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!

Change in Study Habits

This is me
Hello, my name is Alexarae Walfenzao. I am currently a first year  VU master student in the Neuroscience Research program. I am from Miami, Florida and I completed my BA in Psychology at Florida International University. I have been obsessed with the human brain since I was a teenager and I have been looking for a University program that I felt connected the complex the term “Neuroscience” to reality. At the university I graduated from with my BA there was not a neuroscience BA program, the closest I could get was psychology. I did find a masters program that was in the beginning stages of developing into a department but I felt it was best to go to a university with an established department. I wanted to study somewhere that I could be surrounded by neuroscientists that have been working on theories for several years. When I googled best neuroscience master programs the VU appeared at the top of all lists, so I sent in my application. I have been dreaming of going to school abroad for many years, so I thought I had prepared myself for the changes I would experience. Unfortunately what I did not take into account was how much my learning process depended on my American (my home) professors teaching. Let me explain what I mean.

Alex

Getting overwhelmed
Let me begin with quizzes, something I never thought I would miss. In America, I would have up to 10 quizzes in a class before the final exam. Plus a few exams too, all before the final exam. What I did not realise was how much I used the quizzes to study. I did not notice until I lost them, but I used quizzes to figure out what to study. I would remember how the teacher asked technical questions, or didn’t ask, and when I studied I would focus on what I felt they would ask in the exam. My first class at the VU, and all my classes since, have only had one exam at the end of the course. As you might imagine I have been struggling.

Another problem I have had to face is finding the strength to continue. I did not want to quit this exciting experience, but that does not mean I have not become a bit emotional unstable over the past few months. One thing I kept asking myself was, “am I dumb?”. I felt dumb, especially since I apparently could not study without quizzes in my life. What I soon realised though is that I was just overwhelmed. I was unprepared for the change in teaching style and then to top it off I had no time off to organise. My 2nd and 3rd classes all fell in right behind the first class, with only a weekend between each to offer a break. I felt exhausted, and my grades suffered. It wasn’t until the holiday break, from December to January, that I was actually able to get myself on track. My 4th class was different for me. Yes it was actually the hardest class so far, by way of topics and work load, but I had found my new study method.

Breaking out of student mode
What I figured out was what quizzes ‘did’ for me. For instance, in America I used the quizzes to learn if the professor wanted me to repeat what they had taught or if they wanted me to be creative with my responses. What I realised after 3 classes at the VU was my teachers here want me to be logical, and that is easy once you know what is expected. My path to this moment has been tough but worth every step since it is helping me break out of the student mode and into the professional I want to be.

Asking for advice
My advice to any new students coming to the VU from aboard is speak with the local kids about what they do for study. They will help you see where you might have to make some changes in your study methods. For instances, I asked my fellow classmates about why the practice test questions were not on the exam (in America all exams would have at least one question from the practice exam, or at least cover the same topics on the practice exam). My fellow classmate simply told me, “Why would they ask you those questions again?”. That thought broke me, so to speak, and it made me seriously reflect on what I needed to make changes in.

Never underestimate the change in educational systems between countries, but remember it’s all connected. You are just looking at different sides of the same coin, but t
ake my advise and talk to the locals.

Good Luck to all new international students of 2016!

Amsterdam experience in a nutshell

IMG_3025

 

About the study program

I had always wanted to follow my studies either in the Netherlands or in Denmark. As I believe the quality provided here is high and on great demand. The Master degree in Econometrics and Operations Research, I am following, has exceeded my expectations, in all senses. It requires a very good background in maths, statistics and programming. Hence I would really advice, those who choose this specialization: Be prepared for a year full of challenges, but quite rewording when you succeed. I got a lot of support from my colleagues and I believe a lot is learned through team working, which is really encouraging in case of almost all the subjects. Self-studying is also an issue to keep in mind, as I think at VU there are more self-studying rooms than classrooms. About the program itself, there are quite a lot of amazing optional courses, but be aware, that taking too many courses in a period, can be too hard to manage. The professors are quite supportive, being always up to date, really helpful and quick while replying to our emails, whenever there are problems to be discussed regarding the relevant topics. Comparing with other majors, there are quite few international students, although, this gave me the chance to better know and understand Dutch people.

I started with the academic issue, as there are few online reviews from other students on what to expect on the curriculum, before applying, getting accepted and coming to Amsterdam. But, of course, beside studying, this city and its surroundings offers a range of other activities.  There are vibes everywhere, relaxed environment and pleasant people. For an international student this is the right place to get socially and culturally involved. As there are so many trips organized to a lot of destinations in Europe.

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Accommodation

Another thing you should know, is getting an accommodation through VU. As found later, from my friends that study in other European cities, as well from other colleagues at VU, this issue gives a lot of trouble, not if you manage to arrange it, on time, with the university. I got a very good support from the international office and I might say a good place to live in. Even though a little bit far from the university, the studio flat located at Krelis Louwenstraat, with own facilities, has become the ideal and cozy temporary home.   Amsterdam is a busy city, where a lot of students come, and finding a proper place to live is a challenging task. So, do not hesitate to contact the university!

IMG_3815

Amsterdam has offered me the experience of a lifetime! And I am so thankful to have chosen VU for my master degree. Even though, tough at the beginning, I realized and proved to myself that nothing is impossible. That is why I encourage everyone to come and see it by themselves.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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and life goes on: my master experience in the Netherlands

Hello everyone!

I am Larissa and this is my last post of a series of 4! With things less busy now, I want to tell you about the last months of this master experience and give you an overview of my year. I have completed the master programme Law and Politics of International Security at the VU, year 2014/2015. I came from Brazil to the Netherlands on August 2014 and a lot have happened since then. The last months of my master at the VU were extremely intense. I cannot describe in words how intense the second half of my academic year was. I committed myself 110% to my final thesis and it was everything but easy. Fortunately, I had the support of my family, of my close friends and of my supervisor. They all, especially my supervisor, were crucial for my success in the end. The whole year was as stressful as it could be but I could learn a lot from it:) I also have met the most incredible people along my way and I have been to places and experienced things I am sure I would never had if I had not chosen to come to The Netherlands.

At Amsterdam beer brewery 't IJ best my best pal

At Amsterdam beer brewery ‘t IJ best my best pal

When you are doing a master’s programme you probably will not be able to attend many social events, staying focus is very important. However, it is also important to build a relationship with people that are going through a similar moment in life and with whom you can share your difficulties and achievements. I met incredible people living on my building and studying/working at the VU. Trust me, having social relations and moments to escape the heaviness of life is also very important to keep your sanity going:) The people I met in Amsterdam were definitely the best and the most unexpected aspect of my year.

Me and my Dutch man

Me and my Dutch man

I did not visit many other places in Europe but I could definitely visit a lot of the Netherlands and especially a lot of Amsterdam. Amsterdam has many great spots that vary from cute to alternative to fancy. Close to where I lived I enjoyed going to the Biertuin, to the Roest and to the Kriterion cinema. With respect to the country, I found the Netherlands great: it is super organized and pretty, everything is perfectly designed and it is small, which means that you can visit a lot! The weather is the only disturbing thing about this country. I had to use my winter coat 99,99% of the year, many the times with an additional raincoat over it. Whenever it is sunny and hot, people celebrate it as ifit was national holidays. My family came to visit me this summer and when they arrived it was pretty hot! During the year some of my best Brazilian and international friends came to visit me too and having them around was awesome!

Family boat trip on canals of Amsterdam

Family boat trip on canals of Amsterdam

My house in Pierre Lallementstraat was also one of the highlights of this year. I thought that the place would be nice but I did not expect that I would like it so much. It was definitely hard to say goodbye to my house after one year living there. The building is new and it is located in a very nice area of Amsterdam. The studios are super big for one person and, despite of the lack of common areas, there is a facebook page where people organize meetings and keep in touch. In addition, if you are doing a master programme you will probably need a lot of privacy to study and the least amount of stress possible, so living alone in the studio definitely was an asset for me. If you prefer studying at the University instead of home, the VU offer many nice spots and it is open till very late. The 7th floor, where I liked to study, became my second home in Amsterdam:) During the weekends, in order to vary from the university environment, I used to go to Amsterdam’s public library (OBA). OBA is in the centre of Amsterdam and many students go there and stay till late on Saturdays and Sundays. The public library is the best library I have ever studied in. It is huge and extremely beautiful. It is not particularly quiet because many tourists and teenagers visit the library during the weekends. Still, many people of all ages go there to study and you should arrive early in order to get a spot.

OBA (library) Amsterdam

OBA (library) Amsterdam

After submitting my thesis I went for a summer vacation in Brazil and it was absolutely great! Being back home after so long was super weird and super normal at the same time. Going out with my friends was just amazing and I felt like I had never left the country:). After this visit I came back to The Netherlands and I started an internship at the ICTY Tribunal in The Hague. Job hunting is the next step and only time will tell what the future holds and what the next adventure will be!

Finally, for all of you who have started or are going to start your studies at the VU, I wish you the best of luck! Work hard, keep your nerves and enjoy the experience!

Read about Larissa’s experiences in Amsterdam in previous posts:
International student on her way to Amsterdam
International student arrives in Amsterdam