There’s no doubt that, as an international student in a foreign country, you’ll emerge from the experience with new knowledge about a different part of the world but also about yourself! However, getting out of your comfort zone can be a struggle. Whether you’re completing a course overseas or taking part in a shorter exchange programme, international students are required to adapt to a completely new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even language; and all in a very short timeframe.
I have found the work-load at the University of Amsterdam pretty difficult to keep up with among everything else I’ve been trying to juggle. I had a lot of deadlines and an exam period which I found pretty overwhelming, and it was easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself to friends who were doing well (grades wise) and in every other aspect you could possibly (over)think of. In this moment I asked myself, am I taking care of myself and my mental health? So instead of trying to tackle the rest of my reading list I’m here writing a blogpost, because looking after ourselves is more important than pretending I know what’s going on in tomorrows seminar.
Here are a few tips to look after yourself whilst on study abroad and a list of some resources that are available to you if you live or study in Amsterdam more specifically.
The University of Amsterdam has four campuses located around the city. As I study social sciences I am located at Roeterseiland campus which is located just East of the city centre, in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam.
Lund University and the University of Manchester have quite differing teaching and assessment regimes. I am now able to see advantages and disadvantages to both and why it is a great experience, if there is the opportunity, to try different styles outside those you are comfortable with and used to. Lund University offers a wide range of module choices which cover a lot of topics and agendas. As a human geographer and international student, I have to take at least 15 ECTS per semester from the Social Sciences School. If I wanted to take modules from outside this School, this would be allowed but I would not be a priority. However, there is still such a diverse range from Social Sciences where you can learn about subjects that you have not previously studied or potentially go into more depth about ones you have.
The way that the
academic year runs is different from Manchester for a start. Each semester has
two study periods within it, each of which runs for about half the semester.
So, for example in the first semester, the first study period runs from the
start of September until the end of October (ish) and the second period starts
at the beginning of November and finishes just before Christmas. The semester
as a whole also runs for a longer period of time. For 2019, the Autumn semester
ran from the 2nd September until the 19th December for me
and you have no real breaks during this time, i.e. there are no reading weeks.
This can make the semester feel really quite long in some ways, especially at
the beginning when Christmas seems very far off. However, the first study block
has just finished for me and I cannot believe how quickly it has actually gone!
The second semester this academic year is running from the 20th
January until the 5th June. However, the precise dates depend on the
specific modules taken.
Across the two semesters, you are required to attain 60 ECTS, the equivalent of 120 credits at home. This means 30 ECTS are taken per semester and generally 15 per study period. At Lund University, this is undertaken largely through 2 x 7.5 ECTS or 1 x 15 ECTS. This mean of learning enables you to have a strong focus on your module choices and keep up with the high amount of reading which comes with studying a social science. The amount of reading is balanced by the few lectures there are each week. I have on average 2 or 3 lectures per week. Additionally, the volume of reading is needed for the essays (for my module choices, there is one due about every fortnight) and is then reinforced by the seminars. Seminars are mandatory and, if they are missed, a ‘make-up’ assignment must be completed instead. The seminars normally take place prior to the assessment hand-in date to help with the writing of the assessment. This study pattern means that the assessments immediately follow the associated teaching and reading.
Something to note on the readings given also is that not all of them are online. Having said that, most pieces will be either online or in a university library, but nevertheless some classes may expect you to buy some books. However, I would say to always check UoM’s library search before spending your money as they have had most I have looked for so far!
are a few options of studying one 30 ECTS for the whole semester. I do not
think that I would recommend this as you would be doing only one module for the
entire semester with no other work to do, so it may seem repetitive even if you
enjoy it. Additionally, if you discover you do not enjoy the module, you are
then studying that one single module for the whole 16-week semester. As well,
Lund does not have a ‘pick-up/drop period’, where you can trial different modules,
so you have to do what you chose. I believe there are some cases where you can
change but it is not the ‘done’ thing. Of course, this is subject to how you
learn best and what you think will work best for your learning. The way in
which assessments are graded varies too. All assessments I have had have either
been marked on a sliding scale of A-fail (A being the highest and E the lowest
passing grade) or pass/fail (G/U in Swedish).
A Lund University tradition is
the ‘academic quarter’. I believe this is not unique to Lund but essentially it
means that, when classes say they begin on the hour, they actually begin at a
quarter past. So, if a class starts at 10:00, it will actually begin at 10:15.
Supposedly this tradition is from when students knew the time from the
cathedral in the middle of the city. When the cathedral’s bells rang at
o’clock, the students knew they needed to get to class for quarter past. As a
result of the academic quarter and a break in the middle of the classes, the
time passes very quickly. This is a particular perk if lectures are at 8.00 am
or 5.00 pm, the times classes can run from. Something to note is that classes
run all day on Wednesdays; there’s no half-day. Also, as far as I am aware
currently, there is no real break for Easter.
Although I can see many advantages to the shorter and more intense study periods, I would also say that there is something of a feeling of temporariness that follows it. In itself, the temporariness can have advantages and disadvantages if you do not enjoy your course for example (or a lecturer!).
Living and studying abroad is already expensive, and unless you’re able to get a part-time job/paid internship alongside your university contact hours (which are 5x that of Manchester’s), having fun while still maintaining a sustainable living situation can be tricky. I had heard that Amsterdam was an expensive city before I got here so I was ready to spend mindfully in an attempt to budget but I failed within the first two weeks of getting here. I found it too easy to get caught up in spending on little things and forget that a few euros here and there adds up really quickly.
Writing this post has made me beyond thankful for my Erasmus grant, but there is only so much that this will cover, especially when you’re broke but living in a city that has so much going on – like Amsterdam. So I’ve decided to put together a little list of tips that have definitely helped me save a substantial amount of euros here and there. Some of them might be a bit extra…but desperate times = desperate measures!
Alice Logan, University of Copenhagen, English Literature and American Studies
Firstly, as a disclaimer we all know that Copenhagen is an insanely expensive city to live in, however having spent five months there I did find some handy ways to save some pennies for summer travelling ☀️
Alice Logan, English and American Studies, University of Copenhagen
Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world and after exploring Copenhagen one coffee shop at a time, I can see why! Below are a few of my absolute favourite coffee shops…
Pilestræde 32, 1112 København
Tucked away down an unassuming side street just off Norreport station you’ll find 42Raw, one of Copenhagen’s plant based coffee shops. Their expansive menu ranges from açai bowls and raw smoothies to lentil burgers and peanut butter milkshakes. Try the raw chocolate chip cookies and the beetroot latte for a light snack or the vegan lasagnaee which is life changing.
Alice Logan, English Literature and American Studies, University of Copenhagen
After completing the first half of my semester abroad I thought I’d do a blog post on the differences between studying in England vs Copenhagen, as the scandi culture seems to have a massive influence on the way that the Danes study and has changed my approach to studying.
As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong. Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.
When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away. Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding. Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.
Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+. Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health. Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.
Secondly, is ‘other funding’. This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course. It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.
Thirdly, is proximity to home. As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition. This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!
Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!). Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world. There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country. Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!
There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options. I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.
Alice Logan, English Literature and American Studies, Univeristy of Copenhagen
After just two weeks in Copenhagen, I already feel at home in this beautiful city and am slowly acclimatising to the depths of Danish winter. I defy anyone to not have positive first impressions of this incredible city. Copenhagen boasts beautiful architecture, both modern and Renaissance, canals to rival Amsterdam, a multitude of ornate gardens and the most beautiful harbour that’s so colourful it can cheer you up even when the sky is grey (which it is 90% of the time).
A lot have people have asked me why I decided to study abroad in Europe. Admittedly, I am incredibly jealous of everyone who has been able to experience life in an exotic far-off land, especially from the @uomgoabroad Instagram page. However, coming towards my time here in Europe I have never been so glad I picked Amsterdam, and I thought you all deserved to know why..
The way the grading system works in Amsterdam, takes some getting used to compared to back in Manchester. Exam period has just been here in Amsterdam. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to note the main differences I have experienced in my time here.
Mitch, second year, studying English Literature at Freie Universitaet Berlin
I’m just going to come right out and say it: a literature BA from FU Berlin, while similar in some ways, is actually very different (in this blogger’s opinion) from the version of the degree you get from, for example, Manchester.