International student on her way to Amsterdam part 2: almost there

This is the second post about moving to Amsterdam and  starting a new academic year at VU. In a few days I´ll be leaving Brazil for a master degree in the Netherlands. Here I will tell you more about my preparations and what I expect next. Since the last post a lot of things happened.

I have received my visa with no stress. When I arrive in Amsterdam I must register at the municipality, get my residence permit, and then do a tuberculosis test, these are the information I have so far.

Today I received an email stating that I hadn´t paid for my residence in Pierre Lallementstraat and that I should do it before tomorrow or something really bad would happen to me. Well, I had totally forgotten about this payment in advance, I was sure I would be able to do it on the occasion of my arrival.  Anyway, I managed the bank transfer and hopefully everything is ok. Still, no more relevant information about Pierre Lallementstraat and I stopped looking for it, I´m already moving there in a few days so I´ll wait to check it myself. DUWO wrote me directions on how to get there by public transport, so this is obviously a good sign.

In addition to this, I have also registered for this semester in Vunet, I am registered in 5 modules and there were a few very interesting electives classes to choose between. I hope I can keep up the expectations I know a lot of people have about me. It is not going to be easy to organise all different obligations I have this year but the secret is to control the anxiety and do your best, always.

Apart from the visa and classes I have also received an email about the events I must attend, they are many and I suggest for those who are as distracted as I am to write it down in a stimulant calendar, not to forget it.  I can´t tell you all the events because I still haven’t done my personal stimulant calendar, but I know that until the 19th of august I´m ok, the list of events are from the 20th of august and on.

For what I could understand,  there are formal events regarding the programme and university which are compulsory  or absolutely recommended and there are those events which are informal and it is to get to know other students and staff.  All these events will be on the orientation week at different dates, buildings and places depending on the event. Anyway, I believe that after all these orientation meetings we will have a much better idea of everything regarding our programme and VU practical operation. Each University has its own educational style  and relation with students, between countries this is even more perceptive, therefore I already expect a little bit of strangeness at the beginning.

Now there is only the packing miracle to do. I always think “ what if I need this?” , like an iron or a lamp or kitchen stuff or  books. I have many, many books and I can´t  stop thinking  I might need  them for my studies, that everything is useful .I´ll probably finish packing in the next days.

Because I´ll be carrying 64 kilos of luggage, the logistic of the move is also an important subject. There is a pick up service from the airport to Uilenstede campus that goes from 10am to 16pm. The bus takes you to Uilenstede campus only, where DUWO office is located ( and the key to my room) and students who are not staying in Uilenstede will have to move their things by themselves.

Unfortunately the only flight from Lisbon to Amsterdam arrives in Schiphol Airport at 17:05 so I will have to manage my transportation myself anyway. However, I will have the opportune help of a friend from Brazil who is also living in Amsterdam ( !!!!!). We went to the same Law School and worked together in the same Law Office so it will be really nice to have a familiar person on my arrival ( thank you so much Hingrid!).

The Holland Tile on Selaron Stairs

The Holland Tile on Selaron Stairs

About my last days in Brazil, everything normal (not that much actually, we have presidential elections in about 2 months and this one is already particulary remarkble) .The bike project is on, I´m not sure, but I think I´ve improved since last post. This week I even woke up very early in the morning to go practicing, I almost never wake up before 7am but this was a good experience, the beach is beautiful at this time and I felt really good.  Coincidently, I have also passed by  Selarón Stair these days and I´ve found the Netherlands tile, it was really nice. Selarón Stair is one of Rio most visited places, there we can find tiles from every country.

Since my last post I have talked to Brazilian students who are also starting at VU this semester. Amsterdam,  be ready for a Brazilian invasion because we are many and we arrive together ;). I found a girl  who is also called Larissa, she will be doing the same master at Law School and we incredibly also share the same hometown : Recife.

I´m currently living in Rio but I am originally from Recife, a beautiful multicultural , hot and festival city located in northeast Brazil ( we do have the best Carnival party of Brazil  and the temperature in Recife is hot, really). Recife was colonised by the Netherlands from 1630  to 1654. This very specific Dutch colonization in Recife had not mainly the purpose of exploitation so, as a result, we had many improvements at that time and our historical centre has a lot of Dutch architecture.

Rua da Aurora - Dutch Architecture in Recife

Rua da Aurora – Dutch Architecture in Recife

I leave Rio this Friday and I go to Recife, from where my flight departures to Lisbon Sunday night and then to Amsterdam. I can´t tell how much I already miss everything. I miss the great friends I´ve made in Rio, one of them gave me an awesome Netherland guide book as a goodbye present, I loved it! I also miss my best friends and family from Recife, not to mention Brazilian food and weather.  However, I´m sure every international student feel more or less the same,  I´m keeping a positive thought about this year and I think I´ll end up enjoying Amsterdam very much, undoubtedly it is a beautiful city.

I know many “test for the nerves” are about to come, this is inherent of such a redirection of life, moving to a new country and relating with different people, but we must face possible obstacles, there is no way else, each situation will provide a different acknowledgment in the end.

Now is time to take a deep breath and move forward. See you in Amsterdam!!

Regards,

Larissa

Little Dutch Dictionary

While there are numerous dictionaries à la “Dutch for beginners”, “Essential Dutch” and “Getting started in the Netherlands” out there on the market, students coming to Amsterdam actually don’t necessarily need to know how to threaten someone by calling the police or how you can introduce yourself to someone.
With this in mind, this small Dutch dictionary is designed to get you in touch with the Dutch, their language and culture and it all is student-relevant 😉

Veel Plezier!

A

Amsterdam political, cultural and economic capital and biggest City of the Netherlands, 2nd best city to life in the World, 165 canals and about 200 coffeeshops. Home to →van Gogh and Rembrandt, Anne Frank and Louis van Gaal. Economic centre of the Netherlands with the oldest stock exchange in the world and home to the headquarters of Shell, ING and Philips among others. Amsterdam attracts more than 3,5 million international visitors every year to experience the unique atmosphere of the city.

B

Broodjes → bread-rolls or Sandwiches which the Dutch tend to serve for Lunch. Always. While many countries have developed a culture of serving artistic lunches with warm and cold dishes, intricate compositions with several courses, the Dutch keep it simple and serve Sandwiches for Lunch. Broodjes can also refer to the bread-rolls themselves (why waste time and energy to invent another word) and if you’re up for a real treat, sometimes →Borrelhapjes en Soep (“soup”) can also be served for Lunch

Borrelhapje

Borrelhapje

Borrelhapjes (“Going-out-snacks”) → one of the first culinary treats every student in Amsterdam is being treated to. Warm Borrelhapjes are small tubes of breaded and deep-fried meat with sauce called Kroketten, stir-fried minced meat-balls called frikadellen, breaded rice-disks or tiny chicken-Schnitzels. Cold Borrelhapjes include the famous, the glorious, the world-known Dutch Cheese, such as →Gouda, as well as sausages greatly varying in age, drying and spiciness. Borrelhapjes are best served after copious amounts of →biertjes and some, such as Kroketten can even be obtained from vending machines. This is called Eten-uit-de-muur-halen which literally translates as “Get-food-from-the-wall”.

Biertjes (diminutiv of “beer”) → Oh dear traveller, are you up for the challenge? Though beer in the Netherlands is affectionately called a biertje do not underestimate the beer from the Low Lands (i.e. Belgium and the Netherlands). Unlike many other beers which usually sport an alcohol content of 5%, it is not uncommon for these beers to easily exceed 10% of alcohol content, so go easy on it. Also, if you want an Ale, you have to order an Ale, a “One beer please” will surely get you Lager. It is highly recommended to try some of the local Dutch beers, Heineken being the most famous one but really most popular with tourists and Grolsch and Amstel worthy contenders for being a default option with the Dutch. Highly, highly recommended is trying a local Amsterdam beer such as the one brewed by the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, with seasonal beers (Christmas and Easter beers), classical beers (Natte “wet” or Zatte “rich”) and exotic ones (Indian Pale Ale or Wheat Beer).

E

Elfstedentocht (“eleven city trip”) → A unique ice skating event where participants skate 200 kilometres through eleven cities in the province of Friesland with more than 16,000 participants. Held at least since 1760, sometimes the tour is a leisure event for the whole family and sometimes a fierce adventure (the tour in 1963 was finished by 69 out of 10,000 participants)

Elftal, (“Dutch Eleven”) → The Dutch National voetbal (“football”, please don’t call it soccer while you’re here) team, headed by the Bondscoach (the team coach) and sporting the unique Oranje-shirts. While football is the undisputed number one in Sports, the Netherlands are also famous for field hockey (especially with girls), horse-riding (with men and women) and ice skating (→Elfstedentocht). Should Holland ever win the Football world cup, it is a good place to be in Amsterdam. Nobody knows what the combined enthusiasm of decades of 15 million fans’ waiting will cause to the city but theories range from the end of the world to eternal peace on earth.

F

Feestvarken (“celebration-pig”) → Affectionate name for anyone celebrating their birthday. A bit informal so it is not necessarily advised to use it with your boss or lecturer. Also, don’t be surprised if guests on this special not only congratulate the jubilee but also the closer family, distant relatives and good friends. In the Netherlands, they all have contributed to get the jubilee to where he or she is now and thus they all deserve equal congratulations. It’s a great display of this Dutch communal spirit in a line with high-taxes, a splendid public healthcare system and a generally very informal manner (don’t be surprised if some students call their lecturers by their first names).

Famous VU fiets

Famous VU fiets

Fiets, “Bike” → Fietsen (“to cycle”) is the famous Dutch solution to traffic problems which arise if you cram millions of people into a tiny country. Despite all efforts to enlarge the country by conquering territory from the sea (ever heard “God made the Earth, but the Dutch made Holland” ?) the Netherlands still are bestowed with one of the highest population densities in Europe. But cycling is so much more to the Dutch, it’s a way of life, it’s environmental friendly, it looks highly suicidal to the untrained eye and it’s the most convenient means of transportation in most Dutch cities. But fietsen not only derives from practical considerations (and the fact that most of the Netherlands is flat as a Pannekoek, a pancake) but also the Dutch sport a passion for it seen in fietstochten (cycling trips) all over the country as soon as summer kicks in. Give it a try, there’s no way to navigate through Amsterdam like by fiets.

G

Gaan stappen / Uitgaan, (“to go out”) → The Dutch are always up for a biertje and going to one of the many kroegen (“bars”, singular “kroeg”) or coffeeshops is a must for every student in Amsterdam. The most spots in Amsterdam for doing so are Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein in the city centre, though many locals prefer going to the are known as De Pijp which sports a variety of Dutch bars. Tram, metro or bike transport the adventurous student to the city centre and bikes, cabs or night busses bring them back home. Amsterdam is also host to a ridiculous amount of concerts and festivals every year, some held in formerly →gekraakde Churches (e.g. Paradiso) other in grand-scale commercial arenas such as the Amsterdam Arena or the Heineken Music Hall. From Burning Man to Holi, Amsterdam has not only a vivid nightlife but also sports many festivals, some for free (such as the Vondelpark-Festival in →Vondelpark) others for good money.

Gouda, (pronounce it so that it rhymes with “louder” not “intruder” and the first G like the infamous ch­-sound in Loch Ness) → A city in the South of Amsterdam and the most famous cheese of the Netherlands. Forget Swiss Cheese, Cheddar or Mozzarella, the homeland of Cheese is the Netherlands. Served on Broodjes or cubicle Borrelhapjes it’s a treat for any time or situation. Volendam, 15 kilometres North of Amsterdam is another famous cheese town and day-trips to buy cheese there are incredibly popular among tourists.

Gouden Eeuw, “Golden Age” → The hey-day of Dutch culture. Fostered by the trade with the East Indies, the Netherlands became the richest nation in the 17th century and spent this wealth on draining the seas, building a fine web of canals in Amsterdam and fostering the fine arts. It’s the time of van Gogh and Rembrandt but also the age of mass slavery through the VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Companie, “Dutch East Indies Company”), the richest and most powerful private company ever to exist and most notoriously known for the occupation of numerous countries, trade wars with England and the control over the trade in Spice and Slaves.

K

Koningsdag, “Kings Day” → The birthday of the King, the most orange of all the orange days in the Netherlands (unless, possibly, the Elftal wins the Voetbal worldcup), the day of madness, mayhem and tourists. A public bank holiday in Netherlands, Koningsdag is a day full of concerts, festivals and private parties with the vrijmarkt (“free market”) street market which extends to pretty much all of Amsterdam. Since no-one requires a licence to sell things on Koningsdag the streets are full with private, professional and semi-professional vendors selling everything from delicious snacks, antique art and rare oddities to used clothes and furniture, tourist souvenirs and a huge variety of alcoholic beverages. It’s always on the 27th of April, or on the 26th if the 27th falls on a Sunday. With a bit of luck you might see the royals, i.e. King Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima.

Kraken (“to squat”) → Squatting buildings uninhabited for at least 12 months used to be legal in the Netherlands until 2010. This explains why the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, still has a strong culture of squatters. This culture of squatting led to Antikraak-agencies which broker short-term flat leases so that various buildings are no longer inhabited. Famous Paradiso near Leidseplein was squatted when it was still a church and from this developed into the one of the finest music and event venues of Amsterdam’s inner city. A number of houses around the Slangenpand still are squatted and continue to host concerts.

O

Oranje, “Orange” → Since the House of Orange-Nassau is the royal house of the Netherlands, Oranje became the most Dutch of all colours. At matches of the →Elftal it has practically replaced the use of the Dutch flag (which can far too easily be mistaken for a French flag) and farmers have generated orange carrots which at their time was a tribute to Oranje and has nowadays virtually replaced the then prevailing varieties of purple, yellow or white. Fancy seeing the royals? →Koningdag is your day!

R

Rijksmuseum (“State museum”)Since the Netherlands are a kingdom (Koninkrijk) they also have a “kingdom-museum” or rather state museum. Located at the head of museumsplein (museum square) it is in direct vicinity to the van-Gogh museum and stedelijke museum (“city museum”) and is only one of over 50 museums in Amsterdam. While the museum hosts a variety of classical arts (the most famous painting being De Nachtwacht, “the nightwatch”, by Rembrandt) other have specialised in cats, psychedelic art, navi, sex, prostitution or torture. A museumskaart grants free entrance to all public museums for 12 months for 55€.

V

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh, Vincent (Try pronouncing it not like “goat” but like the infamous “Loch” Ness just with the same ch-sound in the beginning, too) → Famous Dutch painter of the →Gouden Eeuw. Driven by the intensity of his experiences he managed to express his pain in the most beautiful ways before ending his life long before his time at the age of 37. Many of his works can be admired in the van Gogh museum at museumsplein.

Vondelpark → The biggest park within the ring of Amsterdam, Vondelpark is known as the garden of Amsterdam. In a warm summer day you will find a variety of activities going on, from children’s birthday parties, to newcomer bands practising, from outdoor martial arts classes to endless rows of barbecues, from concerts in abandoned air-raid shelters to Picasso’s statue of a fish. Listen to Acda en de Munnik‘s song “Vondelpark vannacht” to get the impression (though it’s in Dutch 😉 and definitely spend the best days of summer there.

W

Wallen, de → Arguably the most famous attraction of Amsterdam the network of alleys known as “de Wallen” host about 300 rooms rented out by prostitutes to offer their services. Bordering on Zeedijk, Amsterdam’s small Chinatown de Wallen mostly consist of old 14th century buildings, bars and museums on prostitution and the red light district. It’s popular among tourists and free guided tours educate about prostitution and the development in Amsterdam.

Z

Zwarte Piet, (“Black Peter”) → Faithful companion of Sinterklaas (“Saint Nicholaus”), Zwarte Piet helps him to deliver presents and bring sweet to the waiting masses of children on the 5th of December. Recently, much controversy has been sparked by his traditional appearance of actors with black facepaint, curly wigs and red lipstick to depict racial stereotypes.

International student on her way to Amsterdam

Honório

Hello,

I´m Larissa, I´m a new international student at VU University Amsterdam, starting September this year. The very helpful Miss Laura Smit asked me to write here about this experience as it happens and to share some information with you, her idea was that I could help you somehow, so let´s see.

I´m Brazilian, I graduated in law school November last year.  When I graduated I was in great doubt about what to do next and from where to start. I was ready to learn more and I was ready for a challenge. Then, I decided that a master degree abroad would be a good option for me, this would help my career plans,  and my family have been very supportive of my decisions so far so I started to put my applications. Actually, initially my intentions were to go either to London ( where I had done an Exchange before) or  to Paris ( where I had a dream of studying political science), but I ended up choosing Amsterdam. In fact, I chose VU University Amsterdam.

My decision to go to Amsterdam was based on the master program I was accepted for at the Faculty of Law: International Law and Politics of International Security. The master program is really interesting and it perfectly matches my final thesis. When I had a look at the curriculum I thought “this is exactly my area of interest”.  The perspective of studying this subject deeper and getting to know the points of view of professors and students all over the world, seemed very attractive to me. I have great expectations about the classes, seminars and debates I am to attend next semester. There is nothing more demanding and exciting in terms of research than law students critically analysing international politics with students with international backgrounds.

Well, offer accepted,  it is time to deal with all practical responsibilities : university documents, bank transcripts, bank transfers, forms, sworn translations, certified copies, visa application, accommodation reservation, flights, calendar, insurance… The list goes on and it is tooootally stressful. Just to get one simple document can take weeks, I had to talk to different people and wait for bureaucratic decisions to be made almost as if the differences were personal. It is a test for the nerves.  To make it more dramatic, just before the Worldcup started, everything was a prelude of chaos, strikes everywhere delayed the issuing of my documents. Now finally, I have sent my diploma to VU and I already have my unconditional offer. Also, I managed to send all  documents relating to my visa to the University. At the moment I´m waiting for news regarding my visa, hopefully everything is going to be alright!

Another important  subject: accommodation.  I had decided to stay in a room with a private bathroom in Uilenstede. I´m a very nice girl, sympathetic and easy going, but sharing a bathroom for one year is not nice, privacy is very important for me. The problem was that, within a few days, there were no more such rooms available at Uilenstede. I was all stressed out again. I didn´t know what to do because the options available in DUWO were very limited. In the end I opted for Pierre Lallementstraat flat ( private bathroom and kitchen according to VU website),  which is more expensive and apparently hidden  in a parallel universe where not even Google’s satellites can find it (if there is anyone else staying in Pierre Lallementstraat, hi 5! =).  Anyway, I´ve made my choice and I´m looking forward to seeing what my home for the next year looks like and to meeting my new neighbours.

Your new home cannot be found...

Your new home cannot be found…

I currently live in Rio de Janeiro and I absolutely love it here.  I´ve never been to Amsterdam before and  I must say I haven´t stopped yet to have a look into all aspects of living there, my life now is such a mess and I rather be surprised when I arrive.  However, I went to this bookshop close to my house yesterday (the place is a perfect combination of bookshop/cinema/coffee), and I had a look in an Amsterdam guide book. Amongst many nice things I discovered that there is a beach 45km from Amsterdam! The beach is called Scheveningen and apparently it is a touristic point for holidays and I thought great! When I miss the beach I can travel only 45km and maybe have a sunbath during the summer break.

Anything like Scheveningen beach?

Anything like Scheveningen beach?

For now my preparation consists of practicing riding a  bike. If you are South American you know how much nonsense it is to ride a bike as a means of transport in the city. Actually, as strange as it can sound, not everyone knows how to ride a bike,  I know some friends who don´t. I started riding a bike not so long ago and I´ve been practicing more since I knew I would be going to Amsterdam. There is a big park close to my place called Aterro do Flamengo and I´ve been practicing there. I do not represent a danger to anyone while riding, the secret is to keep a safe distance from the others. If you are also not a bike person, don´t worry, you are not alone!

Bike practice in Rio

Bike practice in Rio

In addition to this, public transport in Europe works (!!!), I´ve read also that Amsterdam’s public transport is a fine example of this, so it is also possible to be going by metro or bus. I will however,  keep the bike project, save some money and get fit.

Finally, I hope that after this testimony other international students feel that you are not alone in this long anxious process of moving to another part of the world and starting a new course.

I will probably be writing again before I go to Amsterdam, until there let´s all enjoy the best Worldcup ever and hope for the best on Friday, Brazil against Colombia (and perhaps a final match with Netherlands on the 13th=))!

Regards,

Larissa

Best ingredients for the perfect place of study

Every year round about this time, when we find ourselves at the peak of the madness of the application season at VU University Amsterdam, I keep asking myself this question: What drives students to choose our little corner of the world to study in, and why VU University? We speak and meet students from all hidden parts of world, with different backgrounds, religions, colours, shapes and sizes. They have often cross many borders and leave family and friends behind to come to the Netherlands, a country known for its tulips, waterworks, liberal laws, and endless flat fields filled with black and white cows.

Curious cows

Curious cows

What is it exactly that makes students pick this tiny little part of the world, out of the thousands of wonderful places that can be found on this globe? Sara Naqwi is one of the many examples. For her it was a combination of reasons; The availability of a study programme that sparked her interest and maybe the need for something completely different than what she was used to. But, what ingredients does the perfect place for study consist of for most?

I have done some research and in combination with some personal experiences (I was the typical international student once…) I came up with the following list of questions that students most probably try to find the answer for, before making their life-changing decision on where to study in this world:
1. Which country do I want study in?
2. What is the quality of the university?
3. Is the right study programme available in a language that I speak fluently?
4. How much does it cost?

Of course you are interested in how well the Netherlands, Amsterdam and in particular VU University do when looking at the above questions. So let’s have a look:

Country
Quality of Life
How well does the Netherlands do when looking at points like quality of life, climate and matters such like. In Quality of Life index published by the OECD, we score pretty well, number 8 of 34 countries measured within the developed world. And, what’s more, we score extremely high in the OECD’s programme for International Student Assessment with an average of 519 (the OECD average is 497).

Climate
The perfect climate is of course based on personal preferences. The Netherlands has it all: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Sometimes even spread over a single day. All this makes that our black and white cows can however enjoy the greenest fields of the world.

Green backyard of VU University Amsterdam

Green backyard of VU University Amsterdam

Quality of education
When people decide to look further than their own country borders for finding suitable education, all of a sudden, there are countless universities to choose from. This makes it extremely difficult to find out for sure, whether the quality of the education offered (and therefore the value of the diplomas awarded) is in fact of a high enough standard.

In the Netherlands the quality of education is something we are proud of. On the third of December 2013 the last ranking table was published by the OECD*, who charted educational standard across the developed world. And although it was a close call, we made it in the top 10! Listed 10th, scoring better than pretty impressive names like for example Germany (16), Australia (19) and the US (36). Are we proud? Yes, we are a little.

These days, most students will also refer to worldwide university rankings to ensure themselves that they are properly preparing themselves for a successful future. University rankings are being criticized due to the fact that scores can be easily manipulated and there are difficulties in view of the natural sciences and medicine vs. social sciences bias. However, students do need to be able to refer to something when making their choice.
The most commonly used rankings available are:
Times Higher Education (VU – 144)
Shanghai Ranking (VU – 101-150)
Leiden University Ranking (VU – 64)

Study Programme
English taught study programmes can be found all over the world, but maybe not as much as one would expect these days. In bigger European countries like France, Italy and Spain, they are still a rarity. However, in more northern parts of Europe, there is a steep growth in the offer of English taught study programmes. When looking at the numbers displayed on StudyPortals.eu, the Netherlands is in fact the biggest provider in Europe (of the non-English speaking countries of course).

In case of VU University, we offer a wide range of fully accredited English taught study programmes, both on Master and Bachelor level.

Cost of education
For most people in the world, getting an international education is still an unaffordable luxury or at least a serious investment. Cost of education is therefore for most students we meet, definitely an issue. Within Europe the price tags connected to education differ greatly. Studyportals, again offers a very handy overview of the differences in cost per country. In the Netherlands, prices are mid range in comparison to the rest of Europe. For most talented students, very good scholarship options are available that will cover most expenses.

So, by looking at the above indicators it seems fairly obvious that a choice to complete your education in the Netherlands, and possibly at VU University Amsterdam seems to be a perfect one if you are looking to study in a thriving economic climate at a well ranked university. But in the end strong individual capacity in combination with a natural drive to success is what makes students successful, whether they study at a ‘brand name’ university in a popular capital city, or not.

International graduation July 2013

International graduation July 2013

In my case however, it was great to find out that after having spent many years abroad, for me Amsterdam is the best place to live in. A city with a town spirit where people from all over the world have been finding their homes for hundreds of years. I’ve met many international students over the years and in every single case they loved the time they spent with us. I was lucky enough to see them develop from young and curious individuals to self-confident and talented professionals. Many of them went back to use their new skills and knowledge in their home countries but there is also quite a large number of people that found jobs in Amsterdam and surrounding areas. Whatever your personal choice may be; It is a great big world we life in and happiness can be found in many places. Amsterdam most definitely is one of those places.

On Pleasures and Perils

By Sara Naqwi

When I announced to my family and friends that we – my husband and I – are moving out of Dubai to Amsterdam, we were faced with disbelief. “Why would you want to leave Dubai?” “You do realize you will have to fill gas in your own car, even in winter?” “You’ll have to pay taxes!” “It is far more expensive, you will be paying twice as much for water and petrol!” and so on. The idea that a person can want more in life other than happiness that attaches itself to material wealth seemed inconceivable to my loved ones. The romantic in me wanted to quote one of my favorite authors, Gregory David Roberts, to explain the pressure of being surrounded with perfection: “The burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering.” Instead of confusing them further with my obscure philosophy, I explained, “You see, I want to see new lands, feel four seasons with all their glory and glitches, run to catch a train, shovel snow off my car. Maybe learn a new language, and customs.” But my words fell on deaf ears. Anyone wanting to leave the Middle East to move to the West held outrageous notions, particularly because countless Europeans were now moving to places like the UAE and Oman. To be fair, the consternation my friends and family experienced was understandable.

Dubai and its sister city, Abu Dhabi, are fantastic places on earth; they have risen from the ground in a little over a decade to become one of the most exquisite and desirable places to visit and live in the world. The UAE promises only the best of everything, from housing, education and work, to shopping, art, food and sports. The sunny weather makes it beach season throughout the year; the glamorous exhibitions, film and literature festivals and parties attract celebrities, writers and politicians from all over the world. Dubai is also home to the tallest building in the world that lights up with dramatic pyrotechnics on national occasions, annually, which is visible all the way to its neighboring cities. You can go skiing, diving, ice-skating and sky-diving all in one day with ease. Essentially, once in Dubai, you never want to leave which is what turns the city into a perfect “bubble”.

Dubai - the concrete jungle

Dubai – the concrete jungle

Being the daughter of a poet and the wife of a traveler, the bubble, for me, began to wobble a little. My work relates to human rights of Muslim prisoners who have become political pawns in the US’s “war on terror”. As my campaigning, research and writing progressed, I began to crave an education to strengthen my legal arguments and increase my knowledge about endless questions I was accumulating. When we moved to Amsterdam and I began my hunt for postgraduate studies, I was thrilled to come across – and be accepted to – VU Amsterdam’s program of “International Crimes and Criminology” at the faculty of law. The program has pushed me to ask why international crimes happen, and how can we prevent them from occurring in the future. Moreover, it focuses on subjects I am passionate about: the law of armed conflicts; and international human rights. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment that I never before realized was ideal for me. I began to see my humanitarian work from a legal perspective, which is imperative in my line of work; and my colleagues were just as inspiring, as most of them had a background in law or journalism.

New Landscapes - the Netherlands

New Landscapes – the Netherlands

My husband and I found a house in a sweet little village, on an island, outside Amsterdam, that faces a farm where cows graze in the summer, and geese flock in winter. Like our family and friends back home who still cannot understand why we left the UAE, our Dutch friends cannot comprehend why we chose to live on an island, the charm factor notwithstanding, and not in vibrant Amsterdam instead. Instead of offering my usual token of philosophy, I simply smile and say, “We craved the countryside when we lived in the concrete jungle, Dubai.” It is difficult to explain the wonderful pitter patter sounds of the rain when I wake up before sunrise to get ready for university, and how instead of putting me in a foul mood – as it does to most Europeans who long for the sun – it brings a skip in my step as I walk to my car. Every morning, regardless of the season, the sun gently breaks through magenta, pink clouds and soft light cascades down in perfect rays upon the fields. In the fall, the cows and ducks prepare another lazy day of consuming and snoozing as the day swathes them. I find myself witnessing Rembrandt’s inspiration of light and atmosphere first hand, and I am in awe. When I drive out of the island, I sometimes catch twin rainbows in the rear-view mirror, sending me off with a graceful farewell, and I must admit, the sheer beauty of such a sight makes it difficult to concentrate on the road. How can I explain the gratitude I feel in the silence of such a brilliant morning as I drive away to the city, to my university, while I eagerly await to join an environment where learning produces such joy. What constitutes a good life? Little did I know that taking the unusual and less travelled road, which others may not always be au fait with, may be one of the most wonderfully frightening and significant steps one can take in life.

I highly recommend it.

There’s no place like my new home!

A'Dam Nov 019

“Oh! Amsterdam, eh?”. I have seen the look more times than I can count since moving to The Dam. The look that says there are only a handful of reasons why you would move to the European capital and they know exactly why you would. After only three months in my new home I am increasingly defensive when I talk about my new residence and “there is actually much more to the city than the Red Light District you know” has become my rather brusque standard reply. And I don’t think I have ever said anything truer in my life.

In my travels around Europe I had never made it to Amsterdam before I moved here in September to start my Masters at the VU. All I knew of Amsterdam was the airport, which I had transited through a few times.  Like many people I now realise I had made the same assumptions as those people I have just mentioned: that Amsterdam is only an attractive location for its liberal laws and unusual attractions. As I have never been particularly interested in any of these ativities, I chose other places for my adventures. In truth I had wanted to avoid the very reaction mentioned above; that immediate assumption that I am only after the quintessential tourist experience of red windows and “funny cigarettes”.

In the end my decision to move here was one based purely on education and the fabulously unique Masters’ programs the university offers. In all my investigations I found nothing like the LLM in Law and Politics of International Security anywhere in Europe or even North America. With a contemporary curriculum and mix of political science and international law it was an attractive alternative to another round of pure international relations studies. The fact that it was in a major European city was simply a bonus.

The very first day I arrived in the city I walked around the corner of my hotel to Museumplein and found myself in the middle of the last day of the annual Uitmarkt (http://www.uitmarkt.nl/). The square was covered with people, families, couples, groups of friends, all enjoying a cold Heineken or some hot food from one of the stands and the live music coming from one of the stages. The square was electric with life and people, open to all those who wanted to enjoy themselves in the fabulous city. “If this is night one in Amsterdam,” I thought to myself, “I am definitely going to enjoy myself”.

Living here these past months I have found a city bright with vitality, busy with activity and bursting with youthful energy. Although a smaller city geographically than I had been expecting Amsterdam offers every individual with every different type of interest something to do, to visit, to see or to appreciate and the size actually makes it that much easier to get around and enjoy it all.

My three months here have been full of research, exploration and discovery. Expatriate websites have been my best friends in helping me to find the things I need from a city and steering me clear away from the tourist traps of Leidseplein which remind you of the common misrepresentations of what Amsterdam is really like and reasons you should come here. This is predominantly how I have stumbled upon the more palatable trends and draws of the city and find itself a tender place in my heart.

All it takes is a little effort, combined with determined persistence, and the city will start to feel like home. Force yourself out of the house and into the fabulously international mix of the city. It’s easy to find things to do. There is always a new exhibit, festival, market, parade, celebration or a trending new bar or eatery. While moving to a new city can always be overwhelming the welcoming nature of Amsterdam and Amsterdammers makes it an easier transition than most. So strap on your walking boots, pack your umbrella and hit the streets. Here are some of my top recommendations to make you feel like a local in no time.

G’s – a really nice place
Amsterdam has a growing café culture, much similar to that of my hometown Melbourne in Australia. Brunch is also successfully making waves from over the Pond. It is getting increasingly easier to find somewhere fantastic to enjoy your challah French toast or eggs Benedict.
Head to G’s, a small space dedicated to drinks on Thursdays and Fridays and transformed into one of the best weekend brunch places. With a fabulous menu and the requisite selection of Mimosas and Pimm’s Cups on offer this is one of the best brunch places I have ever stumbled upon. Booking essential as this place is a popular hotspot in the north of Jordaan.

G’s
Goudsbloemstraat 91
1015 JK Amsterdam
http://reallyniceplace.com/

Bar Spek
One of my favourite finds, indeed my culinary saviour is Bar Spek in the West. I have found Amsterdam restaurants can be quite expensive with food quality that does not match the prices. Not so this little gem. With an extensive menu for those of all tastes and an impressive wine list this is the perfect place to share some starters for a full flavour experience.

Bar Spek
Admiraal de Ruyterweg 1
1057 JT Amsterdam
https://www.facebook.com/barspek

Café de Tuin
Doing a little research on the areas you are heading to also helps find the more local haunts and avoid the swathes of tourists that flood the city. Local places have better atmospheres, better menus, and better prices. They are also great places to head with friends and mix with the friendly Dutch locals.

Café de Tuin is one such place. Packed at weekends with people of all ages and professions this place is certainly popular! With a great selection of tap and bottle beers, friendly clientele and the tight space will make you feel like part of the Amsterdam life in no time.

Café de Tuin
Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 13
1015 RX Amsterdam
http://www.cafedetuin.nl/

Café Louter
Still a local bar with a slightly more upmarket feel and a food menu is Café Louter. In a relaxed atmosphere you can enjoy a good selection of local and Belgium beers with great service from the bar staff. Louter also offers a good menu of food for when you get a little hungry!

Café Louter
De Clercqstraat 82
1052 NK Amsterdam
http://www.cafelouter.nl/

International Student Barometer for VU Students

International Student Barometer for VU Students
VU University Amsterdam always works on improving services for students to make sure you are having an amazing international learning experience. Student views about VU are therefore very important to us. The International Student Barometer (ISB) is a worldwide online survey that assists us in finding out what we’re doing right and where we can make improvements. And of course it gives students the chance to tell us what they think.

What improvements have we made already?
Career Services
One of the elements we have improved at VU, based on student views, are our Career Services. VU already invests in Career Services for a couple of years. However, due to the current economic climate we noticed that students need and expect  more support from VU and would like to gain more in depth information to make career plans. By renewing our Career Strategy and developing more activities in this field, we hope to meet your wishes. So, what is new:
– Workshops ‘How to write your CV;
– Interview Training;
– Business tour on Zuidas, the international business district of Amsterdam;
– International Career Event with a full day of workshops, presentations and a job fair.

Soon more information to be found on our Facebook Page.

How do you help us improve our services and compete for prizes?
As stated earlier, your views count! So, if you are a VU student, please take the time to fill out the ISB questionnaire you received last week, and will receive again this Wednesday the 4th of December. To thank you for helping us, a €1000,- cash prize will be given away amongst respondents worldwide. VU University also gives away an IPad amongst VU respondents. The prize winner of the Ipad will be announced during the ‘borrel’ on the 19th of December at the VU International Office. The official invitation will be send in a later stage. Please, keep in mind you have until Friday the 6th of December to fill out the survey (and win prizes!).

We are looking forward to meet you – at the ‘borrel’ and during one of our Career Activities in 2014!