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!

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!

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

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.