Roeterseiland Campus – University of Amsterdam

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.

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The Academic Lifestyle at Lund University

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.  

Lund University’s Main Library

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!

Lund University’s Sociology Department

Alternatively, there 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!).

Lund University’s Human Geography Department

How to finesse your way through study abroad in Amsterdam (broke student edition)

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!

The end of a chapter

Returning to Manchester has been great, the whole transition has been surprisingly smooth – more so than I expected.

Having had an incredible year in Amsterdam, it also strangely feels as though I never left. It does feel a little odd that I could have had such a big year of growth and adventure in the Netherlands and then moved back to the UK with such ease.

I expected to have a hard time coming back and returning to Manchester as a lot of my friends have now graduated and i’m now going into the year group below. However, this isn’t the case; instead I got to move in with my best friend, and I have seen old friends and picked up where we left off. Manchester just feels like home again.

Without sounding cliché, I’d like to think that coming home has been so easy because of the life lessons and skills I learnt in the Netherlands. The year taught me how to be resilient, positive and more confident, enabling me to tackle challenges head on. And therefore, coming home was less of a challenge than I anticipated.

However, that doesn’t mean that i’m not sad that my exchange has come to an end. I miss the city, cycling around in the sunshine. I miss the beautiful buildings and sunsets. I miss the experience of living abroad. But most of all, I miss my friends.

Attempting to describe how my year abroad has been is a task which I find difficult because it has been such an interesting, exciting and happy time but also one which had its lows. It is bitter sweet that this chapter has ended and i’m now back to reality. However,  all I can say is that I am very grateful that I got to have this experience and would definitely do it all again in a heartbeat.

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A Comparative Map: Manchester vs. Perth

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_vkQtLFlJEZjE2SSF_fYOoayKM4486mQ&usp=sharing

Click or copy and paste the link above to access the map. Make sure to zoom in on both cities and click on the icons for descriptions of each pinned location.

This map demonstrates my experience studying at the University of Western Australia, compared to the University of Manchester.

Locations such as my home, the library, and my study spaces have been pinned. These show the spatial difference between Manchester and Perth as well as showing my movement in the cities.

By clicking on the different pins and reading the descriptions, you can view how locations in the separate cities differ.

Furthermore, comments on the assessment style difference can be found under ‘Main Library’.

The main finding when completing this map has been seeing how little space I occupy in Perth. Compared to Manchester, where I cover 10km more.
This shows the difference between a campus university and a city university. As well as how they influence your learning experience, sense of place and movement.

“Great things never came from comfort zones”

Today marks two months since I returned from my year in Amsterdam, which has made me reflect on my time there. The experience has been one the most rewarding things I have done in my life, and I would highly recommend it.

The idea of going on a year abroad was always appealing to me, however it was not something I seriously considered because I was enjoying university so much that I didn’t want to leave it. I was afraid of missing out on living with my friends in third year and graduating together. The idea of starting something new abroad wasn’t what was putting me off, it was leaving the bubble I had created for myself in Manchester. Knowing that if I stayed, I was guaranteed to have a great final year, but if I left there was the potential to miss out, which scared me from applying. 

I eventually realised that I was looking at it from the wrong perspective, and that when else in my life would I get the chance to study abroad. Once I committed to the application process, and got my acceptance, I was suddenly desperate to go and ready to experience something new. 

Arriving in Amsterdam and becoming a new student in an unfamiliar city hit me hard. I was expecting it to be a relatively smooth transition because I had found starting in Manchester easy. I realised that moving from a house with ten of my best friends to living with just one other person was the main reason for feeling lonely, so I decided I had to ‘put myself out there’. This didn’t come naturally to me and I found the making friends process more difficult than I thought I would, not because there weren’t lots of great people around, but because there were almost too many people to choose from.

However, as the weeks moved on and school started, I began to settle in. I met some great friends, who were quite different from my friends at Manchester. It was so refreshing to meet people from all over the world, making friends from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between. I loved the city, the feeling of making my home in a new country was exciting. Cycling around at night with my friends, exploring restaurants and bars, visiting places I had never heard of before all contributed to my fantastic time there. I’ve made some amazing memories and friends for life (who right now, I am very much missing).

Looking back on my year, despite the tough start and ups and downs along the way, I truly did have such a fun, happy year. I discovered new passions, grew in confidence and developed my love for travel. As cliché as it sounds, living abroad has changed me for the better. 

As the quote says, “great thing never came from comfort zones”; if I had stayed in Manchester, I’m sure I would have had a fine year, but I would have missed out on all the great things that my year abroad gave me. 

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if you are considering going on study abroad don’t let your comfort zone convince you not to. 

Recommendations for the Netherlands

As you can imagine, living in Amsterdam is pretty cool. However, the hustle and bustle of city life can be pretty exhausting, especially when trying to explore the city at the weekend. There are huge amounts of tourists cycling around with no clue where they are going…and booking up lots of the museums far in advance. So, I decided to explore some of the less ‘touristy’ places in the Netherlands – they are well worth a visit!

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Top tips for thriving not just surviving Amsterdam

All things considered Amsterdam is a very easy place to live for a foreigner, with 90% of people speaking English. However, there are a few things I wish I had known to buy or to do which would have made my first few weeks easier. So here are some things to consider when moving here:

Set up a dutch bank account: up until Christmas time I managed to get by using my international bank card. However, it was causing me a bit of hassle, as lots of shops here only take dutch cards. Also, online shopping using dutch companies is impossible without a dutch card. However, since I got a job and had to set up an account I realised how worthwhile it is to have one. I recommend ING for a free student account.

Get a bike ASAP: I actually brought my bike with me from home, as I was lucky enough to have my dad drive me here. But if you can’t do that, then I suggest either renting one from Swapfiets for €15 per month, or you can buy a v cheap one at Waterlooplein.

Order a student OV chip card: for the super windy and rainy days when you can think of nothing worse than cycling, you’ll need to have a student OV chip card to allow you to take public transport (unless you want to fork out a fortune for the standard ticket).  You can order them online and they give a discount on all transport.

Museumkaarts: are a must if you like museums. Going to exhibitions in the Netherlands can become expensive, so if you want to go to more than 4 times I would recommend you get a card. It costs about €60 to get one, but if you buy it at the museum the cost of the visit is deducted.

Free food: there are quite a few spots in the city for free or cheap meals. Taste before you waste is a charity which hosts dinner’s twice a week. You can also go to their food market and get free ingredients.

Booze: annoyingly, I wandered around the supermarket for about 15 minutes looking for vodka before I mustered up the courage to ask where the spirits were. Turns out, in the Netherlands if you want spirits you have to go to a liquor shop.

Flixbus: by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around; both to different dutch cities but also further afield.

Although this blog isn’t super exciting, I do wish I knew these things and I hope it is useful for whoever comes to Amsterdam on exchange.

 

 

I can’t believe I’m halfway through already

Currently, I am sat at the airport on my way back to Amsterdam for the beginning of semester two. Circling my mind I have so many thoughts about the last four months, which prompted me to write a post to reflect on my first semester abroad.

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Academic differences between UoM and UvA

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.

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Leros – ‘Island of Outcasts’

By Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)

After 12 months on the other side of the world, a lot of people I had met on exchange were openly excited to get back to their own country, home and family. However, I was not ready to accept the fact that my year away might finally be over and decided to further postpone my trip back to the UK (much to my parent’s despair). I found myself splitting up the journey with a 7-week long stopover beginning in Athens, where I would catch an overnight ferry to a small Greek Island, Leros. Spending over a month here was to be a very interesting experience, partly due to the island’s incredibly speckled and prominent history.

Leros is not exactly renowned for being a tourist hotspot, despite being close to party islands Kos and Rhodes. The island is only around 30 square miles, which meant that the strangeness of the living history was condensed and intensified. Looking in any direction had the tendency to blow your mind. Going back around 100 years, Leros was occupied by Italians and was used primarily as an army base during the early 20th century, with many buildings constructed to house Italian soldiers. These are now mostly used as shelter for sheep, however the paintings done over 100 years ago by Italian artists remain in crumbling buildings up in the hills. These are easily accessible by a short hike and are completely riddled by bullet holes – mostly from the British. Additionally to the troops’ stations, an extremely grandiose mansion was built in preparation for a visit from Italian dictator Mussolini. Mussolini never visited the island, but the house is still intact (if not slightly worse for wear after 80 or so years’ neglect). Everywhere you look on the island there is unmoved debris from the second World War; my friends and I took a boat trip out to an even smaller nearby island and I dived from the boat into the clear blue water only to find myself face-to-face with a 4 foot wide rusted bomb shell sitting in the shallows. This was a fairly common occurrence.

painting
A faded painting inside the kitchen of an Italian army base.

The strangely prominent relics of Leros’ past don’t stop at bomb shells though; after the second World War, Athens’ mental asylums became incredibly overcrowded and patients were shipped over in their boatloads to Leros. Buildings that were formally used to house prisoners of war and were allegedly used as concentration camps were transformed into an asylum, which operated until the late 1990’s when a reporter shot an exposé of the conditions inside. The conditions were horrific, with over 3000 patients having died in the asylum. Mentally and physically disabled patients were often chained up and deprived of clothes; the staff were residents of the island with no medical training. The asylum and buildings surrounding it still stand (neighbouring Mussolini’s house) and are completely accessible.

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The front of the asylum.

I went to explore out of morbid curiosity and was met with what looked like a set from a horror film from the 60s. Empty bed frames, medical journals and medicine bottles lay amongst dead pigeons and peeled wallpaper – unsurprisingly, I didn’t stick around for long.

asylum inside
What remains of one of the bedrooms in the asylum – I would love to know the context behind the painting.

What may be more haunting than the asylum itself though is what now lies in the old courtyard. As Leros is only a few kilometres away from Turkey, it’s a common first step towards gaining sanctuary in Europe for refugees. On such a small island, over 10% of the population is now refugees. Crowded boats arrive weekly having made the perilous journey from the shores of Turkey. The main camp for the refugees is now in the grounds of the abandoned asylum; a sprawling cluster of storage containers, each housing up to 10 people.

In the time I was on Leros, I had the pleasure of getting to know many of the refugees that were living on the island. For many of them, their stay there was just a waiting game; the average length of time that they wait on the island while the Greek government is processing their claim for asylum has increased from a matter of days, when the borders were open, to a year. During this period they legally cannot leave the island. I can’t say too much on the topic of Greek immigration laws, only what I have learnt from the people I have met, but it seems like an incredibly long process that can go one of a few different ways: acceptance (meaning that they are able to leave the island for Athens) or rejection. After one rejection, they are able to apply for asylum again, however after the second rejection they are usually put into jail and risk being deported. On top of this, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern for who gets rejected or accepted, which makes waiting for the answer even more painstaking. Witnessing professors, doctors, architects, students and people from many other walks of life waiting in limbo from a decision that could make or break their immediate future was a harsh reality check to say the least. This, altogether with the intense and brutal history of the island made my stay there an extremely strange and extremely eye-opening time. Having said that, I definitely plan to return – just one more year of university to get through before any more jetsetting, though!

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My whirlwind romance with Amsterdam

Abigail Herd (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

The 17th September marked a month of my time in Amsterdam, a city which I am now proud to call home. Within a month of being here I have completely fallen in love with the city, country and people.

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