The differences in teaching and learning in the Netherlands

When I came to study in Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA) I was shocked with how different the block system vs the Manchester semester system was. Here are some of the key differences I experienced and what I learnt through these different contexts. 

The lack of breaks 

  • Unlike in Manchester where I am used to having nine weeks off in the academic year (excluding the summer months), in Amsterdam Universities you only got four weeks of no teaching. At times I definitely felt very exhausted and worn out, but it made me appreciate the weekends more and really prioritise chill out time. I definitely feel like I will not complain when I return to Manchester in my fourth year! I also recognised that only having to pass the courses relieved some of the pressure and I was able to not feel too guilty for being completely on top of the content. 

The different rhetoric around failing 

  • In Manchester, if you fail an exam your resit grade is capped at 40%, in the Netherlands you can sit resits to better your grade. Therefore, I found that a lot of Dutch people did not even bother revising for the first exam, using it as a practice to gauge the questions, and instead Dutch students sit the resit as their real exam. At first this really shocked me because I feel like my whole life I have been conditioned to consider failure as a bad thing, but when I failed one of my modules it actually helped me have a more positive perspective on what you can learn from failure. 

Multiple choice exams are the norm 

  • Being an anthropology student, the majority of my assessments throughout my first two years at university were mainly essay based. Also my first year exams I did have were also shorter essay questions. However, when I came to VUA, because the six separate blocks, that organise the academic year, entail you doing seven weeks of teaching and an exam, the main form of assessments were multiple choice questions. This meant I really had to go back to my A level roots and make a variety of flashcards again which was nostalgic. However, I don’t truly feel like I applied what I learnt in the lectures and once I sat the exam the knowledge left my head. It made me appreciate, like the lack of breaks, how much I enjoy writing essays. 

The amount of content and reading we were given 

  • In Manchester I am used to having an average of four lectures a week, whereas in some blocks in VUA I was attending eight lectures a week. The reading workload was also a lot heavier in VUA. Whilst the sure amount of lectures left me feeling overwhelmed at times, I learnt a key skill of active reading which helped me read articles at a faster pace and pick out the key information more easily. This is a skill that will not only come in handy next academic year, but throughout my life. 

So I have tried to show you what differences I experienced in VUA in comparison to Manchester. Whilst the tone may be somewhat critical, overall I wholeheartedly encourage anyone to go and study abroad somewhere. Even if you don’t like the way content is taught, you’re learning how to thrive in a different environment and the skills you’re picking up will help you not only in third year, but also in later life!

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