Before coming to study at the University of Amsterdam I had heard that there were differences when it came to academia, some of which I learnt before I even arrived. However, I would say that university here is more different than I initially expected which resulted in me struggling a little at the start. Therefore, I decided it would be a good idea to write a blog post about it to prepare other students who want to study here.
When applying to study abroad I selected to study at the University of Amsterdam assuming that geography would be the same everywhere. However, once I got accepted I realised that in fact the UK is quite unique in teaching human and physical geography separately but under the same degree title. Instead, in most of Europe, physical geography is not a subject and instead it falls under the category of environmental science or earth sciences. This was the first issue I encountered. After much discussion with the study abroad office I was enrolled into the Sciences Faculty. I found it very difficult to find courses which I was interested in AND that I had the right prerequisites for to be able to take them. But eventually I managed to find enough courses and so that was sorted.
As I was the first UoM student to ever study in the Science Faculty there was little information on how to chose courses and how the courses ran. I eventually found out that I didn’t need to sign up for my courses online, like previous students had, but instead I needed to email my exchange coordinator at UvA and she would enrol me.
A major difference is that you take many more courses at UvA that you do at UoM. The term is divided up into six blocks, with three blocks in semester one and another three blocks in semester two. In block 1,2, 4 and 5 you take 12 ETC credits as they are each eight weeks long and in blocks 3 and 6 you take 6 ETC credits because they are four weeks. This means that you take an overall 60 ECT credits throughout the year. In my faculty most of the courses are 6 ECT credits each, which means I take two courses at a time (except in the four week blocks). This means in total I will have studied ten different topics over the year, instead of the usual six 20 credit modules you take a Manchester.
Another difference is the teaching style in the Netherlands compared to Manchester. I tend to have mostly workcollege on my timetable, which are small working groups of 25 people or less. In these you are often assessed on how well you contribute and you are expected to enter the discussion. Moreover, you can only miss one workcollege for each course (without a valid excuse) otherwise you are unable to take the exam. Therefore I would say compared to Manchester they are stricter on attendance and contribution during tutorials. Lectures are pretty similar to UoM, each one is two hours long with a break between. However, I would say that in my lectures at UoM nobody would stop a lecturer if they are confused as lectures are a formal environment, where as at UvA students often ask questions and stop the class as the atmosphere is more relaxed.
The work load here is also quite different to Manchester. There is TONS of group work, with each module having one or two pieces of group work. The dutch students tend to leave this to the last minute…so I’d recommend working with other internationals if you like handing things in early. I would also say, that per credit you do more work at UvA then at UoM, however the pieces tend to be smaller and turned in more frequently. I haven’t handed in any individual essays yet…the only big pieces of work are group projects. As each block is so short it also means that studying for the exam isn’t too bad because it is still fresh in your mind.
The working day is also much longer here in Amsterdam, with class being on from 9am until 9pm, which means some days I just have class in the evening. This is good because you can do whatever you want during the day, but it does make it difficult to concentrate during classes. You can also have evening exams from 6-9 pm for example. Moreover, the term dates are much longer here, term starts at the beginning of September and continues until the end of June with only two weeks off at Christmas (and of course national holidays). This is good because it means you really do get a full year abroad, rather than a seven or eight months of uni, like in the UK.
Overall, as you can probably tell from my post, the workload and schedule is quite different from Manchester – but different does not necessarily mean bad. I’m pretty sure that if you study anywhere outside of the UK it is different. Now that I am used to UvA I manage my time better, am less stressed and contribute far more than I ever have. Please don’t be put off by what I have said above about the hours, the work is manageable and I still have a great social life!