First Impressions of Sustainability in Amsterdam

By Molly Hayward, University Of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is well known as an ‘eco-capital’ and is a prominent example of a sustainable city. This was one of the elements that led to me choosing it for my study abroad. Since arriving, a couple of months ago, I have had time to create initial impressions of how true this is on the ground, these are my thoughts:

Firstly there is a great deal of visible sustainability. The UVA campus has lots of water points scattered around, the coffee machines recommend re-using the compostable cup and there is a notable lack of plastic disposal cutlery available – choosing instead the wooden alternative.

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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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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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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.

Studying in Amsterdam as a POC

There is a lack of representation of BIPOC individuals studying abroad, as well as a lack of specific advice. I really noticed this whilst browsing the study abroad fairs and brochures both in Amsterdam and back in Manchester, which only seemed to portray the generic white, middle-class study experience. Having spent the last year in Amsterdam, I wanted to share my experience to hopefully serve as a helpful tool for anyone worried about feeling uncomfortable in a different environment.

To help amplify the experiences of other’s which are often not included in the brochures, I have also listed some articles I found helpful at the bottom of this post for specific factors to look out for when doing your research as well as first-hand experiences in different cities and countries.

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Erasmus in times of Brexit and Covid

Today marks my final day in Amsterdam participating in the Erasmus+ Programme at Universiteit Van Amsterdam. I am extremely sad to be leaving such an amazing city and I am so grateful for the amount opportunities I have had whilst on my study abroad.

Having grown up in a multicultural household (Spanish mum and a South African-Indian dad), taking part on the exchange programme wasn’t a massive cultural adjustment for me personally, but I can still say that the Erasmus+ programme has made me more open and tolerant towards other cultures.

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For those away from home, studying online, or not studying at all :)

Whether you are studying abroad at a different university or on placement/ interning in a different city or country, being away from your comfort zone and in a new environment will sometimes come with its own difficulties.  The effect of moving away on mental health is often not spoken about before departure, and this can potentially end up completely overshadowing what should be a year of making new friends, improving language skills and learning a new way of life.

So it is important to recognise that these transitions can be challenging, and anticipating being away from home and familiar support networks can sometimes lead to worry, anxiety and stress. These emotions are to be expected, especially when you’re adapting to a new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even a new language in a short timeframe.

Here are a few tips to look after yourself whilst abroad and a list of some resources that are available to you if you live or study in Amsterdam more specifically.

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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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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!

Amster-DAMN!

Moving In

It has been two and a bit weeks now since I moved into my studio apartment in Nieuw West Amsterdam in a building called Maassluisstraat which is part of the DeKey housing company. Prior to moving in I was very concerned about living by myself in a studio after having got used to living in an 8 bed house in Fallowfield and always having someone around for company. I am actually surprised at how much I am enjoying living in my studio here and having my own space, I also think it has probably pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit as you don’t have the comfort of ‘flat mates’ to fall back on and has probably contributed to me meeting more people than I initially thought I would. I was also worried that living in a studio would be quite isolating and lonely but I’ve had neighbours knock on my door to say hello etc when they moved in and my accommodation also had a social event early on which helped create a really warm and welcoming atmosphere straight away.

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Assessment and teaching style at the UvA

By Frazer Randalls (Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

In general, assessment at the University of Amsterdam is more constant with midterms and then finals with the ability to do a compensation exam. A compensation exam is like a retake of the course, but includes everything from the course; something you want to avoid. Having exams more frequently but less intense is, of course, beneficial in the sense that there is less to prepare for. However, it also means that you have to cope with having a lot on your plate more often, which can be stressful. At Manchester there is a more gradual build-up to the intense stress of exams, where as here it seems to come around the corner every 4/5 weeks, without much time for preparation. Similarly, because midterms are often worth 50% of the course, you put yourself under as much stress as you would the final exams.

A more specific criticism of the University of Amsterdam is that each individual lecturer chooses how the class is assessed. Whilst for the majority this means a varied form of assessment ranging from opinion style articles which encourage a journalistic style and creativeness, that make for an exciting break from the academic rhetoric, to the ever tedious group project and presentation. There is one particular assessment format I detest, this is the ‘take home exam’. The format is that between a certain a time you have anywhere between two and twelve hours in the comfort of your own home to answer several questions once they appear online. The problem is you never nearly have enough time, and because you are ‘at home’ you are expected to answer the questions as though you were writing an essay with proper referencing and complex structure. However, under the timed pressure, this for me and many others who I have spoken to, is sometimes quite impossible.

All of this is not to say I don’t like the assessment at the UvA, and being a student I could probably find holes in any assessment format. There have been some that I have liked, such as the opinion articles and essays that are pretty much identical to the Manchester ones, but there have been ones I don’t, particularly the take home exams, much like I how I don’t particularly like Manchester handwritten exams, when I only write by hand for these occasions. However, both at the UvA and Manchester, the exams in my mind justify the means.

Something I have really enjoyed is the teaching style. For me I have been lucky that all my classes have been in classrooms. No more hiding away in large lecture halls. Classrooms for me have meant that concentrating for three hours is a lot easier, not just because you feel less distant from the teacher, but also because classrooms breed more discussions, making it easier to ask questions, and I have found that debates break out between students much more. This could also be part of the Dutch mentality or due to the teachers I have been fortunate enough to have, but debate in class and discussion-based learning is for me much more engaging. I would point out that there have been one or two classes where this doesn’t exist and lecturers talk at you for three hours, in a far less engaging manner.

This brings me onto my next point, lecture length. Here at the UvA most of my lectures are three hours long and some extend to four. These of course can test concentration, but if you have an interesting lecturer then in some ways it is beneficial to have all your teaching at one point in the week, leaving you with the freedom of deciding when you want to work outside of these hours.