Hello all! My name is Kate and I’m a semester student at the Vrije Universiteit! A month after I touched down at Schiphol, and I am finally all settled in Amsterdam! I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. There has been so much to do that I have lost track of the days.
Since the moment my plane landed I have done an array of things from eating a lot of food, to meeting new people, attending events, and exploring the area around Uilenstede campus and the city. The first person I met was Ilin, one of our International Officers at the VU, who was so bright and cheery at 7:30 in the morning (I don’t know how). He led other students and me to our short taxi ride to Uilenstede from Schiphol airport. The ride was interesting because I was so tired due to the time difference that it was hard for me to stay awake. I accidentally sprayed my deodorant on my hair instead of hairspray, that’s how tired I was. Then I met Kelly, our other International Officer, who was also very bright and cheery and led us to our rooms in Uilenstede. The rest of the day consisted of saying hello to all of the other students and rearranging my room to make it feel a little bit more like home.
The rest of the week was packed with activities hosted by Kelly and Ilin for the Semester in Amsterdam students. We had a neighborhood walking tour, a snack-filled picnic at the Museumplein park, a tour of the Heineken brewery, and a day trip to Efteling Theme Park. The walking tour was so helpful since I had no idea where I was going, and the picnic was the best because it had all of the essentials: wine, beer, cheese and other various snacks. The Heineken brewery was fun as well since it was very interactive and had free beer, and Efteling was my favorite thanks to the cheap and delicious theme park food (hot dogs, ice cream, and some sort of fried dough ball covered in powdered sugar) and really fun rides. There were also a lot of activities conducted by the ESN (International Student Organization) which were great ways to socialize with both semester students and exchange students. The thing that stuck out the most to me at these events was how approachable and kind everyone was. Students were saying hello to each other, people would go out of their way to talk to other people, and everybody was genuinely trying to get to know one another. No matter where I was, the elevator, Il Caffe, or the floor kitchens, people would say hello and strike up a conversation. This factor has made the transition people go through when they move somewhere on their own a lot easier and I thank everyone for that.
Aside from the organized events, I have done many other things since I’ve been here. I’ve travelled around the city exploring different bars and restaurants, most notably a bar called Waterkant, and a mexican restaurant called Los Pilones which I highly suggest. I went to Zandvoort aan Zee which is a beach that supplies chairs and umbrellas to the public for free (amazing), and swam in the North Sea. I visited Zaanse Schans to see some Dutch windmills and sheep. Also, I have had one too many hamburgers since they taste so much better here than in the U.S. Within the first week I also survived my first trips to the Jumbo supermarket even though I had no idea what some items were, to the Ikea which is so big I got lost in the showroom section, and on the tram/metro which can be scary if you forget to check in or out since you can get stuck behind the gates that let you out of the station. The last thing on my to-do list was to purchase a bike, which seemed intimidating because everyone seems like a professional bike rider here and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t let my nerves stop me, I went to the bike store underneath the main building of the VU and bought myself a nice, simple, black bike! It’s a little tall for me but I’m figuring it out. So far I haven’t done anything detrimental (knock on wood), I even rode it back to Zandvoort beach which was a 60 kilometer round-trip…I would never suggest anyone to do that unless they are prepared to sweat and have sore legs for three days. If anyone can handle that, then be my guest since it’s a beautiful ride through the Netherlands.
Last but not least, school! I finally started class at the VU which has been a really different experience. I come from a City University of New York, Brooklyn College, that is mostly a commuter school, meaning nobody lives on or around campus. People either live with their parents or roommates, and are scattered all around New York City. Throughout the first day of classes I noticed that everyone seemed to know everyone else; people were sitting in large groups and talking as if they were all good friends. I really enjoyed observing that because the only thing I dislike about my home university is the lack of acknowledgement between students on campus. It’s the same thing at the student housing campus, Uilenstede, everyone tries to get to know one another and everybody interacts. I’ve never been in a community made up solely of students and I really like it. Besides that, classes have been good and interesting. The professors here seem very worldly, educated and open minded which I appreciate. The class dynamic here is very similar to the ones at Brooklyn College, large lecture halls of students taking notes from colorful PowerPoint slides. So far, I’m very pleased with school and student life in Amsterdam.
Overall, Amsterdam’s first impression on me has been a great one. It has surpassed my expectations and has thankfully reinforced my decision to study here for a semester. The only challenge I face in the upcoming months is figuring out my bank account situation. I opened an account with ABN AMRO which has been super confusing, but like I always tell myself, I’ll figure it out. Anyway, Amsterdam has been extremely good to me thus far, so I cannot wait for many more foods, beers, and experiences to come.