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.
Even though COVID-19 put an end to my experience abroad I’ve been thinking about how Arizona State University is quite different from Manchester.
First of all, there is a designated week for final exams while the rest of the semester has different deadlines. For example, only in March, I had to write three papers, one poster and an oral presentation, a group project report, and an online quiz. All these assignments are worth between 5-20% of the course. This changes my time management quite significantly because rather than having one long paper that is worth 100% of my course and four months to write it, in this case, I have many short tasks to complete, which are spread throughout the semester.
Secondly, not all courses have finals. For example, for one class the professor chose not to have us writing the final but rather presenting a group project, so the last week of the semester I will be free from that class load work and I will be able to focus on the rest.
Third, there are no official mitigating circumstances, instead, it is the student that by talking to the professor works out a different date for the assignment. This speeds up the process and, for me, it alleviated much anxiety that could be caused by the negative response of the request in some cases. In addition, attendance is mandatory and affects the final mark, so there are no podcasts like in Manchester and missing a class means lowering one’s average. This guarantees that students are almost always present and participating, even though months after the class there is no chance to rewatch it online.
All these differences made me feel as if I was in high school again, where I had less autonomy and more time constrictions. Even my relationship with the rest of the class is very different because I have about 15-20 classmates versus 90 in Manchester. So I know all of them quite in-depth, I have participated in activities with everyone, and overall I have a better idea of who I am sharing my classwork with. However, the style again resembles that of a high school and it is far from being that of a lecture, which made me lose the habit of taking many notes and staying focused for longer.
Overall, these two systems are very different but I don’t find any better or worse, it is just a question of preference. However, I also think that having the possibility to try them both was amazing because it helped me become more conscious about my study habits and preferences, and I definitely became more flexible!
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.
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.
Lund is a beautiful small city in the South of Sweden. I think the ability to appreciate the landscape of Lund was helped through the equally beautiful weather that was received during my first week in Lund, not going below 23°C and getting as high as 31°C. This was certainly not expected nor packed for, but nevertheless greatly appreciated. The city is made up of many greenspaces and old buildings, with many having their own unique personality to them.
The population of Lund is less than 100,000 people, with, on
average, there being 40,000 students also in the mix. The people of Lund are
very helpful and welcoming, all of whom (or at least thus far) have impeccable
English skills, which has made the daunting task of moving to a new country so much
An interesting point about Swedes that I have been told
repeatedly since my arrival is that they love to sing, this has been proven to
me as within 8 of my welcome activities I have been told to sing and/or sung
A useful thing to know about Sweden also is that you get charged
an extra 1 SEK if you buy a plastic bottle for the environmental cost, so it is
always useful to carry a bottle around as all water is drinkable too. Also good
to know, is that any cans or bottles you accumulate can be taken to certain recycling
points where you can get 1 SEK per item recycled.
#2 Lund University
The university, just like Lund itself, is very pretty. The buildings
are beautiful, some of which are hundreds of years old and covered in vines and
Lund University has put on many welcoming events for international
students in order to help them feel settled and meet people. Personally, I have
over 3 weeks of orientation events. The events and activities are inclusive, diverse
and plentiful. They range from Swedish classes, sports days, boardgames, club
nights, pub nights, mentor groups, IKEA trips, a pub-crawl to Copenhagen and
more. Lund has many international students, inclusive of bachelor, master and exchange
students there are over 2000, I believe. However, many exchange students here
are only studying in Lund for one semester. In fact, so far, I haven’t met any
exchange student who was not British and who is studying for the year.
Despite Lund being a small city, it still has a very good and
reliable public transport system. Buses and trains run regularly until about 1am
and begin again around 5am with multiple routes that can get you to where you
want to go. Additionally, the buses and trains use the same ticket which is useful if you have to catch a bus and a train to get somewhere for
example. The tickets are purchased via
a newly introduced app, ‘Skånetrafiken’,
which works throughout the region of Sweden, Skåne. The ticket prices are fairly
average, costing 18,75 SEK (~£1.59) for a single, 52,50 SEK (~£4.50) for a 24-hour
ticket and about £30 for a 30-day ticket. However, this is not the best way to
get around Lund by any means. The best, most time-efficient and popular is by
bike. The ease and cost of getting a second-hand bike, in addition to the many
cycle lanes makes the bike the superior mode of transport even for an unexperienced
cyclist like myself. The population of Lund, and the students of Lund
University in particular, use bikes to get anywhere and everywhere in the city,
whether that be to class in the morning or getting home after the club. It’s
what is done.
Prior to coming to Lund, I didn’t expect there to be quite so many different rules surrounding alcohol. Sweden, as a whole, is relatively strict with alcohol. Any alcoholic drink that is stronger than 3.5% is only sold in monopolised government shops called Systembolaget which are far fancier than your classic off-licence. The employees are dressed smartly in waistcoats, shirts and bow-ties. Lund has 3 of these shops in total. They shut no later than 7pm, normally earlier and particularly so on Saturdays where they are closed by 3pm. Price-wise, I would say alcohol from Systembolaget is generally not that much more expensive than at home, however if you are buying a drink from a bar, which is not one of the nations’ bars/clubs, it is pricey. Low-percentage alcohol and alcohol-free drinks can be bought from normal supermarkets across Lund though.
There are other interesting laws regarding alcohol here, for
example you are not allowed to cross a road with alcohol in hand and if you are
caught doing so it is punishable by a fine. Also, despite the legal drinking
age being 18, you are unable to purchase alcohol from stores until you are 20. But
you are able to purchase drinks from bars and clubs etc. from 18. Lund perhaps
is more lenient with alcohol relatively to the rest of the Sweden as it is one
of the only places that you are able to drink outside as this is illegal
elsewhere. As a result of this, it is not uncommon to see people sat in the
park having a social drink during the warm weather.
I think all of these laws demonstrate the drinking culture
that Sweden has, where alcohol is there to be enjoyed and appreciated rather
than anything else.
The classic takeaway food here, whatever time of day it may be,
is falafel, usually with garlic, chilli and yoghurt sauce on it. There are many
places across Lund, and nearby Malmö, which have been recommended to me as
great for falafel which I plan on making my way through during the course of my
year here. Fika is another part of Swedish food culture which I fully plan on
throwing myself into. This is a coffee and cake (or something of the variety) break.
It occurs twice per day in work schedules and is taken as a granted thing to do
by colleagues. Fika has had its part in many welcome events here.
I would say that food from supermarkets has been the notably
more expensive category than home. The big shock came to me when I expected Lidl
to be much cheaper than other shops, but it is just a bit cheaper really. I
have ranked what I believe is the best value for money (starting from least expensive):
1)Netto 2)Wallys 3)Lidl 4)ICA 5)Coop.