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… 

Continue reading “Hidden gems: Amsterdam edition”

What it’s like being a Global Guidance Ambassador

By Georgia Kennington, Global Guidance Ambassador (2020-2021)

When I found out that my application to be a GGA was successful, I was so excited. I had enjoyed my year abroad so much that I wanted to encourage and help other people to do the same. And that is pretty much what the job is in a nutshell! 

I get to talk to a lot of students, which is my favourite part of the job. I spend a lot of time answering people’s questions via emails and social media, and making sure that everyone has as much information as possible to make the best choices about their study abroad! 

It’s also important that all our information, website, and resources are kept up to date. This year has been a particular challenge in this regard, everything is always changing. From Brexit to the pandemic, keeping on top of things has been a little difficult, but we’ve spent a lot of time updating things as much as we can to keep everyone on the same page. Unfortunately, we do have to deliver some disappointing news from time to time, but we work hard to make sure that there are backup plans in place. 

So far, my favourite thing that we’ve done has been the social events. Adapting them to a virtual audience for the pandemic was challenging (we know everyone’s a bit over Zoom at this point), but in a good way. We had to come up with some inventive ways to get people to know each other, get people chatting, and more importantly have some fun! My fellow GGAs and I did all the preparation, making the presentations and quizzes, and reaching out to previous study abroaders to ask whether they’d be up for giving some of their time to answer the newbies’ questions. Having these volunteers made everything so much more easy and enjoyable, and I think that the attendees really appreciated having their expertise! The actual social events were so much fun – we called them Greet n’ Games with Go Abroad – and that’s exactly what we did! It was great getting to introduce everyone, having people make group chats and meeting the others they’d be sharing their time with when they go out there… and the games weren’t half bad either! The winners got a Lonely Island guide book for their partner destination, which we thought would be a nice touch (and actually encourage people to try their best!). All in all, the events went smoothly, and I had a great time meeting everyone who would be going out in the following year.

I also maintain our social media, making posts for Instagram and collecting as many student photos as we can to share with everyone. I never thought I’d get the chance to try my hand at a bit of graphic design too… But turns out being a GGA involves a little bit of everything! I’ve also been able to write blogs (like this one) and do some data handling (when I say everything, I mean everything). 

Being a GGA is made so much better by the support of the incredible IPO team. I love having my fellow GGAs to work with, and the senior IPO staff are really supportive and encouraging; they listen to any ideas we may have and help us put them into practice. We are also given a good amount of independence and are able to take the lead with projects like the social events. It feels really good having the trust and support of such an amazing team of people, to be able to manage my own time and work how I think is best, it makes working as a GGA a pleasure!

Georgia Kennington, Politics and International Relations, Studied at the University of Amsterdam

Tips on Researching Partners

So, you’ve done it, you’ve made the most important decision of your life to date, you’re going to apply to study abroad. You’ve gone on to MyPlacement, done the advanced search for your course and found out exactly where it is you are allowed to go! Now, for some of you, the options may be more limited, which makes your life much easier when it comes to researching which partners you are going to apply for – remember, you’re only allowed to apply to 8 partners maximum! But for others, the list might be pretty long. This is a good thing, lots of options means you have more opportunity to find somewhere that really suits you and what you’re hoping to get out of your time abroad. 

First and foremost, you need to sit down and have a think about your preferences, your desires, and your needs when it comes to a big experience like this. Are you the kind of person who wants to be somewhere where they speak English? Are you more into city or country living? Are you bothered about the length of the flights there? These kinds of preliminary questions will help you narrow down the geographical aspect of where you want to go, and are generally useful for helping you to get to know yourself and your boundaries better. For example, I am a bit of a homebody and wanted to be able to visit my mum, I wanted to be in a city, and wanted to be somewhere where English was widely understood, so I settled on prioritising European destinations. 

Now that you know your options, you need to do some research on which would be the best fit for you, and I’ve got the tips for how to help you do exactly that. There are several facets of your future life that you might want to take into consideration: Academia, University Life, Social Life, and Culture… 

Academia

As you’re going to be studying while you’re abroad, the kinds of modules offered and the academic life at the partner university will be a big consideration to take into account. For a Semester abroad, your grades count towards your degree programme, so this is even more important. Most university websites will have course catalogues where you can see the kinds of modules that will be offered. It might also be worth finding out how grades and marking works, and the academic standards. Another good idea is to have a look at the teaching format of the partner uni, do they have lectures, seminars, classes etc, and what style would you prefer? I enjoyed the longer, more discussion-based seminars that I experienced at the University of Amsterdam, because I find that I can get distracted during lectures, and this teaching style suited me perfectly. 

University Life

Although going abroad is very exciting and you’re going to have lots of fun, it’s important to take into account the practical matters. Do they have counsellors, on-site doctors, or academic support? Do they have dedicated international student advisors? Things might get challenging while you’re out there, and it’s important to know what support the university has arranged for you. A good place to see what university life is like is through our On The Road Blogs, where students have written about their experiences. A big part of uni life will revolve around where you live, which means that accommodation is going to be a big factor! Check out the Accommodation Guide that you can find in MyPlacement under Learning Resources – it has individual country advice, as well as which partners guarantee accommodation. 

Social Life

Apart from academia… this is probably the other biggest part of your exchange. Although no matter where you go you are bound to have incredible social opportunities, if you’re a social butterfly, this is a good thing to research in advance. Most universities will have societies, clubs, and sports teams that you can join. They may also have an arrival/orientation programme either for all new students (Freshers round 2 anyone?) or a dedicated programme for international students. 

Culture

The kind of environment you’ll be living in is also a very important consideration. This can range from things like how a culture views LGBTQ+/BAME people (unfortunately, some places aren’t as accepting as others), to a city’s cost of living. All of these more practical matters are very personal, so you’ll need to think about yourself and your circumstances to know what kind of place you need to be. The Foreign Commonwealth Office has lots of advice on local laws and customs, as well as information about security, health, money, and entry requirements . For cost of living, Numbeo has a database for nearly every country or city, which can help to govern your decision. 

Where to look

A good place to start researching is the My Placement brochure for each university that you’re considering, where there is lots of this kind of information available. There are tabs covering all the things I’ve just mentioned (Academic information, Support and Orientation, Links and Resources etc.), which has been specially put together by the IPO based on what we know students want to see. 

Each university will also have their own website, and many have dedicated pages for international students, so make sure you have a look at what they have to offer. As simple as it sounds, putting the partner university name and “international students” into Google actually works! Finding local student societies is also easily done… do the same thing, university name plus “student societies” into Google search. Each partner’s social media is also a great place to find information and get a feel for university life, as well as seeing pictures of the university and surrounding areas. 

We also have plenty of Feedback from previous students available for you, to get a real sense of what each partner has been like for UoM students specifically. When deciding on your preferences, this insight could prove invaluable, as students may have mentioned something that you wouldn’t know unless you were there!

While you’re researching, it’s important to remember to stay open-minded and flexible, as there may be some hidden gems that you would never have previously considered!