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!

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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

Amsterdam Summer School – Reasons and Experiences

Amsterdam

For the first time this year, VU University Amsterdam started offering its own summer school programme with wide a choice of courses that range from ‘Anne Frank in Amsterdam and Beyond’ to ‘Crisis and Reform of the European Union’ and ‘International Criminal Justice’ to name but a few.

Needless to say, we are proud of this project but, what would the reasons for students be, to invest and partake in a summer school? QS has done some of the work for us and listed 6 very good reasons why summer schools are in fact a very valid option:

1. For those of you who are not sure about university, summer school will give you a useful taster of attending lectures and seminars. You don’t miss out on the social aspect either, with nights out and various extracurricular activities often organized as part of the course. Meeting and interacting with your fellow students is also a plus point, and will let you get a real feel for the university and what it has to offer.

2. Attending summer school paints your university application in a favorable light. It shows commitment and dedication to the degree you want to undertake. Institutions across the globe award credits for summer school, so do some research if you intend to use summer school as a stepping stone.

3. It gives you better idea of what you want to study at a university. Quite often we choose courses that our parents want us to take or subjects that we are good at, ignoring what we actually have a passion for. This can create quite a dilemma for a student looking to make a balanced decision. At summer school you will be given a choice of courses, without having to commit a full study programme.

4. Courses are often taught by several faculties, at the university campus and at the same level as full-time courses. In case of the VU University Amsterdam Summer School. The courses are taught be several professors with varying backgrounds. On top of that the programme is filled with field trips to organisations relating to the subjects concerning.

5. As an international student, it gives you a feel of what it would be like to study abroad in a particular location; a potentially invaluable piece of research.

6. Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures is part of the experience. You can make friends from different parts of the world, or for the more business minded, it is great for networking. Summer school is not just for prospective undergraduates – postgraduates and professionals can also apply. The combination of all three provides for a great learning environment for all.

All in all, spending 1 or 2 weeks at a summer school abroad, is a very efficient way to work on your self development and to discover that the world outside your own doorstep, away from friends and family, is in fact not very daunting at all. It can be the first step that will lead you to discover the rest of the world and you place in it.

To find out more about your options at VU University Amsterdam, check these short films about our students’ experiences at Amsterdam Summer School and get some more in depth information on the programme itself.

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!!

Lanigraphie – exchange student sharing her experiences in pictures

About me

My name is Lani, I’m 20 years old and from Berlin, Germany. I’m in my third year of study in Business Administration at Humboldt University of Berlin and am excited to be doing my Erasmus semester here at VU Amsterdam. In my free time I love photography and I share all my artwork on my blog, “Lanigraphie“. Since I’ve been here, I’ve hardly put my camera down! If you see a little crazy asian girl with a camera snapping away around Uilenstede, it’s probably me.

You can check out all my photos on my blog:

lanigraphie.blogspot.com

or on my Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/lanigraphie

I love having new readers. Enjoy my blog posts and pictures!

The adventure begins

It’s 4:30am and I can already see foreign language street signs. I slowly wake and notice that I’ve got some lovely “morning breath,“ so I must have finally snoozed for a bit in the bus. Taking a bus for 10 hours sounds horrible but with just 29€, it was the cheapest way to get from Berlin to Amsterdam and you can take as much luggage as you want. With promises of free Wi-Fi on the website, the trip shouldn’t be too bad – but of course it was too good to be true, it didn’t work. But never mind, I can’t stare at a screen or read a book whilst driving due to a bad case of carsickness. The radio played the whole time, which was really annoying but I was too shy to ask the driver if he could switch it off. And of course, someone behind me snored loudly the whole time. My nose was a little cold, and a small blanket would have been a great idea – seems like summer was already ending.

In the bus there were a lot of the stereotypical stoners heading to Amsterdam to take advantage of all the weed there. And then, amongst al these people there is me: the crazy Asian girl crying the whole time and with way too much baggage. I was probably the only person on the bus travelling to Amsterdam to study and not just for a drug-taking holiday.

Before the bus left, my parents were constantly running on to the bus to check whether everything is fine. My dad hung up my jacket while my mum kept reminding me to take care of my valuables. I wanted to say: “Mom, Dad – I’m old enough to do it by myself!“ But, thinking about going to live in a different country by myself, I wasn’t sure if it was true. I definitely don’t feel mature enough. So I told myself, “You can cry on the bus, no one cares. But once your arrive, no more!”





















My blue bike

I’m so annoyed. Since I’ve arrived, it’s been raining everyday. And today it’s raining even harder. And as I write these sentences, I think I can even hear thunder – one could definitely say it’s raining cats and dogs. The kitchen and living room are empty. The weather has kept all my other housemates tucked away in their rooms. I’m thinking about what I would do in Berlin if the weather was as bad as it is now. Probably just the same – sitting in my bed with my laptop and hanging around. I really enjoy these kinds of rainy days when I’m in Berlin. But here in Amsterdam, I’m just feeling lonely. For me, it’s really hard to move out from home and to leave all my friends and family. I’m still very homesick, I think. But sometimes, maybe just for a few minutes, I’m lucky and the sun is shining. I always have to use these moments! I’m gonna run downstairs to my blue bike and start cycling. Directionless. Wherever I go, it doesn’t matter, because there are enough new things to explore. At these moments I finally feel happy and free. To me, this blue bike stands for independence and freedom.


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.

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.