Some things to bring back from your study abroad experience

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

Going back home always holds challenges. Sometimes it is easy to fall back into old roles and forget about the experiences and developments that you have gone through. Even just going back from university to your home city with your family, it’s easy to slip back into old habits. This was something I was worried about when I thought about going back to Manchester after my year in Amsterdam. I was scared of returning to my default student ways. Not that all the defaults are a bad thing, but also some I had grown out of in my year away. Your environment is a massive impacting factor in how you behave and what you focus on. So naturally, moving countries will affect you. It’s not easy. 

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A Week of Living in Amsterdam

by Aimee Kinniburgh, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Netherlands

As I’m writing this, today marks one week of living in Amsterdam and what a week it’s been. It feels like a lifetime ago I left for Bristol airport and said goodbye to my life in England for the next year. This week has been full of the highest highs and also some of the lowest lows, as is often the case when you pack up your life and move countries. So I thought I would make a list of the most important things I’ve learnt after my first week in Amsterdam. I’m sure this list will only grow throughout my time here but here’s what I’ve learnt so far.

  1. Get. A. Bike. – it sounds obvious but my god life in Amsterdam is impossible without one. Swapfiets will become your best friend, even if they do give you a bike that was too big and too heavy for your small little legs to start with. Some of the best moments of your first week will be when it’s just you, your bike and some music cycling around and exploring the city so just bite the bullet and pay for a bike. 
  1. On top of this get a bike coat. You’ll think they’re ridiculous at the start but trust me you won’t care how silly you look when it’s chucking it down with rain and you’re having to cycle 40 minutes to get home. The drowned rat look is not a good one. 
  1. Campus is beautiful but very confusing so make sure you leave plenty of time to find your lecture halls and seminar rooms. It makes for some very awkward first impressions when you have to walk in late.
  1. Cooking is going to be a whole new experience in Amsterdam. Ovens seem to simply not exist out here so get ready for a lot of pasta and rice in the first few days before you figure out how to cook with only two hobs and find out where to buy spices from.
  1. Going out in Amsterdam is revolutionary. Everyone is so friendly and respectful so take advantage and chat to as many people as you can! It’s the best way to make friends and makes for some very funny stories in the morning
  2. And finally, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and like you’ll never get settled into your new life. It’s a big deal to move to a completely different country and everything will feel too much at times but even after a week life is settling down so give it time and you’ll be fine!

Hidden gems: Amsterdam edition

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

Throughout my year in Amsterdam, I was always keen to try and find spots that were beyond the tourist’s gaze. When I met an Amsterdamer, I would often ask what places they recommended and what were their favourite parts of the city. Here are a few places I discovered and fell in love with… 

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50 things to do while studying in Amsterdam

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

Here is a list of some of the best things, both touristy and Dutchie, to do in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I hope it has something that will appeal to everyone: from club recommendations to must try cookies…

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Adjusting To The Dutch Academic System: The Way To An Easier Life 

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

When preparing to go to the Netherlands, I didn’t think much about how the dutch academic system would be different. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts about housing, friends and Covid.

Now that I’ve been studying in the Netherlands for 8 months I wanted to share some tips to help deal with the different academic style.

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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. 

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Cheap Springtime activities to do in the Netherlands!

Written on 4th of May, 2022

Spring has by far been my favourite season in the Netherlands, with the rise in temperatures I have been able to take advantage of all the green spaces available in this beautiful European country! Here are a few springtime activities, on a budget, I have enjoyed thus far! 

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My top 5 Dutch things

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

This blog compiles a synthesised list of the things I like the most about Amsterdam and also the Netherlands more generally. The unedited list is very extensive, including how they say ‘hoi’ instead of ‘hi’ and always give you a coaster for your beer, but for the sake of my reader’s attention span I am cutting it down. 

  1. Cookies with your coffee

One custom that has really stolen my heart, is getting a cookie or biscuit of some kind with your coffee or hot drink. Isn’t that just great? Pairing a strong dutch coffee with a sweet Speculas biscuit makes so much sense. And you know you’re in a good spot when you get a mini Stroopwaffle with your drink. I can honestly say I think I will have withdrawals from this custom when I go back to the UK. 

Mini stroopwafels with our drinks
  1. The Flea markets 

I’ve definitely explored the many flea markets of Amsterdam. As well as the Kringloops (charity shops for anything). The Ij Hallen flea market is the largest in Amsterdam and is crazy. I’ve been a couple of times and it’s perfect for cool finds, cheap pieces and a great day out. I’ve probably doubled my wardrobe since being here considering I only brought a suitcase of stuff when moving. But it’s all guilt-free as all of it is second-hand finds. One place, called Mavius had price tags on clothes saying €30 and then when I asked someone who worked there said it was actually €1… it was a lovely moment for me. 

A fuzzy video of the Mavius thrift warehouse
  1. Bicycle carparks 

The weather in both the UK and the Netherlands is equally terrible at points. My bike goes through hell in the winter months in Manchester. However, here there are actual bicycle carparks that protect your bike from the weather as well as theft! When I first discovered that Vrije university had its own bike car park for students I got so excited. No more squeaky breaks and rusty gears. 

  1. Tram, metro, bus… you name it

I’ve got to give it to them, the Netherlands transport system is lovely. With the OV-chipkaarts (basically an oyster card), you never have to buy a ticket for any transportation. It works on everything and is so much cheaper compared to the UK – it’s nuts. Getting around the country is so simple and flexible! 

Having a nap on the train to Dan Haag (The Hague)
  1. The food… 

I was sceptical and fairly oblivious of dutch food when first moving here. And I can’t say I am overly experienced with it now but the few dutch dishes I have tried I am definitely a fan of the Pannenkoechen – dutch pancakes – definitely beat a crepe in my eyes; the Olliebollen – winter doughnut – are yummy, warming snack for wondering the cold winter Amsterdam streets; the dutch fries with Pindasaus – peanut sauce – was surprisingly enjoyable. I even had a homecooked authentic dutch dinner the other day at a friends house and it was hearty and delicious with a surprising amount of flavours. It wasn’t the usual flavourings I would go for – apple mousse, sausage and gravy – but it worked. 

Our excited reactions to our first savoury Pannenkoeken

I’d never been to the Netherlands before this exchange and so wasn’t sure what to expect other than the stereotypical bikes, clogs and canals. I hope this blog can give people more of a baseline idea than I had.

The perks of living with Internationals

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

This exchange has opened me up to so many new experiences. For the first time, I am living with a group of internationals. My apartment of four holds a combination of seven nationalities and seven languages between us. The mixture of cultures and perspectives is incredible.

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Cheap things to do in Amsterdam

I found that Amsterdam is a lot more expensive in comparison to Manchester. However, there are ways to live cheaply in Amsterdam. Here are a few top tips to help you navigate Amsterdam on a budget! 

  • Rent a bike – I rented my bike from Swapfiets for €20 a month, this includes any repairs for free and a replacement bike if your bike gets stolen! I found this was cheaper than buying a bike in the unfortunate event that your bike may be stolen. It puts your mind at ease knowing you will get a replacement at a small cost provided you have the key. Biking is not only a good form of exercise, but also free to ride around the city. It is therefore much cheaper than constantly getting public transport! 
  • Buying a museumkaart – this was €64 and allows free access to or discount on over 400 museums in the Netherlands. Going to a museum is a cheap way to fill your day and there are so many museums catering to everyone’s interests, it would be hard to find a museum that doesn’t peak your interest. 
  • Avoiding Albert Heijn – these shops are on almost every corner of Amsterdam, but their prices equate to Waitrose prices in the UK. Therefore, I found going to Lidl and Aldi meant I was getting more for my money than doing my weekly shop in Albert Heijn. Also Jumbo was another shop that is cheaper than Albert Heijn and props up just as frequently around the city. 
  • Shopping in thrift shops – there are a multitude of thrift shops all around Amsterdam, not only can you source cheap clothes but also cheap household items too! Shopping for cheap deals will save you more money in the long run! 

The coolest museums I have been to in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a multitude of museums on offer across the city and in my short time here I have managed to visit quite a few of these spaces. A lot of these museums I have been able to attend for free through purchasing a museumkaart, a museum pass that cost me €64 for a year. Here is a shortlist of the coolest museums that I think warrant a much needed visit if friends and family come to visit you in Amsterdam or to enjoy by yourself! 

Cobra Museum 

  • The Cobra Museum is situated in Amstelveen, around a thirty minute bike ride away from the city centre. Here they showcased an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s most famous works. Whilst also retelling their eventful relationship as a couple. I was most surprised to hear that Frida had an affair with Trotsky (the Russian Bolshevik) and that her relationship with Rivera was an open marriage. The cobra museum is known for showcasing art with a critical lens on the world we live in, so will peak the interest of those fascinated by anything anti-capitalist or critical. 

Stedelijk Museum 

  • I stumbled upon this museum whilst wandering in the city centre. It is located nearby the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Moco Museum. At the time I visited, it presented an ‘Expressionisme Kolonialisme’ exhibition by Kirchner en Nolde, this exhibition focused on colonial African art which created a space to critique the male white gaze in the colonial era. Not only was it interesting for me as an anthropology student, but I think it would interest anyone fascinated in aspects of race, gender and power within art. They host a range of exhibitions all year round so if you are interested in art this museum is sure to offer something for everyone. 

The Fashion For Good Museum

  • This was one of the more interactive museums I visited in Amsterdam. This museum is for anyone interested in fashion, sustainability, effects of global capitalism, fast fashion or activism. It not only told you the negative effects of fashion on the environment, but gave you tips and ideas to change your actions within fashion consumption for the better. I bought biodegradable glitter here, as most glitter has microplastics that contribute to the waste in the world. I definitely learnt a thing or two about how my clothes are made on the other side of the world as well as the science behind making clothes. It was also free with the museum pass. 

The Cannabis Museum

  • The Netherlands are among a small number of European countries that have legalised the consumption and possession of a small amount of Cannabis; and Amsterdam is a particularly popular location where tourists go to smoke weed. Therefore, it is only fitting that there is a museum here that outlines the history and prominence of this drug across the globe. This museum was interesting in a few ways. I learnt about the history of the war on drugs and how the popularity of cannabis use has still managed to withstand this opposition in the states and elsewhere. It also outlined the medicinal benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease, whereby it showed a video of a man who stopped shaking when smoked. Also, I learnt that Shiva, the Hindu God, supposedly smoked cannabis frequently. Whilst the smoking and acceptance of weed is a mixed response, the museum posited useful information on a drug that has widespread popularity across our planet. 

Sex Museum 

  • Amongst cannabis, Amsterdam is also famous for the sex workers in the Red Light District and the city does not shy away from sex as a tourist attraction. This Museum presents both serious and amusing elements of sex with pictures of erotic women and men in pornographic settings. It is definitely worth a visit, giving a history of sex within pornography and telling stories of key sex celebrities like Marilyn Munroe. 

Moco Museum 

  • I loved this museum as it displayed a Banksy Exhibition. Banksy being an anonymous graffiti artist with his art represented a powerful anti-capitalist rhetoric, the museum also had some rooms with trippy mirrors and lights which was fun to walk through and experience. Although small, the Moco museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are a fan of Banksy’s work! It is half price with the Musuem pass too! 

Van Gogh Museum 

  • This huge building showcased most of Van Gogh’s works, whilst outlining his tumultuous battle with mental health and learning the craft of intricate art. I learnt that he cut his own ear off before admitting himself to a mental hospital, this depression was reflected in a few of his key pieces like sorrow. However, the breadth of different genres Van Gogh painted was impressive, my favourite pieces were ‘Skull of a Skeleton with a smoking cigarette’ and his paintings of Japan. I found there was a lot more to Van Gogh than the Starry night and the Sunflowers paintings and his career as an artist was anything but boring. 

Anne Frank museum 

  • This is one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam and rightly so. The museum is actually the annex where Anne hid. It follows the famous story of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who spent two years in hiding during the Second World War in the Netherlands, fleeing Jewish persecution from Nazi German takeover. There is an audio tour that you follow throughout the museum and it is free with the museum card! Due to its popularity you will need to book in advance but it is a must see when in Amsterdam!