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.

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!

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.

IMG_3148

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.

 

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!

Spatial Economics MSc. (STREEM) at VU University Amsterdam

STREEM alumnus Ilias

STREEM alumnus Ilias

In my opinion, the MSc. programme of Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics (STREEM) of VU University is on the top of the MSc. programmes in Europe for any Economics student with an interest in spatial (and special) topics. After having followed another Spatial Economics MSc. programme before I arrived in the Netherlands, my expectations were already quite high. And I only decided to get enrolled in VU after visiting the university and another university in Amsterdam to see with my own eyes. But I have to admit that STREEM exceeded my expectations.

Having a very good mix of senior and junior professors and researchers, this huge concentration of spatial economists provides students with the valuable insight of the more experienced and widely-acknowledged economists, together with the spark and the motivation of younger bright professors and researchers. In addition, as a member of the educational committee of the programme, I realised that the whole STREEM team makes a serious effort in improving the quality of the learning process using the feedback of the students; in collaboration with the professors. To be honest, it stroke me as pretty impressive. Other than the high level of teaching by the teaching staff, the teaching material and the whole programme structure, VU offers quite good connections to the job market. Career days which are useful, internships and online posts on job openings and vacancies. This is how I found the call for the PhD scholarship I am currently involved. Another thing to mention is the valuable advice about my career decisions from my supervisor and the support (recommendation letters) from other professors too. One final comment is that the fees are very reasonable and there are also some good opportunities for working part-time (not recommended; but could be needed) and getting a study grant from the Dutch government (for EU citizens).

All in all, I am really happy having chosen this master at VU. I am currently in the middle of my PhD in the University of Barcelona and at the moment I am visiting Brown University. Even after having attended some graduate classes in many different settings, I still believe that STREEM is a top choice.
Please hesitate to contact me if there is no need. My time is as valuable as yours. ipasidis@ub.edu
By bike in Amsterdam

By bike in Amsterdam

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!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holland Tile on Selaron Stairs

The Holland Tile on Selaron Stairs

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

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

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

Rua da Aurora - Dutch Architecture in Recife

Rua da Aurora – Dutch Architecture in Recife

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

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

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

Regards,

Larissa

Little Dutch Dictionary

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

Veel Plezier!

A

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

B

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

Borrelhapje

Borrelhapje

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

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

E

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

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

F

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

Famous VU fiets

Famous VU fiets

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

G

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

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

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

K

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

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

O

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

R

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

V

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh self portrait

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

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

W

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

Z

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

International student on her way to Amsterdam

Honório

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

Your new home cannot be found...

Your new home cannot be found…

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

Anything like Scheveningen beach?

Anything like Scheveningen beach?

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

Bike practice in Rio

Bike practice in Rio

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

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

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

Regards,

Larissa