Academics in Amsterdam: My Experience of Studying at UvA

By Hannah Carter-Moore, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Now that I’ve finished my year in Amsterdam it feels like a good time to recap what uni has been like at UvA compared to UoM. If you’re considering studying in Amsterdam for your exchange, these might be some things you’d like to consider. Pros, cons, and everything in between!

Course options

My degree at UoM is in (human) geography, but at UvA I took the social and behavioural sciences exchange programme, which meant that I could take a whole mixture of courses across the spectrum of sociology, anthropology, human/urban/economic geography, politics, gender studies and interdisciplinary studies – the list goes on. Since it’s only a pass/fail year (for most subjects), your year/semester abroad is a good opportunity to try out modules you might not be used to or have access to within your usual degree. I ended up taking modules on global inequality, 20th century decolonial artistic movements and urban public design. My other three modules encompassed the themes of intersectionality, gender, sexuality, representation and identity politics. 

UvA has a great gender studies department and I’d recommend taking the Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies module if you’re looking for an entry point into that sort of stuff! The follow-up module, Intersectionality, Identity and Inequality, was also interesting and had a different guest lecturer come in each week to speak about a different topic. Most of the time readings and academics were less touched upon in these lectures, giving them a more personal and informal feel. 


The majority of my modules had one lecture and one seminar a week, with the expectation of the art history module which was solely seminar-based and the urban design module which was solely lecture-based. Something new for me was that attendance to seminars is mandatory, although you are allowed to miss two (for 12 credit courses). Doing the readings was also definitely expected, and some of my modules even had weekly reading reports to ensure you did them, although these were usually unmarked and quite short. I found that my experience of the seminars depended on both what the tutor was like and the ratio of international students in the class. I had a couple seminars with mainly Dutch students, and while it was still all done in English I found these ones quite hard to mingle in (eek what a typical English grievance!). 

Assessments and group projects

As I’ve already mentioned, weekly reading reports mean for some courses you have to keep up with a regular work load. It was definitely something to adjust to because I’m so used to most things you hand in at Manchester being marked so I went through a bit of a learning curve of sussing out how much time to put into unmarked reading reports. The upside of these reading reports was that I ended up with more prepared material to use when it came to writing essays and doing exams. 

Speaking of exams, I was quite nervous at the prospect of having to do an exam since the last in-person exams I’d had were the mocks for my A levels before they got cancelled. However I only had two in-person exams and they were for the same module, so if you don’t like exams it’s quite easy to avoid and choose courses that are just coursework-based.

Even when it came to coursework-based modules they didn’t always just stick to traditional forms of assessment. I had to do an observation report which involved going to the Red Light District, for example. I also have friends that had to record podcasts or make short films. The gender studies department particularly lean into the feminist epistemologies of positionality-lead scholarship, so for one of my essays I had to use a case study to reflect on my own identities, marginalities and privileges. 

Group work is also a big feature of studying at UvA, which can be a bit marmite-y (love/hate) depending on your work style. For all but one of my 6 modules I had an assessed group presentation and the module Doing Diversity was in fact one long 3-4 month group research project. A year ago I would have been terrified to be confronted by all that but I think it’s made me much more at ease with navigating group work and doing presentations.

Term length

To wrap up, it’s worth mentioning that UvA’s term lengths are long. To free up more of my year I didn’t take any modules in the last block of each semester – block 3 (January) and block 6 (June) – and instead moved these 6 credits to an earlier block. This meant for one block in each semester I took 18 credits instead of the standard 12, giving myself a slightly higher workload but was totally worth it for the extra holiday time. If you’re a future exchange student of UvA, I think for January this is not completely essential, but I’d highly recommend doing it for June so that you can properly enjoy your last month of Amsterdam without having any work to do. Nearly everyone I knew on exchange did this in the second semester and it meant we could end the year on a high, rather than juggling goodbyes with uni. The silver lining of UvA having long terms is that you get to enjoy Amsterdam in the summer months when it really comes alive with festivals. Some people even stay well into July and August, so you can really make the most of living in the city. 

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