First Impressions of the VU

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.

bye bye New York!

bye bye New York!

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.

my first day in Amsterdam - flower market -

my first day in Amsterdam
– flower market –

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.

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

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.

my awesome, squeaky bike

my awesome, squeaky bike

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.

my favorite picture of Amsterdam so far ...

my favorite picture of Amsterdam so far …

 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.

Advertisements

Change in Study Habits

This is me
Hello, my name is Alexarae Walfenzao. I am currently a first year  VU master student in the Neuroscience Research program. I am from Miami, Florida and I completed my BA in Psychology at Florida International University. I have been obsessed with the human brain since I was a teenager and I have been looking for a University program that I felt connected the complex the term “Neuroscience” to reality. At the university I graduated from with my BA there was not a neuroscience BA program, the closest I could get was psychology. I did find a masters program that was in the beginning stages of developing into a department but I felt it was best to go to a university with an established department. I wanted to study somewhere that I could be surrounded by neuroscientists that have been working on theories for several years. When I googled best neuroscience master programs the VU appeared at the top of all lists, so I sent in my application. I have been dreaming of going to school abroad for many years, so I thought I had prepared myself for the changes I would experience. Unfortunately what I did not take into account was how much my learning process depended on my American (my home) professors teaching. Let me explain what I mean.

Alex

Getting overwhelmed
Let me begin with quizzes, something I never thought I would miss. In America, I would have up to 10 quizzes in a class before the final exam. Plus a few exams too, all before the final exam. What I did not realise was how much I used the quizzes to study. I did not notice until I lost them, but I used quizzes to figure out what to study. I would remember how the teacher asked technical questions, or didn’t ask, and when I studied I would focus on what I felt they would ask in the exam. My first class at the VU, and all my classes since, have only had one exam at the end of the course. As you might imagine I have been struggling.

Another problem I have had to face is finding the strength to continue. I did not want to quit this exciting experience, but that does not mean I have not become a bit emotional unstable over the past few months. One thing I kept asking myself was, “am I dumb?”. I felt dumb, especially since I apparently could not study without quizzes in my life. What I soon realised though is that I was just overwhelmed. I was unprepared for the change in teaching style and then to top it off I had no time off to organise. My 2nd and 3rd classes all fell in right behind the first class, with only a weekend between each to offer a break. I felt exhausted, and my grades suffered. It wasn’t until the holiday break, from December to January, that I was actually able to get myself on track. My 4th class was different for me. Yes it was actually the hardest class so far, by way of topics and work load, but I had found my new study method.

Breaking out of student mode
What I figured out was what quizzes ‘did’ for me. For instance, in America I used the quizzes to learn if the professor wanted me to repeat what they had taught or if they wanted me to be creative with my responses. What I realised after 3 classes at the VU was my teachers here want me to be logical, and that is easy once you know what is expected. My path to this moment has been tough but worth every step since it is helping me break out of the student mode and into the professional I want to be.

Asking for advice
My advice to any new students coming to the VU from aboard is speak with the local kids about what they do for study. They will help you see where you might have to make some changes in your study methods. For instances, I asked my fellow classmates about why the practice test questions were not on the exam (in America all exams would have at least one question from the practice exam, or at least cover the same topics on the practice exam). My fellow classmate simply told me, “Why would they ask you those questions again?”. That thought broke me, so to speak, and it made me seriously reflect on what I needed to make changes in.

Never underestimate the change in educational systems between countries, but remember it’s all connected. You are just looking at different sides of the same coin, but t
ake my advise and talk to the locals.

Good Luck to all new international students of 2016!

Amsterdam experience in a nutshell

IMG_3025

 

About the study program

I had always wanted to follow my studies either in the Netherlands or in Denmark. As I believe the quality provided here is high and on great demand. The Master degree in Econometrics and Operations Research, I am following, has exceeded my expectations, in all senses. It requires a very good background in maths, statistics and programming. Hence I would really advice, those who choose this specialization: Be prepared for a year full of challenges, but quite rewording when you succeed. I got a lot of support from my colleagues and I believe a lot is learned through team working, which is really encouraging in case of almost all the subjects. Self-studying is also an issue to keep in mind, as I think at VU there are more self-studying rooms than classrooms. About the program itself, there are quite a lot of amazing optional courses, but be aware, that taking too many courses in a period, can be too hard to manage. The professors are quite supportive, being always up to date, really helpful and quick while replying to our emails, whenever there are problems to be discussed regarding the relevant topics. Comparing with other majors, there are quite few international students, although, this gave me the chance to better know and understand Dutch people.

I started with the academic issue, as there are few online reviews from other students on what to expect on the curriculum, before applying, getting accepted and coming to Amsterdam. But, of course, beside studying, this city and its surroundings offers a range of other activities.  There are vibes everywhere, relaxed environment and pleasant people. For an international student this is the right place to get socially and culturally involved. As there are so many trips organized to a lot of destinations in Europe.

IMG_3148

Accommodation

Another thing you should know, is getting an accommodation through VU. As found later, from my friends that study in other European cities, as well from other colleagues at VU, this issue gives a lot of trouble, not if you manage to arrange it, on time, with the university. I got a very good support from the international office and I might say a good place to live in. Even though a little bit far from the university, the studio flat located at Krelis Louwenstraat, with own facilities, has become the ideal and cozy temporary home.   Amsterdam is a busy city, where a lot of students come, and finding a proper place to live is a challenging task. So, do not hesitate to contact the university!

IMG_3815

Amsterdam has offered me the experience of a lifetime! And I am so thankful to have chosen VU for my master degree. Even though, tough at the beginning, I realized and proved to myself that nothing is impossible. That is why I encourage everyone to come and see it by themselves.

 

My experience as a Master student in Amsterdam

Who am I?

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

2015-08-16 13.21.43

Why I decided to move the Netherlands?

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

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

2015-08-24 11.19.22.jpg

Why the VU University?

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

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

2015-09-16 20.48.41

The city

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

2015-10-11 17.41.47.jpg

 

My personal opinion

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

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

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

2016-05-01 13.30.13.jpg

Final comments

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

2015-08-16 13.21.21.jpg

Why Study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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

Never stop in the middle of a bike path!

City with a view

City with a view

Hey everyone!

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

Selfie

Selfie

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

#vuamsterdam

#vuamsterdam

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

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

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

Everybody needs a onesie

Almeida nieuwjaarsduik

New Year’s Dive – Nieuwjaarsduik

Almeida partner

For life

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

Zuidas - The Amsterdam Business Centre

Zuidas – The Amsterdam Business Centre

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

NT2 Dutch Exam

NT2 Dutch Exam

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

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

Good luck!

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!!