by the UvA's Global Exchange Ambassadors (Autumn 2017)
In the following reports, you can read about the experiences of international students who came to Amsterdam to study an exchange programme.
On this page:
- Studies Economics at University of Amsterdam
- Exchange at University of Maryland, USA
Could you explain what is it like to study at the University of Maryland?
The University of Maryland, in other words UMD, is as American an American university can get: huge campus, big sport teams, lively fraternity/sorority life and people wearing UMD clothing all the time.
The first thing I noticed is that the American college system is very different than the Dutch one. At the UvA you have a couple of lectures a week and most of them you don’t even to attend. At UMD you will probably have 4-5 hours of lectures/discussion groups a day which you must attend. In most cases there’s even a participation grade. So, if you don’t show up or you don’t actively participate in the class, you will get a F, which will count for your final grade.
Also, the amount of homework is way more than you are used to. But, no worries! At first, I was struggling a bit with these differences, but noticed that the level of the courses in general is lower than at the UvA. This means that if you go to your classes and do your homework, you will easily pass.
What was the student life like when you were not studying?
There are many house parties all around campus. Playing beer pong, drinking cans of Bud Light (believe me, you will get used to it) and leaving the place trashed, at which point the ones organizing the party will clean and throw a new party the next week, occurred all the time.
It’s good to know that it’s easy for girls to go to ‘’frat parties’’, but unfortunately super hard if you’re a guy. Fraternities are male student organizations and they like their parties with 80% girls and 20% guys. If you’re a guy, it’s good to befriend people from fraternities so you can go to their parties.
Nevertheless, you can throw your own parties with other international students. I had around 30-40 good friends, so there was always something going on. If we didn’t have a house party at one of our places, we would go to one of the bars in College Park, went to the cinema, to the gym, to D.C. to the sport games or we just chilled at someone’s place.
How expensive was it for you to study there?
If you’re short on money than it’s probably not a logical choice to go to the US. If you saved for a long time or can loan money than I would recommend it a 100% to go to UMD! I still miss it every day and don’t regret spending the money I spent at all. At UMD I made friends for live from all over the world and my exchange has been without doubt, the best half year of my life.
Annemarie Trimpe Burger
- Studies Media & Culture at University of Amsterdam
- Exchange at Korea University, South-Korea
Why would you recommend studying in South-Korea?
First of all the food! Korean barbecue, gimbap (sushi), dessert café’s. I love the Korean culture. Instead of cooking at home it is normal to go out for dinner every night, which is really nice to stay in touch with people.
Seoul is an amazing city and there is so much to do: temples, animal cafés, crazy rooftop restaurants and an insane night life. Outside the city you can enjoy the beautiful nature by doing crazy hikes or by taking the sea train along the coast.
Have you experienced a lot of cultural differences?
Yes, I surely have experienced some cultural differences. For example, Dutch people are very direct in saying what they think and Koreans are more timid. It could be that a Korean consideres that as impolite.
Besides that, language has caused problems sometimes. I have followed the course ‘speaking Korean’, which was very useful and besides that really funny. Koreans can definetely appreciate it if you try to speak their language, since there are not a lot of Koreans who speak fluently English.
The education is also quite different from the Dutch: most of the professors speak softly and they barely move in front of class. For me, focussing in class was quite difficult in the beginning. But although there are cultural differences, I have actually learned so much from it and respect each other’s cultural background more than I already did before.
- Studies Media & Culture at the University of Amsterdam
- Exchange at McMaster University, Canada
Why did you decide to go on an exchange?
When I first started to think about going on an exchange, it felt more like an impulsive thought than a real consideration. However, before I knew it, I was applying to go to McMaster University, in a country (Canada) I had never been before in my life. I think you can all imagine how excited, but extremely nervous, I was about going there.
There were so many questions going through my head: “Where do I stay?”, “Will I meet new friends?”, “Are my courses interesting?”, “How will I survive all by myself, without the comfort of my trusted environment?”, and most importantly: “How will my life change by being here on exchange?”. But believe me when I say that the moment you arrive, those fears will go away immediately.
Is studying in Canada different compared to the Netherlands?
Yes and no. Yes, first of all because the semesters are different: I sometimes struggled with following five courses at the same time, since in the Netherlands, I only follow two or three per semester. Especially during a hard week full of mid-terms, essays and assignments for all the courses, I sometimes felt overwhelmed.
Secondly, you cannot speak a word Dutch (but look at it from the bright side: you will see that your English will improve tremendously!). On the other hand, I would say no: in the end, you are still just following lectures, making homework, and doing mid-terms and exams. If you can do it at your home university, you can also work it out while being on exchange!
Do you have any advice for coming exchange students?
Whether you are an outgoing student going on exchange or an exchange student coming to Amsterdam, here is one tip: sign up at the international office and go to as many activities as you can! If you are going to McMaster University, you must go on the Moose-Xchange Trip! It is the best introduction camp ever, where not only do you get to experience the beautiful nature of Canada, but also meet many new people from all over the world. You will meet both exchange students and Canadian students, and make friends for life.
- Studies Law at McGill University, Montreal
- Exchange at the University of Amsterdam
Why did you choose University of Amsterdam?
One of the reasons which made the University of Amsterdam an appealing choice to me is the academic curriculum of the law faculty (significant emphasis on international law and on criminal law). This being said, I was also very enthusiastic at the idea of spending a few months in this vibrant city. After a short visit to Amsterdam a few years back, I was left with the feeling that this place is in a constant state of effervescence. There’s not a dull moment to be spent.
Fortunately, this exchange experience confirms that first impression. I’m finally able to grasp Jean-Baptiste Clamence’s curious observation about Amsterdam: “you understand then why I can say that the center of things is here, although we stand at the tip of the continent” (The Fall, Albert Camus).
Share something you would’ve wanted to know before arriving to Amsterdam on exchange.
The public transport system can be somewhat puzzling for someone who’s unfamiliar with it. There are multiple means of public transportation (bus, tram, metro, train) and a variety of travel products that one can buy. Determining what’s the most beneficial travel product will depend on the distance between your housing and the campus where your classes will be held, as well as on the estimated frequency of the use of public transportation. I would advise doing some online research prior to arriving in order to be aware of the various options.
Also, if you’re planning on using public transit a lot, it would be advantageous to buy a personal OV-chipcard that you can charge with monthly passes (keep in mind that the ordering of this personal chipcard is contingent upon having a Dutch bank account). In any event, most students ride bikes to get around, so it might be useful to plan the purchasing/renting of a bike before arriving!
Gloria Tse Yi Lam
- Studies Social Science at the University of Hong Kong
- Exchange at the University of Amsterdam
Why did you choose to go on an exchange in Amsterdam?
I chose Amsterdam as an exchange destination as it has a fascinating historical and cultural background. Developed since the 12th century, the city has been shaped by its trading experiences, which is also reflected in the unique canal-based cityscape. As a student majoring in urban studies, I would very much like to explore the architecture- not only to dig into how the city changes, but to personally experience the urban life.
For instance, you could always get a taste of the Dutch’s everyday-life by riding a bike along the canals! What’s more, Amsterdam is no doubt a cultural hub where a diversity of cultures is embedded. Travelling around Amsterdam does offer me the exciting opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world.
How would you compare your student life in Amsterdam to that of Hong Kong?
One of the major differences is that students here always engage actively in lectures and workgroup discussions. They are very willing to exchange their views with one another, which as well motivates me to share my thoughts. Other than that, there is more self-study time after lectures. This guarantees me ample time to gain a thorough understanding of the study contents.
Most importantly, I am attracted by the relaxing learning atmosphere in UvA, as students here engage in an array of societies and clubs besides studying. These activities also provide me the valuable chances to expand my social network with both Dutch and international students.
What would you recommend students to go on during their stay in Amsterdam?
For museum lovers, there are nearly a hundred museums in Amsterdam for you to explore, as each of them carries a very unique theme. The canals and windmills are worth visiting - you can enjoy a cycling trip during the weekends to embrace the enchanting sceneries! Lastly, taking a picnic in any one of the city parks would be a must-do when the weather is good.
- Studies Cultural Anthropology and Developmental Sociology at University of Amsterdam
- Exchange at University of Auckland, New Zealand
If you had to describe one memorable moment while being abroad, what would it be?
With a group consisting of five people, we were almost the only ones who stayed at Urupukapuka, an island in the Bay of Islands. At one point, me and my friend saw two local fishermen getting out of the water to view their catch. We decided to walk over their place and started a conversation. They told us so many insight stories about the area, their way of living and about New Zealand in general - and they even prepared their catch (local fish and sea urchins) so we could eat it and share it with our friends.
From this moment, I was assured in the belief that you just need to take the first step in approaching (local) people, because they are just as interested in you as you are in them.
What did you learn on your exchange that is still of use now that you are home again?
To remind yourself that there is always something to learn, even though you might think you already know quite a lot about some topics. Next to that, through the whole process of arranging the exchange and by organizing trips while on exchange I became more confident without hesitating about choices that have to be made. But the most important thing: to really live in the moment and to hold on to that feeling.
- Studies Public Administration at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-EAESP)
- Exchange at University of Amsterdam
What did it feel like when you left for a semester abroad?
When I decided to go on exchange I hadn’t thought that would be difficult, no one has told me that. All the exchange stories I had ever heard were about making friends, laughing and partying, and that was not what I have faced at first. Getting in a plane and crossing the Atlantic was not easy, leaving my family and friends in Brazil was not easy and realizing that some people just don’t understand what I say is not easy at all.
But the Exchange experience was not suppose to be easy, now I know it. We have to get out of our comfort zone, dare to challenge ourselves. However, I consider myself a very lucky person because my exchange is not in anywhere else but in Amsterdam. This city has its own vibe, everything is so beautiful and the Dutch people are so sympathetic and helpful! Moreover, the University of Amsterdam has lots of international students, and most of them are just like me: lost, scared and willing to have the best experience of their lives.
It's the perfect condition to make friends!
Do you have any advice for students who are going on an exchange?
Once I've made some friends and understood how the city works, I started to understand all the exchange stories I had heard. Even when everything goes wrong, it goes right, specially when you have company. So here is my first and most important advice: be open to new adventures, get lost and see every setback as an opportunity to learn, to make friends and to create memories.
My second advise is to buy a bike, it is serious, buy it as soon as possible, you gonna need it. Finally, live every second of your exchange, Amsterdam has a lot to show you and I am sure you have a lot to show to Amsterdam too, and then, tell me how it was, I want to hear everything about this adventure of yours.
- Studies Economics and Business University of Minnesota, USA
- Exchange at University of Amsterdam
Why did you choose the University of Amsterdam?
To start, the University of Amsterdam has an internationally recognized business programme. In addition, I’m going into my 3rd year of University, it was important for me to find a University where I could take in-depth, upper-level courses and not just general business or elective classes. This was possible for me at the University of Amsterdam because they have a wide variety of courses.
What advice would you give an incoming student on making a smooth transition to the University?
Get involved on campus, especially with the ISN. They hold a lot of events just for international students, and they create a really welcoming atmosphere. It’s a huge University, but it’ll start to feel a lot smaller once you start making connections.
What do you like about Amsterdam?
I enjoy how green the city is. It’s a metropolis, but it doesn’t feel industrial. It has a lot of character and history that you will fall in love with quickly. On top of that, there’s so much to see and do here - you will have a lot of fun exploring it while you’re here.
- Studies Economics at University of British Columbia
- Exchange at University of Amsterdam
Where do you go for a bite in Amsterdam?
The variety of eats in the city does not compare to anywhere else I have been. Amsterdam is so culturally diverse and inclusive and embodies this in its seemingly infinite choices of places to eat. Zeedijk is a street in the city centre that has eateries from Thai snackbars to Argeninian barbeque and everything in between.
Could you describe Amsterdam in a few words?
Amsterdam is an ideal city for international students. The size of the city makes it fairly easy to get from A to B, but with a bike the world truly is at your feet. For anyone who is considering Amsterdam for their city of choice, I would recommend investing in a cruiser bike because it is a fast, fun and safe way of getting around.
The Exchange Express is a newsletter which contains a selection of student testimonials and experiences. You can download the most recent issues here.
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Exchange Ambassadors Programme
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