by Nia Clarke, Universiteit van Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Sat round the dinner table with my Manchester-Amsterdam friends, we do a quickfire round of advice to prospective students. This is a mixture of personal reflections and academic insights that I have collated and hope they are valuable to somebody.
First of all, I would wholeheartedly recommend doing a year abroad during your studies. It was a major selling-point for me to go to university because in what other world do you get to live in an, otherwise unaffordable, city and have as much free time to explore it so thoroughly! I feel privileged to have had a whole year in Amsterdam in such cheap accommodation that puts Manchester University accommodation and landlords of Fallowfield to shame.
Have the confidence to be you and make friends. Whether you choose to reinvent yourself or not, Amsterdam is a bustling metropolis whose inhabitants attitude is ‘you do you and I’ll do me thank you very much, dankjewel, tara’. I found that international students are very eager to make friends during class, whereas the Dutch students generally stick together because of preformed friend groups. I also reflected this is the case in Manchester so I’ll try and avoid repeating this pattern when I return.
By far, my nearest and dearest have been other British exchange students, and I have had the most wonderful year getting to know these people and having wholesome experiences with them. Nevertheless, it’s still important to meet people outside of your frame of reference to get some perspective! People from other cultures can add so much value to your experience abroad, and can really influence your empathetic capabilities. One avenue I went down to mix with Dutch students was join a team sport, got a part-time job as a waitress, and gravitated towards activist and rave spaces where people are expectedly lovely.
Speaking of nightlife…… I’ve been plagued with a big sense of Amsterdam superiority because it. is. incredible. My appreciation for techno and EDM hugely improved this year now that it wasn’t pent up boys mixing D’n’B in an a Beech Court kitchen, but my love for UK sounds like Garage and Jungle has truly flourished because of the excellent events occurring across the city. This is all thanks to a few friends with impeccable music taste took me under their wing and showed me the perks of raving. Speaking in generalities for all clubs in Amsterdam, but I think most others would agree, that they really feel like safe spaces. Bouncers at the door remind you of the free drug testing and safety policy at the doors and wish you a good night, the crowds look after each other, agro and phone cameras are left at the door and the freedom to enjoy your night is truly liberating. My go to’s are the RA app for DJ events and festivals, and the Paradiso website for concerts.
I didn’t partake in the Erasmus Student Network intro week because of time constraint in summer, but here are my friend Eliza’s recommendations: ESN is great to get you out the door once you arrive and maybe a bit apprehensive. It’s a mixture of organised parties and activities for you to meet new people and orient you around the city. Eliza says, if you’re an anxious person, it is especially good to know everyone there is down to meet new friends. She also says it’s much better than UK freshers because it’s not drink oriented.
Take it as an opportunity to hone in on your academic interests. I particularly enjoyed UvA’s selection of modules on sustainability but also took the opportunity to study modules completely outside of my studies. This had a lot of benefits by informing my worldview studying the philosophy of science, or the ‘big history’ of the cosmos. On the other hand, sometimes interdisciplinary modules fail to go into any depth because they appeal to people from a variety of backgrounds, and can be quite hard to comprehend without a previous academic framework. Overall, I would definitely advise you to choose one module that is atypical to your studies, but be mindful that it might take more work for you to understand them.
Explore what you want to write your dissertation about. This is a year to really deepen your knowledge in areas you’re interested in. This was a significant reason why I took a year abroad.
You can also take more credits than are necessary, try them out for a bit, and drop them later in the course. Or if you want to follow a course out of pure interest rather than credits then go ahead.
Be wary of 1) Lots of reading 2) Easier content (in social sciences) 3) Regular assessments 4) Very little holiday 5) Group work. Pull your own weight. Also if you’re not a psychology student, do NOT take these modules. UvA is one of the best universities in Europe for psychology and has a really demanding and advanced syllabus, all my friends who dipped into random psychology modules struggled and stressed.
Picking modules – in UvA, it’s up to the student to choose modules that correspond to a functioning timetable. Apart from this being ridiculous, I would advise to research modules thoroughly beforehand, evaluate what assessment type is best for you, and download the UvA app to check the timetable. In my second block I only had essays which suited me well.
Keep block 3 free – you can fit your credits in the first two blocks of each semester in order for you to (finally) have some free time at the end. This is definitely the most valuable time to recuperate and enjoy the city.
Bike Kitchen UvA (@bikekitchenuva) – Free repairs in the bike shed at Roeterseiland campus, it’s DIY and and upskills you on bike maintenance. Good stuff.
Haircuts – Nederlandse Kappersakademie (@kappersakademie) is a training space for young hairdressers which is SO good and SO cheap. I think my last chop cost me 13euro whereas the going rate is 50.
Heating up leftovers in uni – there are microwaves in all common-rooms and cafeterias.
3.5 euro vegetarian dinners on campus between 5-7pm. Lush!
Museumkaarts – this gem of a museum card gets you access across all museums in the Netherlands. Well worth the money, especially if you’re visiting multiple museums with visitors. I’d recommend you split it between a group and share it amongst you 🙂
Cinemas – Cineville card during the winter is essential. It includes unlimited cinema visits for € 18,50 per month. When you’ve secured the goods, you must visit the BEAUTIFUL art deco Tuschinkski theatre, and the vibey Studio K and LAB 111 spaces.
Accommodation – don’t worry about living outside the centre. Public transport is great and you navigate the city better. It’s also good to get a bit of perspective that not everyone lives in incredible townhouses overlooking canals.
Take the opportunities offered to you. I have now completed a masterclass in Dubrovnik with the Geoffrey Nice Foundation to study war crimes accountability in Ukraine this summer. Because another project spurred me to write some emails to lost connections, I am now packing to go sailing in the Shetland Islands for 10 days with Ocean Youth Trust Scotland.
Volunteer somewhere or get an internship. Joe’s Garage is a wonderful space to cook and socialise with others, gardening in Anna’s Tuin & Ruitge has served me, my mental health, and my food supply very well. One of my friends secured an internship with the Amsterdam Cycling Network which has set him up for his diss!
That is all dear reader, sorry for turning this blog into an essay.