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.

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.

 

My experience as a Master student in Amsterdam

Who am I?

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

2015-08-16 13.21.43

Why I decided to move the Netherlands?

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

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

2015-08-24 11.19.22.jpg

Why the VU University?

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

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

2015-09-16 20.48.41

The city

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

2015-10-11 17.41.47.jpg

 

My personal opinion

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

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

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

2016-05-01 13.30.13.jpg

Final comments

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

2015-08-16 13.21.21.jpg

Why Study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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

Never stop in the middle of a bike path!

City with a view

City with a view

Hey everyone!

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

Selfie

Selfie

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

#vuamsterdam

#vuamsterdam

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

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

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

Everybody needs a onesie

Almeida nieuwjaarsduik

New Year’s Dive – Nieuwjaarsduik

Almeida partner

For life

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

Zuidas - The Amsterdam Business Centre

Zuidas – The Amsterdam Business Centre

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

NT2 Dutch Exam

NT2 Dutch Exam

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

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

Good luck!

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

This is us:  Xi, Mingxing, Binbin, Yili

This is us:
Xi, Mingxing, Binbin, Yili

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

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

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

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

Culture differencesMingxing Han

The VU University campus

The VU University campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A busy street in the centre of Amsterdam

A busy street in the centre of Amsterdam

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