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About the University

Michael Sivolap

Mike Sivolap

From Moscow to Toronto

“My parents are Russian-Ukrainian. I was born in Moscow, where I lived for nine years before we moved to Canada. There was an opportunity, so we took it. My family and I moved to Toronto for many reasons, one of which was the better education in Canada. We weren’t sure if we would go back to Russia or not, so I actually did two high schools. I studied at school in Canada and online in Moscow. So besides my high school in Toronto, I did this kind of home school education and I would fly to Moscow a few times a year to pass exams.

We didn’t end up going back to Russia, but I carried on with my two schools. It was a lot of work, but it was cool, because to have two different kinds of education is interesting. In Moscow, they were stricter and more focused on the facts, so I learned factual thinking there. In Canada, I learned how to apply the theories. I think that was very useful. It also meant I didn't lose my Russian skills.”

Amsterdam is pretty much the only place in the EU where they offer a wide range of bachelor subjects in English.

From Toronto to Amsterdam

“Before I finished school, I started to look at universities in Europe. I wanted to move again, because I could see the benefit of it. Moving away from your country is very, very hard, but it is a rewarding experience to see new things and meet new people. The Netherlands is pretty much the only place in the EU where they offer a wide range of Bachelor’s subjects in English. Except for the UK, of course, but it’s too expensive to go to college there.

I was deciding between Media and Information and Communication Science at the UvA. I always wanted to be in media. At school in Canada we had a very nice film course, which was hands-on. My first job was in photography. I like photo and video, and in the future I want to work in the media field. At school, we also had a course called SAP, which was Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology. I found that background in human interaction and communication really interesting, so I eventually chose to do Communication Science.”

Scholarship

“Of course it’s nice to say that my university is number one in communications. It’s something I looked at, but it was not the main reason I chose the UvA. The city of Amsterdam and the programme itself appealed to me the most. One of the other reasons was that I really liked the way the application process works at the UvA. It is not as highly competitive if you want to start your Bachelor’s here. The approach is more: if you qualify for the entry requirements, you are welcome and we want you. So I moved here to do the full Bachelor’s.

Luckily, I got a scholarship to come: the Amsterdam Merit Scholarship from the UvA Faculty of Social Sciences. The scholarship fully covers the tuition costs. To get it, you have to be a very good student - in the top ten percent of your graduation class - and you had to have a lot of extracurriculars. I did all that in Canada. I was so lucky, I still can’t believe it. I got into other schools as well, one of which was National University of Australia. That school is on Princeton level, so I just wanted to see if I could get in. However, it was too expensive and competitive, so I wasn’t really interested in going there.”

Bachelors Day

“I came to orientate during the Bachelors Day, which was a very sudden decision. I bought the ticket three hours before the departure of the flight. I ran to the airport and booked a hostel while waiting for my flight to depart. Now, it’s kind of funny, I live across the street from that hostel. I met one of the student ambassadors, Laura, at the Bachelors Day. I talked to her a lot and I’m so glad I met her. She was a great help and in the end she’s probably the reason I’m here.

I stayed in Amsterdam for a few days to discover the city a bit more. I found the buildings to be quite low. It’s like a village, but with opportunities of a city. I don’t think Amsterdam should be bigger; it will lose its character then. I also really like the whole biking culture. I was always a fan of that. It’s very unsafe to bike in Canada, but I did it anyways. Here it’s not dangerous, the infrastructure makes it safe. I like that you can get around everywhere by bike.”

Discovering the Netherlands

“I didn’t know much about the Netherlands before. Just that the government system is pretty much the same as in Canada. But other than that, nothing, really. Only the most stereotypical things, like the tulips. I found that the atmosphere and the mind-set of people here is different. It’s easy to do things outside of the box and to find people who also think outside the box.

Most Dutch people are not very open for connection, at first glance. Maybe that’s because I’m from Canada where you easily get in touch with others, but I feel like you need more time with Dutch people. They are very nice, but you need time to get to know them. They’re like Russian people. Once you know them, they’re the best, but if you don’t, they’re kind of scary. I like the Dutch mentality of ‘let’s get down to business’. I like how people are straightforward and active and care about themselves. My spontaneous self can grow here, with all the potential trips and meeting new people.

I love to travel around, I do it almost every weekend. It’s easy just to grab a train or rent a car and go anywhere. I’ve been to Belgium, to France and Iceland. I walked around, tried some Belgian waffles. Just now, I bought a ticket to Moscow, to visit my family for the weekend. Everything is so close here, compared to Canada.”

Communication Science

“Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, so I’m used to a multicultural place which is similar to Amsterdam. This is also reflected in my class, so many students are from all over the world. I love that. The students are quite interesting - you can build a diverse network by going to college together.

My parents still think I study emoji’s.

It’s hard to explain what Communication Science is. My parents still think I study emoji. Also, some people think we study social media and how to get followers on Instagram. That’s not the case, of course. We study the science behind every form of human communication, we’re research focused. So we do a bit of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. I love the fact that all those social science disciplines come together in this programme.

It surprised me that the professors are very young, in their thirties and forties. It makes it easier for us to connect on a personal level, because they understand our struggles. They were just in our shoes a few years ago, which makes them very approachable. One professor said: ‘Don’t email me, tweet me’. They are very down to earth, they’re in this with us. Of course, there should also be respect, and I think most lecturers have that.”

Critical thinker

“For aspiring students my advice would be: research. Research very thoroughly, look at the university websites, all the information you need is there. For example, I didn’t know that University of Amsterdam was a research university, so I was surprised by the amount of research that is done here. For those kinds of things, it’s good to prepare yourself. Google is your best friend. I would also advise to visit the Open Day if possible, or watch the live stream of it.

At university, you need to be ready to have your opinions challenged. What university gives are soft skills, the abilities to critically think about problems, to analyse, to look for different ways of approaching things. It’s not something tangible. The ideal UvA student is a person that wishes to learn those skills, through hard work, cause that’s the only way. Through reading, thinking, and asking questions to start a discussion, and to be open-minded in these things. The hard part is to stay here once you’ve gotten in. Be realistic, understand the reality of living in Amsterdam. Although it’s an amazing city, there are some challenging aspects, such as finding housing.”

Satisfied

“I don’t know where I’ll go in the future. Maybe I’ll do an exchange programme or an internship abroad. I’ll probably do a Masters programme and after that maybe I’ll go into teaching, maybe more into the arts. My dream job would be to be a professional photographer. We’ll see, maybe I’ll get a PhD. ‘

Right now, I’m satisfied with my choice. I feel challenged here. Because I had a double high school education, I’m used to a big workload. The workload is pretty hard here, I think that’s why I like it. Coming in, I thought: I’m going to try this, it sounds like a very interesting experience. If it works, that’s great, if it doesn’t: fine, that’s also an experience. I was just interested in trying it out. I don’t like regretting things, I’ve done things for a reason. Looking back now, I don’t think I would change anything. I’ve worked very hard to make this happen. I had three jobs to make money to come here and luckily I got the scholarship. It has been a dream for so long, now it has become a reality.”