Study Abroad Profile: Semester in Groningen challenges communication student academically

Kelly Gerlak (pictured above) spent the past fall semester studying at The University of Groningen through a Geneseo program. Gerlak is pursuing a communication major and through her coursework, is learning about Dutch culture and history (Courtesy of Kelly Gerlak).

Communication major junior Kelly Gerlak spent the past fall semester studying abroad in Groningen. She returned from her semester enamored with the culture of the Netherlands and the newfound sense of independence she found as a student abroad. 

Gerlak’s parents are from Poland, which inspired her to study abroad as she went to Poland and wanted to experience more of what Europe has to offer. She chose the program at The University of Groningen because it was a prestigious institution that offered classes that interested her and met her major requirements. 

Gerlak took a Dutch lecture series, linguistics and persuasive communication at the University of Groningen. Her favorite class was the Dutch lecture series because she was able to fully explore Dutch culture, language and history. 

“Something I learned that surprised me was that the Dutch are really proud of their English,” Gerlak said. “I thought that was really cool because all the Dutch people spoke it so well and you don’t see a ton of bilingual Americans.”

When asked how classes at the University of Groningen differed from Geneseo, Gerlak said that she was struck by how the entire grade for each class depended on the final, which was 100 percent of her grade. 

“There was definitely a learning curve because I had to be more on top of my schoolwork so that I would not be very behind when I went to study for the final at the end of the semester,” Gerlak said. 

Gerlak left for the Netherlands nervous to be completely on her own for the first time but thrived in a new environment with newfound freedom. She travelled to different places across Europe virtually every weekend including Budapest, Florence, Munich, Dublin and London. 

“My favorite travel experience was going to the Cliffs of Moher [in Ireland] because the view was unreal, but I also loved going to Edinburgh [in Scotland] because I went with a big group of Geneseo people which was fun,” Gerlak said. 

While abroad, Gerlak lived in an international student housing building at the University of Groningen. There were fifteen students on each floor and she shared a common room and communal kitchen with fourteen other international students. Groningen is a mid-sized Dutch city almost entirely made up of local and international students, which made it easy for her to meet people her age.

When Gerlak was in the Netherlands, she used a bicycle to get around, which was the most convenient method of transportation there. 

“The Netherlands are really rainy so it was inconvenient sometimes, but I definitely enjoyed riding my bike to class when it was nice out and around town because it was a good workout,” Gerlak said. 

One of Gerlak’s favorite parts of studying abroad was trying new things: she learned some basic Dutch, tried new foods such as herring or stroopwafel and experienced a thermal bath in Budapest. She loved travelling and seeing new sights, such as Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy and Big Ben in London. 

“Don’t let anything get in your way of going abroad because it is an amazing experience and you will absolutely grow as a person,” Gerlak said.