become long distance relationships.

The reality of long distance

This is another challenge that accompanies intercultural relationships –especially serious ones; the possibility of having a long-distance partner. Paulette Brindis, a 22-year-old Mexican exchange student studying at Hanze University shares how she makes the most of her time with her Dutch boyfriend after doing one month of long distance and knowing they’ll have to resume long distance when she returns home.
‘I think long-distance relationships are not that hard if the time zone is the same. Since there was an eight-hour difference (between Canada and The Netherlands) I was waking up, and his day was almost over… so that was not fun,’ Brindis recollects, ‘In doing long distance it’s important to include each other in your lives. Maybe you found a cool rock and you think, “yeah, she’s not going to care”, just tell me because then I feel a part of your life.’

Paulette emphasizes that to make a relationship work, especially one that is prone to periods of long distance, you must intentionally spend quality time with one another while you’re together in the same space. ‘You both must be willing to work for the relationship. He makes the time to be with me and I make the time to be with him too.’


Be open to new experiences

The biggest take-away? Be as open-minded as possible! ‘It is so important to open yourself up to new experiences. You really don’t know how your situation is going to change,’ Brindis reflects, ‘A year ago, I would have never thought I would be in a really serious relationship with a Dutch guy on the other side of the world.’

Additionally, and not to be too cliché, but just have fun with it! ‘You’re a student, so don’t take it too seriously. I always tell friends that you should treat the person you want to date as your friend,’  says Brindis, ‘If it works out it works out, and if not, you have a friend at the end of it. That takes off the pressure of being someone you are not. You’re in your 20’s, come on! If it’s not fun, why are you in a relationship?’

Be physically and energetically open to experiencing something different than what you’re comfortable with. Understand and accept that a person’s cultural upbringing can shape their perception of love. Learn new words in a language different from your own, try new foods, listen to music in your partner’s native language. ‘When you’re closed-minded, your options close. Be willing to date someone with a nationality you have not even thought of dating before,’ says Brindis.

Simultaneously, allow them to enjoy the culture you come from. Introduce them to your world and eventually your partnership becomes a great blend of the two; leading you to fully understanding one another! ‘Don’t be scared,’ Brindis advises, ‘I like this quote: “Change fear of the unknown with curiosity”. and I love that because if you do that, then you will open yourself up to everything.’