Milena Zajaczkowska, Warsaw University, Poland, about the exchange programme in Pedagogical and Educational Sciences:
Being in Amsterdam is like discovering another part of yourself. I always wanted to study abroad so fortunately my fate brought me here. I had heard a lot about this city, both good and bad things and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.
Meeting your coordinatorThe first thing I experienced was going to the university and meeting the coordinator of Pedagogical and Educational Sciences, Jelka Driehuis. She was the first Dutch person I met and spoke to. It is really important to maintain a good relationship with your coordinator - he or she knows the country and can be a great adviser; moreover when you are in doubt he or she is able to answer most of your questions.
The second important thing is to be lucky enough to live in a nice students’ house. I lived at Weesperstraat in the city centre, which is famous for its vibrant atmosphere, its incredible and convenient location and moreover if you are lucky you will live on the 7th floor like I did. The view from the kitchen window is amazing as well as the view from rooms. In the summer time the balcony is a nice place to eat breakfast, and even in autumn you can have balcony meetings late at night.
The international atmosphere in the students’ house helped me to polish my English, to ensure that I could easily communicate with native speakers and besides, I met people whom I can some day visit in their home countries. Meeting international students is a great experience for making you aware that people all over the world have similar problems, share similar opinions and that boundaries do not exist. I sometimes felt like a cosmonaut who sees the world from a space-station window and sees humanity instead of countries.
Being abroad is a great opportunity to find out if you are able to live on your own, to handle everyday responsibilities and academic education at the same time.
The atmosphere at the UvA
What about the courses and the atmosphere at the university? I saw many differences when comparing my home university, Warsaw University, and the Universiteit van Amsterdam. The latter is less formal and at the same time requires more responsibility and self-guidance. You have to choose the courses yourself that you think you will enjoy most, and you need to know what kind of competences you need to have acquired upon completion.
You are however free to ask questions any time you have a doubt and what I like best is the informality and supporting atmosphere. You do not experience competition and the so-called “rat race”.
Try your luck
It is important to realize that during the first weeks you might experience endless euphoria - everything is new, cute and nice. After some time however you might start feeling homesick. This is why it is important to make friends as soon as you arrive: they will help you get over minor depressions, and the people you like may become your real friends forever, which is most valuable of all.
I realized that this exchange within the Socrates-Erasmus programme can take place only once in my life. This experience is priceless and within your reach. Try your luck abroad as I did and you will never be the same!