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

Best ingredients for the perfect place of study

Every year round about this time, when we find ourselves at the peak of the madness of the application season at VU University Amsterdam, I keep asking myself this question: What drives students to choose our little corner of the world to study in, and why VU University? We speak and meet students from all hidden parts of world, with different backgrounds, religions, colours, shapes and sizes. They have often cross many borders and leave family and friends behind to come to the Netherlands, a country known for its tulips, waterworks, liberal laws, and endless flat fields filled with black and white cows.

Curious cows

Curious cows

What is it exactly that makes students pick this tiny little part of the world, out of the thousands of wonderful places that can be found on this globe? Sara Naqwi is one of the many examples. For her it was a combination of reasons; The availability of a study programme that sparked her interest and maybe the need for something completely different than what she was used to. But, what ingredients does the perfect place for study consist of for most?

I have done some research and in combination with some personal experiences (I was the typical international student once…) I came up with the following list of questions that students most probably try to find the answer for, before making their life-changing decision on where to study in this world:
1. Which country do I want study in?
2. What is the quality of the university?
3. Is the right study programme available in a language that I speak fluently?
4. How much does it cost?

Of course you are interested in how well the Netherlands, Amsterdam and in particular VU University do when looking at the above questions. So let’s have a look:

Country
Quality of Life
How well does the Netherlands do when looking at points like quality of life, climate and matters such like. In Quality of Life index published by the OECD, we score pretty well, number 8 of 34 countries measured within the developed world. And, what’s more, we score extremely high in the OECD’s programme for International Student Assessment with an average of 519 (the OECD average is 497).

Climate
The perfect climate is of course based on personal preferences. The Netherlands has it all: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Sometimes even spread over a single day. All this makes that our black and white cows can however enjoy the greenest fields of the world.

Green backyard of VU University Amsterdam

Green backyard of VU University Amsterdam

Quality of education
When people decide to look further than their own country borders for finding suitable education, all of a sudden, there are countless universities to choose from. This makes it extremely difficult to find out for sure, whether the quality of the education offered (and therefore the value of the diplomas awarded) is in fact of a high enough standard.

In the Netherlands the quality of education is something we are proud of. On the third of December 2013 the last ranking table was published by the OECD*, who charted educational standard across the developed world. And although it was a close call, we made it in the top 10! Listed 10th, scoring better than pretty impressive names like for example Germany (16), Australia (19) and the US (36). Are we proud? Yes, we are a little.

These days, most students will also refer to worldwide university rankings to ensure themselves that they are properly preparing themselves for a successful future. University rankings are being criticized due to the fact that scores can be easily manipulated and there are difficulties in view of the natural sciences and medicine vs. social sciences bias. However, students do need to be able to refer to something when making their choice.
The most commonly used rankings available are:
Times Higher Education (VU – 144)
Shanghai Ranking (VU – 101-150)
Leiden University Ranking (VU – 64)

Study Programme
English taught study programmes can be found all over the world, but maybe not as much as one would expect these days. In bigger European countries like France, Italy and Spain, they are still a rarity. However, in more northern parts of Europe, there is a steep growth in the offer of English taught study programmes. When looking at the numbers displayed on StudyPortals.eu, the Netherlands is in fact the biggest provider in Europe (of the non-English speaking countries of course).

In case of VU University, we offer a wide range of fully accredited English taught study programmes, both on Master and Bachelor level.

Cost of education
For most people in the world, getting an international education is still an unaffordable luxury or at least a serious investment. Cost of education is therefore for most students we meet, definitely an issue. Within Europe the price tags connected to education differ greatly. Studyportals, again offers a very handy overview of the differences in cost per country. In the Netherlands, prices are mid range in comparison to the rest of Europe. For most talented students, very good scholarship options are available that will cover most expenses.

So, by looking at the above indicators it seems fairly obvious that a choice to complete your education in the Netherlands, and possibly at VU University Amsterdam seems to be a perfect one if you are looking to study in a thriving economic climate at a well ranked university. But in the end strong individual capacity in combination with a natural drive to success is what makes students successful, whether they study at a ‘brand name’ university in a popular capital city, or not.

International graduation July 2013

International graduation July 2013

In my case however, it was great to find out that after having spent many years abroad, for me Amsterdam is the best place to live in. A city with a town spirit where people from all over the world have been finding their homes for hundreds of years. I’ve met many international students over the years and in every single case they loved the time they spent with us. I was lucky enough to see them develop from young and curious individuals to self-confident and talented professionals. Many of them went back to use their new skills and knowledge in their home countries but there is also quite a large number of people that found jobs in Amsterdam and surrounding areas. Whatever your personal choice may be; It is a great big world we life in and happiness can be found in many places. Amsterdam most definitely is one of those places.

On Pleasures and Perils

By Sara Naqwi

When I announced to my family and friends that we – my husband and I – are moving out of Dubai to Amsterdam, we were faced with disbelief. “Why would you want to leave Dubai?” “You do realize you will have to fill gas in your own car, even in winter?” “You’ll have to pay taxes!” “It is far more expensive, you will be paying twice as much for water and petrol!” and so on. The idea that a person can want more in life other than happiness that attaches itself to material wealth seemed inconceivable to my loved ones. The romantic in me wanted to quote one of my favorite authors, Gregory David Roberts, to explain the pressure of being surrounded with perfection: “The burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering.” Instead of confusing them further with my obscure philosophy, I explained, “You see, I want to see new lands, feel four seasons with all their glory and glitches, run to catch a train, shovel snow off my car. Maybe learn a new language, and customs.” But my words fell on deaf ears. Anyone wanting to leave the Middle East to move to the West held outrageous notions, particularly because countless Europeans were now moving to places like the UAE and Oman. To be fair, the consternation my friends and family experienced was understandable.

Dubai and its sister city, Abu Dhabi, are fantastic places on earth; they have risen from the ground in a little over a decade to become one of the most exquisite and desirable places to visit and live in the world. The UAE promises only the best of everything, from housing, education and work, to shopping, art, food and sports. The sunny weather makes it beach season throughout the year; the glamorous exhibitions, film and literature festivals and parties attract celebrities, writers and politicians from all over the world. Dubai is also home to the tallest building in the world that lights up with dramatic pyrotechnics on national occasions, annually, which is visible all the way to its neighboring cities. You can go skiing, diving, ice-skating and sky-diving all in one day with ease. Essentially, once in Dubai, you never want to leave which is what turns the city into a perfect “bubble”.

Dubai - the concrete jungle

Dubai – the concrete jungle

Being the daughter of a poet and the wife of a traveler, the bubble, for me, began to wobble a little. My work relates to human rights of Muslim prisoners who have become political pawns in the US’s “war on terror”. As my campaigning, research and writing progressed, I began to crave an education to strengthen my legal arguments and increase my knowledge about endless questions I was accumulating. When we moved to Amsterdam and I began my hunt for postgraduate studies, I was thrilled to come across – and be accepted to – VU Amsterdam’s program of “International Crimes and Criminology” at the faculty of law. The program has pushed me to ask why international crimes happen, and how can we prevent them from occurring in the future. Moreover, it focuses on subjects I am passionate about: the law of armed conflicts; and international human rights. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment that I never before realized was ideal for me. I began to see my humanitarian work from a legal perspective, which is imperative in my line of work; and my colleagues were just as inspiring, as most of them had a background in law or journalism.

New Landscapes - the Netherlands

New Landscapes – the Netherlands

My husband and I found a house in a sweet little village, on an island, outside Amsterdam, that faces a farm where cows graze in the summer, and geese flock in winter. Like our family and friends back home who still cannot understand why we left the UAE, our Dutch friends cannot comprehend why we chose to live on an island, the charm factor notwithstanding, and not in vibrant Amsterdam instead. Instead of offering my usual token of philosophy, I simply smile and say, “We craved the countryside when we lived in the concrete jungle, Dubai.” It is difficult to explain the wonderful pitter patter sounds of the rain when I wake up before sunrise to get ready for university, and how instead of putting me in a foul mood – as it does to most Europeans who long for the sun – it brings a skip in my step as I walk to my car. Every morning, regardless of the season, the sun gently breaks through magenta, pink clouds and soft light cascades down in perfect rays upon the fields. In the fall, the cows and ducks prepare another lazy day of consuming and snoozing as the day swathes them. I find myself witnessing Rembrandt’s inspiration of light and atmosphere first hand, and I am in awe. When I drive out of the island, I sometimes catch twin rainbows in the rear-view mirror, sending me off with a graceful farewell, and I must admit, the sheer beauty of such a sight makes it difficult to concentrate on the road. How can I explain the gratitude I feel in the silence of such a brilliant morning as I drive away to the city, to my university, while I eagerly await to join an environment where learning produces such joy. What constitutes a good life? Little did I know that taking the unusual and less travelled road, which others may not always be au fait with, may be one of the most wonderfully frightening and significant steps one can take in life.

I highly recommend it.