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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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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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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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! 

How to feel at home in a feeling of dislocation

Written on 6th September 2021

Homesickness is a natural and common thing most people will experience when moving to a new country to study or work. The best way I found to tackle a feeling of dislocation and feel more grounded was rooted in bringing slices of home with me on my adventure. Here are some top tips I found helped: 

  • Bringing home comforts with you – some of my flatmates had a blanket they always slept with, their favourite perfume or their favourite snacks from home. I had my childhood teddy bear. These simple items make you feel more comfortable in a space in which you are not familiar with. 
  • Decorate your room – there are so many ways you can decorate your rooms, I had pictures of my friends and family, politics posters and a tapestry. You can also buy things within your time abroad. My first few weeks in Amsterdam gave me plenty of opportunities to buy decorative items in vintage flea markets (which were really cheap too!) 
  • Download/ buy a VPN system onto your laptop – I paid for NordVPN which allowed me to watch UK netflix and Amazon Prime shows. This allowed me to stay more connected to the things I was watching at home whilst also enjoying streaming shows playing in the Netherlands. 
  • An important ‘top tip’ to tackle any feeling of displacement is to keep the mind distracted – I spent the first few weeks of living in Amsterdam learning origami and visiting museums. I also strongly suggest making plans of things to do and lists of places to visit – making lists gives structure to a situation that may seem chaotic to your body and mind. 
  • Go to welcome events/ make friends with flatmates, I would urge you to make friends with people from different cultures and countries around the world. Not only does it give you companions you can visit in the future, but it brings up interesting conversations of cultural comparisons. Talking about home with a person with a completely different perspective can help to ease feelings of dislocation as it helps to see the world in different ways. 
  • Take lots of photos and pick up mementos of your activities to keep a track of your international experience. I keep a scrapbook of the places I have been to. Within this book I write down my thoughts and feelings about the year as well as sticking in pictures and postcards of places I’ve visited. 

Feelings of dislocation come and go when you’re suddenly immersed in a different culture with new people. But feelings of disarray and disturbance are not all bad. Taking time to relax and reflect on your exciting travels grounds you to your surroundings in encapsulating ways.

You’re in a new place with exciting opportunities to try new things, embrace it!

A Guide to Self Quarantine

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

I feel that my first blog requires an honorary mention to Miss Corona. Since my acceptance to Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam back in February, Corona has always been trying to get in the way. Thankfully, she did not succeed.

I’m now three days into my self-quarantine and every second grateful to be out of the UK and at the start of my year abroad. Self-quarantine has given me the opportunity to write a blog and a great topic to start off with, considering it is relevant for many of us leaving to start our study abroad years. Here are some of the things that are helping me pass the time of quarantine… 

  1. Getting creative:

Do something that’s fun and interactive. Packing a paint-by-numbers was my best decision. Each day you make more and more progress. Plus, the final piece can contribute to decoration. Win win. If painting isn’t your thing they try youtube dance tutorials, baking or othe things more creative. I’ve also started a daily journal to keep going throughout the year. I dont write anything important but its a nice keepsake at the end. 

My Amsterdam journal
  1. Not wasting the time: 

Like most newly moved exchange student i also downloaded duolingo. Surprisingly, thirty minutes of it went in a flash. For once, i actually felt committed to do it. I have a great motivation as I actually live in Amsterdam now. Dutch should be a must. I’d hate to feel like an ignorant Brit abroad, not knowing how to say please and thank you even. Learning the basics is essential and what better time to do it. 

  1. Staying connected: 

Overall, I’m not much of a phone person. Luckily I have a roommate living with me so am not fully alone. However, when she’s out I find that a quick facetime with my folks or a little conversation on a group chat keeps my mood up. I may not be a social media person but I am a social person. I like company. Even if you facetime a friend and just stay on the line but carry on with your day, have little bits of chat but nothing that intense. Or plan to play an online board game with your family. Staying connected definitely helped me. 

  1. Making it more valuable: 

Of course, you are gonna watch a lot of TV. Days are long and you can only fill them with so much of other things. In an effort to make my time in front of the tv screen semi beneficial, i started a docu series called ‘Can’t get you out of my head’. Its an odd one. Its about why the world is like this and how we got there. To be honest though, i can’t quite tell what its arguing yet, i’m only 2/6 episodes in. It is a show that makes me give 110% attention. If you look away for a moment you’re lost. Try a show or podcast that may give a bit more back to your life than killing time maybe. 

  1. Not slacking on self care:
Morning coffee on balcony

Now this one is basic. For me, routine keeps me focused and going. I love a to-do list. Even when I can’t leave the house, a to do list makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. I even tick off that I’ve had breakfast! – a bit sad I know.

Plan in when you want to paint or chat, or to do a quick youtube workout or yoga. Plan in when you are gonna eat a snack or make a nice dinner for yourself. Plan when you are going ot write in your journal or do some duolingo. It means that you can break the day down into smaller sections. For me this makes days not seem so never ending then. 

No matter what you do, stay excited and proactive and look forward to the year ahead.

Eight peculiar (but wonderful) things I have experienced in my first few weeks in Amsterdam

 Written on 5th September 2021 

I have been in Amsterdam a little over two weeks now before the semester starts at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA). This list is a little snapshot of the peculiar places I have been to and experienced in and around the city which I recommend to any city newcomer! 

Thrift shop – T Hartje 

​This quaint shop had really cheap and funky trinkets with a mixture of clothes, jewellery, glasses, books and vinyl records. I bought shot glasses here with my flatmates; which we bedazzled with beads also brought from this shop! It is perfect for the student budget to buy little mementos of your travels! It was only a twenty minute bike ride from my accommodation in Uilenstede in Amsterdam. 

Image 1

Beatrixpark 

Amsterdam is known for being a really green city with beautiful parks. Beatrixpark is one of these large parks with bike lanes passing through it, meaning you can admire the beauty on the bike or on foot. There are also plenty of benches where you can sit and observe the green spaces. It truly is a place oozing with peace and tranquility. There is also a cool sculpture (image two) designed by Rehwinkel-Windenburg and Van Pieck to Beast – it reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement of power to the people. 

Image Two

Naeckte Brouwers 

This beautiful brewery/restaurant is a converted church with an amazing high rise roof. Not only was the beer a reasonable price of €5 for a pint, but the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled – a vibe that encapsulates a lot of the Dutch people’s lifestyle in the capital! I also highly recommend the food, I had prawns and fries which were delicious. 

Image Three

Amstelpark

This is one of my favourite parks in Amsterdam so far! It is located only a thirty minute walk from Uilenstede in the south of Amsterdam. This huge area is home to a multitude of sculptures by local artists (see one of the sculptures in the image four) which you can explore via an audio trial describing all of the pieces of art within the grounds. Additionally, they offer a fun train ride around the park every weekend! 

Image four

Mini Cars – Canta Cars 

These mini cars are all over Amsterdam, designed originally for disabled people, these mini cars go up to 45 Km per hour – a lot faster than bikes! They’re beyond adorable and amused me to no end as I was biking around the city. If you ever visit Amsterdam, be sure to look out for these minicars, once you spot them they’re very hard to ignore! 

Image Five

SLA – Vegan/Vegetarian restaurant 

My flatmates and I stumbled upon this restaurant randomly whilst perusing the city. It offered the freshest, delicious and reasonably priced vegetarian/vegan food. I had the vegan ice cream and bliss balls which were amazing and gave me much needed energy to keep on cycling for the rest of the afternoon. Even if you are not a veggie, the food is too good to pass up! 

Cobra Museum – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Exhibition 

This exhibition not only displayed Kahlo and Rivera’s best works, but shed insight into the pair’s interesting relationship as lovers. I was shocked to learn that Kahlo had a sexual relationship with the Russian Bolshevik Leon Trotsky! In image six were shoes I was dying to buy (but weren’t for sale) in the exhibition – a must see in Amsterdam. 

Image Six

IJ-Hallen Flea Market 

This flea market is the largest in Europe! With an entrance fee of €5, you will find a myriad of things for sale. From earrings to clothes to household appliances. You will be sure to get some really cheap deals! I bought two vintage jumpers for €5, a deal unheard of in Manchester! It is definitely worth a visit even if you aren’t a fan of shopping! 

Image Seven