Students in The Netherlands are familiar with the phenomenon of studentengezelligheidsverenigingen (no I did not think this word up myself). Students abroad probably are not. The word consists of three words:

studenten - students'

gezelligheids - now this gets more complicated. The dutch adjective gezellig and noun gezelligheid have no direct equivalents in the English language. Some dictionaries translate it into cozy, others into fun. In short if you went out with your friends and had a good time it would have been gezellig. You can apply the word to most anything which makes you feel good. That's about as well as I can explain the word....

vereniging - association

Most Dutch university towns have a number of these associations active. The need for these arose a long time ago when the nightlife was not as varied as it is today. This was especially the case in the small but very old university towns like Delft or Leiden.

Each association was formed under a guiding set of principles unique to itself. They were quite elitist organizations. They were meant to provide a fun gathering place for the members where they could meet, drink, discuss and generally be merry. As the years progressed the associations kept on expanding their activities to include special events, drama clubs, horse riding clubs etc. Although the different associations were more or less unique there were obvious similarities. This led to a formation of a number of so called federations. In the eraly days there were three of them:

  • Corpora - the most elitist non-denominational associations
  • Aller Heiligen Convent - "The All Saints Convent" a mostly catholic oriented federation
  • S.S.R. - "Societas Studiosorum Reformatorum" a mostly protestant oriented federation
The denominational character of some of the associations has long since faded. In the early years of the 20th century more and more associations were formed.

On Novmber 1st 1921 a number of so-called "railstudents" i.e. students who attended the Univeristy in Delft but lived in Rotterdam formed a gentlemen's association called "Rotterdamsch Technisch Studenten Gezelschap" soon the name Rotterdamsch Studenten Gezelschap became more common because more and more students attending the Nederlands Economische Hogeschool in Rotterdam joined. The RSG was a non-denominational association. It was based on the principle of equality of all members who have passed the initiation or as we now often call it hazing. This was fundamentally different from other associations where the seniority of members played and still plays a major role.

Women were not allowed to join the association. There were however affiliate sub-associations such as the Rotterdamsch Studenten Toneel (drama club), which allowed women members. RSG found a number of similar associations in other cities. These were the so called Unitates and Bonden. These associations soon formed a federation of their own i.e. the Federatie van Unitates en Bonden. The founding members of the FUB were:

Some of these have since left the federation. Some others have joined.

The RSG like other associations are totally independent from the universities of their towns. They are however endorsed and supported by the university. The RSG is a financially independent organisation which is governed by the General Assembly and an annually changing board. The GA is the highest organ within the association and the board takes care of daily matters. RSG owns its own building dating back to the 18th century and located in the picturesque Oude Haven in the center of Rotterdam.

The association has evolved from a 'meeting point' to a full fledged institution organizing a range of cultural events in Rotterdam, which on specific occasions such as the Music Week, Cultural Week or Film Week allow non-members to enter and taste the atmosphere, culture and entertainment provided by RSG. During the course of the years many renowned Dutch artists have performed on the stage at RSG. These include Herman Brood, Osdorp Posse, Trockener Kecks, Urban Dance Squad, Hans Dulfer and Michel de Hey as well as many others.

All of the proceeds from the bar and special events are fully reinvested in the association, be it in the form of maintenance or organizing better events. Incidentally women are allowed to join since 1970...almost forgot this minor detail.

If you are ever in Rotterdam be sure to give it a try to check out RSG or any of the other associations. Even though they're members only they might always make an exception for a well-educated foreign traveller!