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

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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.

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