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The Dutch Blueprint: Rethinking Our Success & Well-Being

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Washington chapter.

After that grueling winter quarter, boy I was ready for a break—a real one. I just couldn’t seem to find a balance between my schoolwork, social life, and relaxation, stemming from 11 straight weeks of Seattle’s overcast weather coupled with a tough academic schedule. My spring break in Amsterdam helped me begin shifting my medium between work and play. 

I immediately felt a difference when I touched down at the airport: the relentless chase of productivity takes a step back, making room for a genuine appreciation of life’s simple pleasures. Spring break wasn’t just a pause from the academic grind. It gave me a glimpse into a culture where “work serves life,” not the other way around. 

More than just letting off some steam at the cafes and bars, the visit prompted me to rethink my own routine and how I can better balance my activities. It was a reminder that personal travel & study abroad trips are an opportunity to try on diverse cultural perspectives to see what I rock with. 

My Dad, who relocated to Amsterdam for his latest job, frequently highlights the notable work-life differences between the Netherlands and America. In Amsterdam, evenings and weekends are reserved for loved ones, rather than enduring a stream of long nights at the office or sacrificing personal time to accomplish more work. I saw this in action when he got home from work and immediately put on his “home” hat, separating his high-stress position from his equally important personal life.

When I asked him to elaborate, he said: “In Amsterdam, the rhythm of life has a different beat. It’s not about squeezing every second out of the workday; it’s about enriching those hours so you’re genuinely present for the moments that matter. Here, success isn’t measured by the length of your workday but by the quality of your life outside of it.”

Two weeks into my stay, I began to understand what he meant– my Dutch days settled down in the form of long candlelit dinners, slow canal walks, and a 37% lower screen time average. Huge flex. 

And it wasn’t just my own experience. The numbers reinforce the fact that one of their top priorities is quality of life – they rank 3rd out of 41 countries on the OECD Better Life Index

Amid the constant hustle of my college life, where deadlines loom and the pressure is often unmanageable, my trip to Amsterdam offered a refreshing pause to reflect on my daily grind. There, structured work-week schedules aren’t just a policy but a lifestyle, and leisurely mealtime gatherings are the norm. 

I often hung out at corner cafes where people lingered over food and coffee well past a typical American lunch hour, not rushing back to work but instead savoring the time. Families and friends filled parks on weekday afternoons, sharing laughs and stories without a glance at their watches. This equilibrium between work and personal enjoyment is what I strive for.

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A few of my everyday people-watching observations included an abundance of university students sitting out in grassy nooks along canals, families chatting on bikes clustered together waiting for the stoplight to change, and a surprising amount of elderly women painting landscapes of willow trees.

Gentleness seeps into every corner of Dutch life, offering a stark contrast to our endless cycle of study, sleep, repeat. Imagine actually pausing in the middle of a busy day for a leisurely lunch break, spending Saturdays at lively markets with friends, and embracing the calm of quiet Sundays. 

One of the most striking differences I found lies in working hours. In the Netherlands, the average workweek spans just 32.2 hours, with overtime being uncommon. Conversely, the average American employee works 37 hours per week. Between America’s radical emphasis on productivity and harsh economic pressures, we’re often forced into this “unbalanced” lifestyle.

As young adults, we often get caught up in the demands of our studies and careers, but the Dutch serve as a reminder that the daily grind encompasses more than just the work– a significant aspect of the effort involves carving out time for your loved ones, hobbies, and relaxation. 

There’s an even more liberating aspect of Dutch culture that we, as college women, might find surprisingly empowering. It’s their approach to fashion and personal style—a vivid reflection of the Dutch work-life balance philosophy. 

Amsterdam streets are a cobblestone runway of “practical meets chic” attire, where comfort and style challenge the high-pressure fashion norms we often encounter. This effortless embrace of individuality, without the pressure to conform to exhausting trends, is a breath of fresh air. It teaches us that embracing our own style is not just a fashion statement but a step towards personal well-being. 

Integrating this mindset into our daily lives is a game-changer, making us feel more comfortable in our skin and in tune with who we are beyond the classroom and career ambitions.

The Dutch lifestyle challenges us to reconsider our own values and the relentless pace we often accept as the norm. It sparks a crucial conversation about what truly constitutes a good life—suggesting that maybe, slowing down and prioritizing quality time could lead to greater overall happiness. 

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By adopting aspects of the Dutch approach to work-life balance, we not only stand to gain financially but also cultivate a more well-rounded existence. This is especially poignant in a culture like America’s, where success is frequently measured by how much we can endure at the expense of our mental and physical health. 

For us young women charting our paths through this complex world, drawing inspiration from the Dutch model offers a blueprint for a future that values personal well-being as much as professional achievement.

Returning to the whirlwind of spring quarter, the contrast between my Amsterdam experience and college life was stark. I found myself cherishing moments like enjoying my mid-afternoon coffee without multitasking, and genuinely listening during calls with friends back home, rather than half-heartedly scrolling while talking. 

Navigating the maze of academia, career plans, and personal growth by way of the Dutch can seamlessly blend work with pleasure. It’s the template for balance It’s time we questioned our own priorities, aiming for a success that doesn’t just tally professional achievements but enriches our personal lives too.

As we carve our paths through college, dream up our futures, and weigh our options—from applying to majors to landing internships—it might just be the perfect moment to experiment with a lifestyle that mirrors Dutch philosophy. 

Could adopting their approach be the key to not only achieving our goals but also finding true satisfaction and our own version of success? Perhaps, embracing this mindset could unlock a more fulfilling life, one that’s as rewarding on a personal level as it is professionally.

Hi! My name is Sophia Sostrin, a first-year student at UW. I plan to double major in Journalism & Global/Regional Studies. I'm from San Luis Obispo, California and spend any free time reading at the beach or hanging out with my dog while I'm home. A fun fact about me is that I have dual citizenship with Switzerland! And, I'm a huge music junkie, love watching sports & am addicted to true crime documentaries. Creative writing is my passion and I'm so stoked to share my work!