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!