Where to start? Amsterdam is a wonderful city, of that there can be no doubt. I come from South Africa and I worked in Amsterdam for 9 months before starting my MSc Economics. It is no exaggeration to say that I fell in love with the city and thus seized the opportunity to study here for a year. The VU’s program looked balanced and interesting, and I liked the option (but not requirement) to choose a specialisation field. The Economics faculty lent me a helping hand with my (late) application – if you have any queries, just ask!The first few months of the program are challenging, but it gets more manageable once you have settled in. I enjoyed my courses, particularly Regional and Urban Economics. The lecturers are approachable and the classes quite small, which encourages interaction and debate. The integration between the Dutch and international students was slow to take off, with the international students naturally sticking together. We arranged a successful off-campus class dinner to help with integration.
The Dutch weather is not as bad as I expected, and the snow in winter was a lovely novelty (coming from sunny South Africa!). In rain or sunshine or snow, the best way to get around Amsterdam is on a bicycle. So the first thing to do when you get here is buy a bike! Ask around and watch out for campus information in the first week when there will be advertisements for bikes at discounted prices. There are great bike routes in and around Amsterdam for exploring.
Make sure you stick around for 30 April, Queen’s Day. Overnight, Amsterdam transforms into a fantastic street party… the place to be is on a boat on the canals with friends, but walking around is also fun. Not all of the Dutch “borrel hapjes” (snacks) are to my liking, but it would be a crime not to taste the local cuisine such as bitterballen and poffertjes!
If you are a student from the EU and have a job in Amsterdam for at least 8 hours a week, the Dutch government gives you the same basic student grant as Dutch students (about EUR 270 a month). Pop in to the DUO (it used to be called the IB-Groep) to make enquiries about it if you are working to fund your studies (or I can help with the basic information).