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!

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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!

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

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/