Amsterdam: A Grain of Sand for seeing the world

This is the third month for me in Amsterdam. With the city I get familiar gradually. With you I want to share the following:

My first sight of Amsterdam
I am Li Miao, a research master student in Cognitive Neuropsychology, VU University Amsterdam. Being a Chinese with full enthusiasm, coming from Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province, I am used to see huge crowds of people around the cities even in the wee hours and I am used to take long journeys rushing among cities. Usually, I found myself still in the same province after five hours by train. I have seen steep mountains and ranges that never make people tired of them, roaring waves in the ocean that makes visitors in awe and skyscrapers that seem to touch the cloud.  Well, the Netherlands seems different.

portrait-on-beach

Me

 

Now, I am experiencing a lot of contrasts. Yes, Amsterdam city – the quiet, small and lovely city. The Netherlands, with almost the same population of Beijing, the capital city of China, seems like a village to me. From my perspective, I saw a different world. Amsterdam is a lively, peaceful city. A city with simple and unsophisticated building styles as well as lively neighbourhoods and a city full of warm-hearted people with diversification and internationalization. I dropped my fear of entering an unfamiliarly city when seeing this welcoming approach to newcomers.  Yes, these are the first impression I had of Amsterdam.

great-wall-vs-ducks

Great wall vs Ducks

 

Amsterdam as a choice: expected result
I have been trying to find more opportunities to expand my horizon in the past years. I was trying to spend most of my spare time travelling around China. Finally, in the junior year of my bachelor, I made a decision to go abroad to find a better study environment. With a major in psychology, I studied individual behaviour and mental phenomenons. Because of a minor in history, I also gained knowledge about the worlds’ historical changes and the rising of strong countries.  The Netherlands, naturally, became one of my most favourite countries with both strong historical roots as well as a modern development. Amsterdam, the historical capital city, undoubtedly, is a pretty nice choice.

central-station

Amsterdam Central Station

 

This will never be a choice to regret, as my love towards this city increases day by day. I still remember the first day’s picking up service that VU offered to all the international students. This was an amazing welcome for me. I also tasted the Dutch sweet biscuits and the “awful” DROP (it can only be a medicine in my country) after the journey. I settled in my first home at the Spinoza campus, and even though it was not an ideal student accommodation, I was still attracted by the serene environment and lovely neighbours.  I think am the luckiest one as I got a second chance to find a much lovelier home – the Revel Residence. I really have a nice time being a “Resident” here.  A group of warm-hearted people who are always ready to help, teachers from VU and students from all over the world surround me. Even passers-by and people sitting next to me in metro say “Hi” to me. What shall I expect more from them? “Amazing” would be the most proper word here to describe my feelings.

spinoza-and-revel

Student Rooms

 

Studying Cognitive Neuropsychology: brings me closer to my dream
I started my new identity; an international student in VU. It is a fantastic experience in my study life. I am very proud to say that I contributed to diversity while the programme also takes me a huge step closer to my dream. I met experts in neuropsychology and cognitive psychology. I found the advanced facilities for students and last but not least, I met a group of nice classmates. I found myself in a brand new study life: critical lectures with practical courses and freely shared opinions make me excited for all the knowledge and skills I’ll gain. This research master provides a better way to prepare for my research career.

I am glad I can study at VU Amsterdam and I am happy to share my feelings with you. I also appreciate that I am here today in order to become a better me in the future.

First Impressions of the VU

Hello all! My name is Kate and I’m a semester student at the Vrije Universiteit! A month after I touched down at Schiphol, and I am finally all settled in Amsterdam! I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. There has been so much to do that I have lost track of the days.

bye bye New York!

bye bye New York!

Since the moment my plane landed I have done an array of things from eating a lot of food, to meeting new people, attending events, and exploring the area around Uilenstede campus and the city. The first person I met was Ilin, one of our International Officers at the VU, who was so bright and cheery at 7:30 in the morning (I don’t know how). He led other students and me to our short taxi ride to Uilenstede from Schiphol airport. The ride was interesting because I was so tired due to the time difference that it was hard for me to stay awake. I accidentally sprayed my deodorant on my hair instead of hairspray, that’s how tired I was. Then I met Kelly, our other International Officer, who was also very bright and cheery and led us to our rooms in Uilenstede. The rest of the day consisted of saying hello to all of the other students and rearranging my room to make it feel a little bit more like home.

my first day in Amsterdam - flower market -

my first day in Amsterdam
– flower market –

The rest of the week was packed with activities hosted by Kelly and Ilin for the Semester in Amsterdam students. We had a neighborhood walking tour, a snack-filled picnic at the Museumplein park, a tour of the Heineken brewery, and a day trip to Efteling Theme Park. The walking tour was so helpful since I had no idea where I was going, and the picnic was the best because it had all of the essentials: wine, beer, cheese and other various snacks. The Heineken brewery was fun as well since it was very interactive and had free beer, and Efteling was my favorite thanks to the cheap and delicious theme park food (hot dogs, ice cream, and some sort of fried dough ball covered in powdered sugar) and really fun rides. There were also a lot of activities conducted by the ESN (International Student Organization) which were great ways to socialize with both semester students and exchange students. The thing that stuck out the most to me at these events was how approachable and kind everyone was. Students were saying hello to each other, people would go out of their way to talk to other people, and everybody was genuinely trying to get to know one another. No matter where I was, the elevator, Il Caffe, or the floor kitchens, people would say hello and strike up a conversation. This factor has made the transition people go through when they move somewhere on their own a lot easier and I thank everyone for that.

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

Aside from the organized events, I have done many other things since I’ve been here. I’ve travelled around the city exploring different bars and restaurants, most notably a bar called Waterkant, and a mexican restaurant called Los Pilones which I highly suggest. I went to Zandvoort aan Zee which is a beach that supplies chairs and umbrellas to the public for free (amazing), and swam in the North Sea. I visited Zaanse Schans to see some Dutch windmills and sheep. Also, I have had one too many hamburgers since they taste so much better here than in the U.S. Within the first week I also survived my first trips to the Jumbo supermarket even though I had no idea what some items were, to the Ikea which is so big I got lost in the showroom section, and on the tram/metro which can be scary if you forget to check in or out since you can get stuck behind the gates that let you out of the station. The last thing on my to-do list was to purchase a bike, which seemed intimidating because everyone seems like a professional bike rider here and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t let my nerves stop me, I went to the bike store underneath the main building of the VU and bought myself a nice, simple, black bike! It’s a little tall for me but I’m figuring it out. So far I haven’t done anything detrimental (knock on wood), I even rode it back to Zandvoort beach which was a 60 kilometer round-trip…I would never suggest anyone to do that unless they are prepared to sweat and have sore legs for three days. If anyone can handle that, then be my guest since it’s a beautiful ride through the Netherlands.

my awesome, squeaky bike

my awesome, squeaky bike

Last but not least, school! I finally started class at the VU which has been a really different experience. I come from a City University of New York, Brooklyn College, that is mostly a commuter school, meaning nobody lives on or around campus. People either live with their parents or roommates, and are scattered all around New York City. Throughout the first day of classes I noticed that everyone seemed to know everyone else; people were sitting in large groups and talking as if they were all good friends. I really enjoyed observing that because the only thing I dislike about my home university is the lack of acknowledgement between students on campus. It’s the same thing at the student housing campus, Uilenstede, everyone tries to get to know one another and everybody interacts. I’ve never been in a community made up solely of students and I really like it. Besides that, classes have been good and interesting. The professors here seem very worldly, educated and open minded which I appreciate. The class dynamic here is very similar to the ones at Brooklyn College, large lecture halls of students taking notes from colorful PowerPoint slides. So far, I’m very pleased with school and student life in Amsterdam.

my favorite picture of Amsterdam so far ...

my favorite picture of Amsterdam so far …

 Overall, Amsterdam’s first impression on me has been a great one. It has surpassed my expectations and has thankfully reinforced my decision to study here for a semester. The only challenge I face in the upcoming months is figuring out my bank account situation. I opened an account with ABN AMRO which has been super confusing, but like I always tell myself, I’ll figure it out. Anyway, Amsterdam has been extremely good to me thus far, so I cannot wait for many more foods, beers, and experiences to come.

Uilenstede: the magical land of “huisfissa”, the Eternal Bass and Vladimir de Uilenkat

 

- this is me -

– this is me –

 

Hi There

My name is Nina, and I have now lived and studied in Amsterdam since August 2015. I’m part of the two-year Master’s programme in Earth Sciences, with the specialisation in Earth Surface Processes, Climate and Records (with the handy abbreviation ESPCaR). I’m one out of only three foreigners in my Master’s degree (out of app. 25 students in total), so getting down with the Dutch has been a priority from day one. And luckily, the Dutch are very good people, except for a tendency to use too much hair-gel (this is mostly directed towards the male part of the population). I like the VU a lot, but I am writing this blog-entry to introduce you to something else: The Uilenstede student campus.

Uilenstede: the magical land of “huisfissa”, the Eternal Bass and Vladimir de Uilenkat

Uilenstede (the “ui” is phonetically transcribed as [œy] and its pronunciation is a point of eternal debate amongst us foreigners) is a major student campus run by the housing company Duwo. Uilenstede is located three tram/metro stops away from the VU, and is technically not located in the municipality of Amsterdam but in that of Amstelveen. Amstelveen is kind of the less cool municipality-cousin of Amsterdam, but as the slight change of zip-code literally happens right at the entrance to the Uilenstede campus, we have decided not to be bothered by it.

The setting of Uilenstede campus is largely divided between Dutch and non-Dutch residents, with the internationals claiming the large green tower, the smaller red tower, and the even smaller twin buildings in number 102. The towers of Uilenstede are always throwing parties, which explains the almost eternal sound of bass, almost acting as a heartbeat, depicting the social health of the campus (often associated with the proximity of the next exam period). However, should you be in search of a party and you don’t bother physically hunting for one, facebook is your friend. In the group “Uilenstede” or “Uilenstede Huilenstede!” you will easily find other like-minded people, often writing statements like “Is er ergens nog een huisfissa vanavond?” or “Huis fissa vanavond?!”, in which people comment the location of a party being thrown.

Uilenball

Uilenball

Such parties are often very crowded, with a flow of people trying to enter the kitchen of the unit (the towers are divided in units, one unit being approximately 13 people sharing a kitchen) and usually a smaller amount of people fleeing the cramped area. The ones who make it out are usually covered in sweat and a bit of glitter (which no-one remembers bringing), sometimes with a glow-stick stuck in their hair/pants/drink.

As an international crashing a Dutch house party, you might find yourself being the only foreigner in the crowd. This becomes apparent when the dancing horde is suddenly sitting on the floor/jumping synchronously/clapping their hands while spinning – all part of some Dutch song they all know by heart. Being the only one standing at this point is a dead giveaway, so if you want to remain incognito be alert.

Another important part of Uilenstede campus is the un-crowned king of the campus: Vladimir. Vladimir is an orange sort-of-ugly looking cat, who rules the streets (sometimes bushes and trees) of Uilenstede. He is the focus of the facebook page “Vladimir de Uilenkat”, which regularly posts images and videos of his shenanigans. Because he recently got lost in the city, he is now equipped with a GPS tracker. His daily whereabouts are afterwards often posted on his page.

Vladimir the Uilencat

Vladimir the Uilencat

Vladimir is not the only input from the animal kingdom which has its daily routine on the campus. In the smaller houses of Uilenstede 102, a rooster became part of the household during the spring, both to the enjoyment and annoyance of its neighbours. This rooster does not limit its crowing to a specific time-slot, instead it has chosen to be more of an omnipresence. There’s also the occasional appearance of lobsters in the areas near the small artificial canals on the campus. These often terrorise the inhabitants, who post about their encounters with the beasts, or its remains, as a warning to the rest of us.

Kattler - RoosterKattler - Lobster_encounter

With the renovations of Uilenstede being almost done, the campus area has gotten a nice make-over (although I am still puzzled by the giant red pole which has been erected in the square of the campus next to the Griffeon cultural centre). All in all, Uilenstede campus has a great vibe and is filled with happy silly students who enjoy life. This is clear when the sun occasionally peeks out, and people rush out to the green areas bringing BBQ’s, frisbees and portable speakers. Enjoy!

My experience as a Master student in Amsterdam

Who am I?

I come from the Basque Country in the North of Spain. I am currently enrolled in the two year Clinical and Developmental Psychopathology Research Master. I have been living in Amsterdam since August, 2015.

2015-08-16 13.21.43

Why I decided to move the Netherlands?

When I was about to finish my Bachelor in Psychology, like most of the bachelor students, I had to decide if I wanted to continue my studies with a master or if would try to find a job. Considering the Spanish situation for psychology graduates, I wouldn’t expect to find a proper job; therefore I decided to study a master. However, I did not find any master in Spain that I really like. I decided to expand my horizons and start looking for masters abroad.

I’ve always been passionate for travelling, meeting new people and discovering new cultures and ways of living and getting in touch with international environments.  When I was doing my bachelor I spend one year as an Erasmus student in Ireland. I really enjoyed the experience and learn a lot about it. I would like to emphasize that doing a master abroad is completely different from doing an Erasmus. There are two completely different experiences, but both of them are worth it.

2015-08-24 11.19.22.jpg

Why the VU University?

Once I took the decision of studying a master abroad, I started looking for different universities around Europe that offered programs in English. Living abroad is expensive and scholarships and grants are not so easy to find compared to the ones you can get from being an Erasmus student. In my case I miss some scholarships because I didn’t plan it on time. My recommendation is to start searching and applying for scholarships even before you know you will be accepted in the master.

After an exhaustive search, I finally found the Clinical and Developmental research master in the VU. I’ve read a lot about the high quality of education in the Netherlands and I considering the low prices for European students I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

2015-09-16 20.48.41

The city

When people ask me I always tell them that I was never looking for the Netherlands; the master came first and the city was a secondary outcome.  However, since I arrive here I started faling in love with the city and all the opportunities (personal and career related) that Amsterdam offered me.  It is multi cultural city in which you can find all kind of events at any time. I become more open minded and learn a lot about different cultures, cooking styles and developed my own style and way of living.

2015-10-11 17.41.47.jpg

 

My personal opinion

Living in Amsterdam has changed my life. When I compare who I am now to who I was when I came here I realize how much I changed. How mature I become, how open minded, independent and strong person I am now. This experience gave me the opportunity to know other people and get to know myself better. It is not only about the master, it is about everything that surrounds it. I know that if I would have made this master in Spain, in my hometown, surrounded by the people I already know I wouldn’t have grown as much as Amsterdam did.

Studying abroad is not only about you professional skills, it’s also about the personal changes that you experience in the road. It changes your perspective; it introduces you to new ideas and new ways of living, which in turn influences every aspect of your life.

For me, this first year of the master has been a path to understand myself better and to find what I want to do in the future. Moreover, quality of studies in the VU is really high. Professors are super qualified and experienced. I know this year in Amsterdam has produced so many changes in my life.

2016-05-01 13.30.13.jpg

Final comments

I really recommend going abroad to study. I also know that doing a master is really different from doing an exchange program during your bachelor.  Sometimes it can be difficult to stay away from the people you know, your friends and family. You learn and become stronger. Some days you will miss your country and your people, but I never regret my choice of coming here. I think the positives outperform the negatives.

2015-08-16 13.21.21.jpg

Why Study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Our current students know what makes VU University an inspiring and challeging university to pursue your bachelor, master or exchange studies. Curious to hear their opinion about the lectures offered, the services we provide to international students ánd what makes Amsterdam such a great city to study? We strongly suggest that you check out this video:

Never stop in the middle of a bike path!

City with a view

City with a view

Hey everyone!

I am Pablo from Rio de Janeiro and I am about to get my Master degree in International Business Law. Basically, I can define my time at the VU and in Amsterdam as a life changing experience, both personally and professionally.

Selfie

Selfie

Back in Brazil I was working as a lawyer and my career was proceeding at a rapid rate. I graduated magna cum laude (GPA 9.3) in one the five best Universities in Latin America. I was also one of very few students to pass the Brazilian Bar Exam before finishing my degree. I was part of the infrastructure department of one of the biggest law firms in Brazil and I had the opportunity to participate in relevant infrastructure projects developed in the country. However, I was (and continue to be) strongly convinced that learning is a lifelong process, especially in a continuously evolving subject such as the Law. I was born and raised into a poor, but hardworking family, where every penny earned was invested in a better education. From a very young age I learned that education is the key to success. Having that in mind, I started a long and burdensome process of searching for the best universities, gathering the necessary documentation, translating everything, doing a TOEFL exam and applying for a master abroad.

#vuamsterdam

#vuamsterdam

*If I could go back in time, I would do everything again because it is worth it. Step out of your comfort zone! It won’t be easy, but it will change your life forever!*

Back to the point. I was admitted in all the universities I applied for and got excellent scholarships. After balancing out all the possible pros and cons, I decided to take VU’s offer. Goddammit, it was definitely the best decision I could have made. VU and Amsterdam combine the necessary elements of high academic level and life quality (ps. the weather is not as bad as people pretend when complaining here).

  1. The day of arrival was overwhelming but don’t be scared of it. You will likely be tired at the end of the day. There will be several formalities to perform and you won’t finish them all at the end of the first day. Be patient, those things have to be done everywhere and it is quite nice that they try to organize as much paperwork as possible at one place and one day for our convenience.
  2. If you are thinking about housing, I would definitely go for one of the apartments arranged by the university. It is hard to find something here, even if you are a local and I have heard several bad experiences from friends. Think it through and decide if you want to live close to the Uni (with most of the other students) or if you prefer to live closer to the city centre. This is a difficult decision to make and both have pros and cons. It is a personal decision at the end of the day. Save some money to buy something (secondhand or at Ikea) to make your place more like home. It is very easy to buy and sell things online here. Secondhand markets have many platforms in the Netherlands and it is very common to use them! Soon you will see my stuff going on the market as well hahahah.
  3. If you are thinking about costs, the city is a bit expensive, but it is totally possible to live under the budget that is estimated by the University. There are also several activities you can do for free. There are also many cheap restaurants and supermarkets. You can reach most every place by bike. You will find your way around.
  4. If you are thinking about the program, I can talk only about my own course. However, I think other courses at the university have similar quality standards. My program was great! Really good teachers, high quality education. The facilities are also amazing when I compare them to my university back in Rio. One very important thing, teachers are very strict in grading here and you will have to study a lot! It is extremely difficult to get high grades, but it is not impossible. I even managed to get a 9.5, but it took me much time and work. Be prepared for this! You will learn a lot and definitely overcome your own limitations.
  5. If you are thinking about having fun and enjoy your time as well, Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands are very good places to be. Rio de Janeiro is a hard city to beat in this aspect, but I had as much fun here as I would have had back at home and it is always great to open our horizons and do something new. I made many good friends, I did a lot of parties, cultural activities, I even jumped into the cold sea to celebrate the New Year (Nieuwjaarsduik), celebrated carnival in Maastricht and went to Brussels with friends from the student association and everyone was wearing onesies (crazy trip!), among many other things. Above all, I met a partner for life!
Almeida onesy party

Everybody needs a onesie

Almeida nieuwjaarsduik

New Year’s Dive – Nieuwjaarsduik

Almeida partner

For life

One nice thing about the Netherlands: it is much more than just an incredible country to have fun in and to lead a great life; it is also a great place to do business and/or to study. There are several opportunities for those who are qualified and willing to work hard. Since the beginning of April I am doing an internship in one of the most highly regarded law firms in the country. I have been working (besides my study) for two days per week in the offices of Amsterdam and Rotterdam with the Latin America Desk. I have also participated in the weekly social activities from both offices (borrels). It has been an incredible opportunity to grow professionally and personally. It has enabled me to exchange knowledge, broaden my legal perspective and establish relevant network for the future.

Zuidas - The Amsterdam Business Centre

Zuidas – The Amsterdam Business Centre

I also got my A2 Level in Dutch (IT IS SOO HARD) and, finally, on June 17th I presented my thesis and got a nine for it! I couldn’t be happier and I am so glad I was able to overcome so many challenges! Despite the difficulties, it is a great feeling to have it done and I grew so much with this experience. If you have a chance, do it!

NT2 Dutch Exam

NT2 Dutch Exam

My final remarks for those who are considering moving here for studies.

The university is great, the Dutch are cute, it is a very open society and there is space for all types of cultures, sexual orientations, skin colors, religions and humors. Enjoy yourself, love, be loved, have fun, study a lot, respect the others and be happy, but NEVER****, never stop in the middle of a bike path!

Good luck!

A new life in Amsterdam: Experiences shared by 4 Chinese students

This is us:  Xi, Mingxing, Binbin, Yili

This is us:
Xi, Mingxing, Binbin, Yili

This is an article written by us, Xi Lu, Minxing Han, Binbin Mu and Yili Liu. We are 4 Chinese students who want to share our experiences that came with moving to the Netherlands and studying at VU University. It was a hard start but we are left with amazing memories after one year of studying here. We hope that our experiences can somehow prepare others that will follow in our footsteps. We will each write about one particular part of these experiences:
1. Language difficulties
2. Cultural Difference
3. Differences in Education Styles
4. Life in Holland

Language difficultiesXi Lu
The language barrier I confronted when I got here at the very beginning was definitely beyond what I had imagined before I left China. I was aware that it was going to be a challenge, yet I did not realise it could be as serious and sometimes depressing as it turned out to be.

By saying this, I did not mean that I could not handle daily communication, that was actually rather simple because people around are so kind and they would listen to you with full patience even while speaking broken English. However, handling lectures and assignments was a totally different story. During the first few months, these were torture for me. I could only understand roughly half of what the professors taught during class
and as for assignments, due to the requirement of a lot of reading, it was all a very slow process. This was firstly due to my relatively slow reading speed and secondly due to my shallow understanding of the articles. And I have to be honest that even now, I still do not dare to say that I can fully understand everything that is being said during the classes.

However, things have changed for the better. My communicating skills, the reading speed, and the interpretation of articles is improving. I can clearly feel that I have been making progress due to the amount of studies. Of course, for new students there will surely be a point that you feel helpless or even worse, that you think you can not handle staying even a little bit more, but language is all about repetition and practice. It is merely a matter of time + effort = result. At least this formula works for me.

Culture differencesMingxing Han

The VU University campus

The VU University campus

There are so many cultural differences between China and western countries. There is in fact such a big gap that students will have to take this into consideration when they chose to study abroad.

When I first came here, I had problems understanding both the party culture and of course the language. This made things difficult. However, my flatmates continued to encourage me to come to the kitchen more often and talk to them. After half a year, they said my English was becoming much better than before. We started to participate in more parties which was a way to get to know different people and different ways of thinking.

Now, after one year of studying here I think partying in western counties is just like the dinners we have together with our friends in China. The only difference is that we eat at the restaurant and they drink in a bar or someplace else.

Western culture is more open compared to Chinese culture. It seems Chinese people are more shy and dare not to express their opinions directly. But, having lived here in Amsterdam, what we have learnt from the culture is that we should think and communicate more openly and actively.

But most the most important lesson learnt: Don’t be too shy to express yourself!

Differences in education stylesBinbin Mu
From the day we started our classes, we experienced many differences in education styles and here I want to mention three of the most significant ones:

1. Here we are expected to participate in class more actively than we are used to in our home country. We do presentations, have discussions in class and also are expected to communicate actively with the professors. At first, we were not accustomed to that and it felt uneasy, but after a period of practice, we got used to it and are now finding it interesting and useful.

2. We need to do a lot of study work before and after classes. This means that our self-study ability is very important. We have to read a lot, write many papers, and also do research. It could be however that this is not a difference between education styles of two countries, but in fact a difference between undergraduate studies and master studies. Whatever it is, we learn in a lot this way, especially about research methods.

3. The semester and exam system is quite different. Here we have five (or even 6) periods during the one-year program with exams at the end of each of those periods. While in China we divide one academic system into two semesters and all exams would come at the end of the semester. This difference means that here we have to study hard all year round and cannot leave all the work till the very last moment before exams. But, this kind of pressure does push us to work hard and be successful in our studies at VU University and in our case, the International Business Law program.

Life in Holland – Yili Liu
Life in Amsterdam is different and great. I was curious about almost everything when I first came to this international city, so I started to explore it straight away. There is an old saying in China, which is ‘to travel a thousand miles beats reading a thousand books’. It’s true; I’ve learned more about the Netherlands and the whole EU by experiencing local life, getting to know different people and exchanging ideas with them by keeping an open mind. Meanwhile my life skills have developed to a new stage because I have to deal with everything on my own in daily life.

For example; People regard food as their prime need, so my cooking skills, which were zero-based, got the most obvious improvement and I can already cook several kinds of food by myself within no time at all.

A busy street in the centre of Amsterdam

A busy street in the centre of Amsterdam

Generally, difficulties made me progress rapidly, and challenges make me know who I am and what I can do. So, I really appreciate life in Amsterdam and I hope you will too!

Amsterdam – Once In A Lifetime

Aneliya in front of the Iamsterdam sign

Aneliya in front of the Iamsterdam sign

Hey there! My name is Aneliya Evtimova and I earned a Master of Science degree in Entrepreneurship from the VU in 2012. I can honestly tell you that coming to study and then work in Amsterdam was the best decision I have ever made.

I graduated with a Bachelor in Business Administration at the University of Sofia, in Sofia, Bulgaria, where I’m originally from. The program was partly in French and since I wanted to diversify my experience, I decided to look for a Master’s programme in English. I chose very impulsively to study at the VU – one evening at my student job I was browsing through master programmes and I was looking for an affordable option of one year in Business Administration in English in Europe. And then I saw it – Entrepreneurship – but of course! I instantly knew that this would be an amazing opportunity for me to expand my horizon and learn about business in a new way. I stopped browsing and the next day I applied for the programme. And I got accepted.

Summer rain during introduction days

Summer rain during introduction days

Of course, arriving in Amsterdam was a bit of a shock. It was August 23rd 2011 and in Bulgaria the daily temperature was around 27 degrees Celsius. Underestimating the Dutch climate, I remember arriving at Amsterdam Central Station in a rainy morning, at least 10 degrees colder than my home country. And there I was, walking around the city with my flip-flops and two huge suitcases. This was the only day ever that I’ve felt out of place in Amsterdam – and I blame it on the weather shock.

Housing in the Netherlands is difficult (for internationals but for the Dutch also – as I later discovered), unless you’ve arranged it with the university beforehand. Indeed, I applied for housing through the university and I can definitely recommend that you do the same – your room is guaranteed, you will save yourself from a lot of headache and you for sure get to live with other international students, with whom you will possibly be sharing unforgettable moments.

Summer in Holland

Summer in Holland

If you like having fun, you’re definitely in the right place. I was very impressed by the introduction week that Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organized for the international students – with all the fun activities, including a sports day, aiming for us to meet and connect. Also all the Wednesday nights at the Coco’s pub were great, as were all the trips in the surroundings of Amsterdam. I was extremely amazed by how pretty the city of Amsterdam is and by the wonderful architecture. Biking makes moving around the city extremely accessible which give you a peace of mind and freedom you’ve never experienced before. I fell in love with Dutch electronic music and it soon became a substantial part of my identity. Concerning the Dutch, I still am truly astonished by everyone’s fluency in English – this definitely makes it very easy to communicate.

All these factors resulted in me feeling very much at home here in Amsterdam in less than 2 months. And it only gets better and better 🙂

The experience at the University was also quite interesting. Unexpectedly, at the very first class we were given the assignment to do 10 out of 20 entrepreneurial tasks in a group for 2 days! In the end we had to compile a video which you can watch here. And this first project was crucial for our continuation of the master study – this is what I would call a true entrepreneurial kick-off! The programme was quite diverse and balanced in what it had to offer. For some of the classes really all we had to do was read articles and write papers, but for others – we created a movie, wrote a business plan for a meeting app and had a lot of fun! If you are an international student, I would advise you to go to all classes so that you don’t accidentally miss out on a detail important for you. Again, studying is extremely important. You can always make it fun, though. For example, I was very happy that my thesis topic – the relationship between beauty salon owner’s entrepreneurial competences and their employees’ motivation was approved, for example. I have work experience as a manicurist and I was curious to do such research in the Dutch beauty industry. My supervisor instantly liked the topic very much and was supporting me every step of the way.

Looking back, I have to admit that living in this country and studying here has made me a much more flexible person with a broader vision. If you are hesitating to come to Amsterdam – just come 🙂 The freedom and peace of mind you get when living here gives you a lot of space to focus on the things you like and makes you a happier person 🙂

If you have questions or you’d like to chat, don’t hesitate to contact me at: aneliya.evtimova@gmail.com. And by the way, when arriving, leave your flip-flops at home 🙂

Finally: international student arrives in Amsterdam

Hello everyone,
It´s been a long time now since I wrote here for the last time, almost 2 months. On my previous post I was about to leave Brazil and I was very anxious, nervous and uncertain about many things. To be honest, I still am but I feel more prepared at the moment. At this post I´ll share with you my first impressions about the VU, Amsterdam and also what my challenges have been so far.

First Days
Well, I´m alive and I´m ok. Arriving here in time for the introduction week was indeed very important; on my first day I could manage to do almost all bureaucratic obligations in one day and at one place. In the same week I also did a tuberculosis test and picked up my residence permit, so everything was very practical.

Meeting classmates & professors
During the following weeks I had many social meetings, which was kind of strange for me. The first contact with my group and professors was followed by a lunch and refreshments. Having milk and sandwiches for lunch was not the strangest part for me, but I have never been in a situation where students and professors have food together just after knowing each other for the first time. My classroom is very selective, we are only 24 people, so by the end of the day we already knew a lot about each other.
The second social meeting was a boat trip. All students from the faculty of law, together with professors and staff, went together in a boat to see Amsterdam´s canals. The trip was very unusual for me, but I enjoyed it very much ( good initiative VU!). At this same day we also had “refreshments” together. I am not used to have social meetings with professors, really, it is embarrassing for me. In Brazil we keep a formal distance from professors until both parties feel comfortable to have a more informal relationships. Also, in my previous university we could have activities together with certain professors ( those with whom students became real friends) but only outside the university environment. In conclusion, I would say that here at VU, as strange as it may sound, students and professors have a formal informal relationship ( very confusing indeed).

Classes
Another big difference from my previous education is how classes here are strictly planned. We have a calendar with the subjects of every class and also the readings we should do prior to them. This is also very unusual for me, but in a good way. In Brazil we are supposed to find out for ourselves the best reading material for each subject and also we don’t do so many discussions in classes. Here students make interventions and debate during classes all the time, which was unusual in my previous law school.

High work load
About my life specifically I feel that everything is too intense at the moment. I have an incredibly amount of readings to do every day, I must write assignments and book reviews which I’ve have never done before, I´m having Dutch classes ( which is totally cool=)) and, apart from normal life practical obligations, I´m super involved in an extra-curricular projects.

Together with some colleagues, I am organising a seminar and essay contest on UN Security Council reforms. The idea came to us by The Clingendael Institute that, together with Instituto Igarapé from Brazil, is hosting a conference between Brazilian and Dutch governments on the subject. We have a lot of work to do and I am investing a lot of energy on this activity, I feel that I must do the best I can to include my Brazilians colleagues on this project. Everyone is invited to participate and be the most creative and revolutionary as possible ( especialmente para meus colegas brasileiros: uni-vos! Com a nossa participação esse projeto vai bombar, certeza!;)

Out and About

Dutch Beach

Dutch Beach

About Amsterdam/Netherlands I really can not say much, I haven´t done many things yet so I don’t have a clear idea of what the city/country “vibe” is. I have been to the beach 3 weeks ago, I went there with a friend from Brazil who was visiting me. Actually we were planning on cycling to the country side, taking some pictures of the tulip fields, but then after cycling from Haarlem station for what seemed a long time ( yes, I´m still not fit for too much cycling), we arrived at the beach. The beach was very nice, different from Brazil of course but an interesting option for summer season.

The Bike
After a few weeks in Amsterdam I´m very positive about a few things: 1- Bike is totally important; 2- Avoid, above all, cycling in rush hours in the morning ( between 7:30 – 9:30am) and cycling in the centre at any time. Rush hours can be very scary, I strongly recommend you to avoid it as much as you can. There are so many bikes at the streets that it seems like a bike crash is about to happen at any time. Also, people can be very, very rude during rush hours, it´s unbelievable how they can spread so much negative energy this early in the morning. Apart from this, dutch people are normally very polite and helpful, specially when you are lost and ask for directions.
In 1,5 month I have come from a non bike person to a bike lover, in fact all my concerns about cycling seem strange to me when I think about it now. Cycling is now my best means of transport, I feel more independent than ever and physically stronger as well. Also, I am already affectionate to my bike, I can recognise her from far away and we connect very well together, I know that when the time comes to say goodbye to her I’ll feel a lot.

The Bike with the Bell

The Bike with the Bell

The Parks
What I like to do the most here in Amsterdam is relaxing at the parks. I love the parks of Amsterdam and the weather the last weeks was perfect for lying on the grass and just enjoying the sun. Whenever the weather is like this I take all my readings and spend some hours studying at the park, it is very inspiring.

Study at the Park

Study at the Park

Missing the Old, enjoying the New
Of course I miss Brazil very much, I miss my friends and my family. It´s been 1,5 month I don’t receive a honest hug, that big hug capable of making you feel better just because you feel the person cares about you. Apart from this, I think I´m adapting well here, I go to Uni by bike every day, I know where to buy my favourite groceries and my accommodation is really good.

Yes, for future records, Pierre Lallementstraat does exist and is very much habited by many students. The building is brand new, I was the first one to step in to my room, it is well furnished and very comfortable. The room is actually a big studio with kitchen, bathroom and studying table. We still don’t have a common area but people manage to meet in one another´s room for socializing and people are constantly talking to each other on our facebook page. The location is also perfect, we are approximately 25 min cycling away from VU and 15 min from the city centre. Oosterpark and Frankendael Park are in our backyard and we have many options for restaurants and cafés close from here (you just need to walk or cycle around a little bit and you will find them). If for some reason you can not cycle, Amstelstation is a 5 min walk away as well.
I´ve moved to Amsterdam from Brazil but the big challenges begins now, I must be able to overcome the problems and difficulties I´m already facing at the moment, if I can do this, I´m sure that after this year I´ll have learned and matured a lot.
Ik zie je later, tot ziens!!

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.