Two and a half years ago Caithlin Chong left sunny Aruba for Utrecht, where she is now studying art at HKU. After two years of Fashion Design she switched to Fine Art Caithlin shares with us what it's like here for an international student.

Caithlin is a first year student Fine Art, HKU Arts.

Interview February 2019

text Christine van den Brink

From Aruba to Utrecht

‘In Aruba, after high school, I followed an orientation course on art where one of my teachers, who had studied Audiovisual Media at HKU told me about this course. Actually only the Design Academy in Eindhoven and Rietveld are known in Aruba. But the smaller scale of HKU appealed to me more. I applied online and was invited for the entrance exam’.

To the Netherlands for the entrance exams

‘I flew over to the Netherlands with my parents especially for the entrance exams. Besides my online portfolio I brought with me all the work I could carry. As soon as I entered the building I had a good feeling about it. Not too big, pleasant and it seemed like a place where you could do your own thing’.

‘I was very tense about the exams because my Dutch wasn’t that good yet. I started in broken Dutch but quickly switched to English. What really interested and surprised me was the other candidates’ work and seeing how they had presented it. It was all so diverse!’

From fashion to fine art

After two years and a Fashion Design foundation course, Caithlin switched to HKU Fine Art. ‘My first experiences with art were in fashion. My aunt designs costumes for ballet performances in Aruba and is also an art teacher. When I was a little girl she gave me pictures, drawings and other such things to experiment with, until I thought: ‘I also want to do something with fashion; I want to become a designer’. Once I was here I discovered that there are other options too; that there’s much more besides fashion, and I was ready for that’.

International class

‘I had already completed the foundation course so I only had to do an admission interview for Fine Art. I was accepted and then started in the freshman year again because that’s where you learn all the basics. The Fine Art class is international and includes 24 students. We are taught in English, which is nice, but it does slow down the progress of me learning Dutch, which is finally starting to improve’.

Cool things

‘Films, philosophy... all of the classes are interesting but by combining them you can create really cool things. For instance, you can combine digital media with illustration and use that in a video. The possibilities are endless and I think that I’m on the right path, considering my interests and fascinations

It’s hard work though; your head is constantly working. The result isn’t the most important thing - the teachers want you to show the steps you take towards achieving a certain goal. You can do this in a tangible way but also online, on Instagram or with a blog.

Theory and practice

‘We have three theory classes. The rest is practice. In painting class the teacher often introduces us to certain artists as inspiration for an assignment and in drawing class it’s very specific, like figure drawing to train your classic skills.

In digital media you use film for your assignments and you discuss your work with the teachers. Not necessarily for approval, but rather for advice. This first year is comprehensive, which I like; I’ll choose my specific direction later. But now I still can’t and don’t want to choose!’

Studying in the Netherlands: everything is new

‘I was a bit nervous at first because everything is new: the environment, the people, the language. The course itself is quite individually oriented but as a class we try to do as much as possible together. Most of us don’t have any family here so we organise fun things like dinners and parties’.

‘There are so many things you have to arrange as an international student when coming to the Netherlands. The course, admission, accommodation. I was lucky enough to find a room via an estate agency quite quickly, but rooms in Utrecht are scarce.


‘I still have a couple more years to explore and discover what I want to do. I don’t have any concrete ideas yet. Like everyone, I’d like to see the world. Maybe I will then return to Aruba to teach the course I took myself.

I’d like to share everything we learn here to inspire people. Studying art in Aruba is still a bit of a taboo. I’d like to try and change that so that the island will have room for more artists’.

A tip from Caithlin

I couldn’t come over to the open day from Aruba, but if you have the possibility: you must come to get an impression! And remember: Your work doesn’t have to resemble anyone else’s. You are your own self and your work speaks for you. If you still haven’t found your own style, you will find it here. Last but not least - and especially convenient for international students: create a website or an online portfolio for presenting your work.