Ashleigh - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

B Environmental Science
Semester 2, 2018
Exchange has opened up my mind to the world and has taught me that the whole world is at my feet.

Academic experience

At UQ, I study Environmental Science (Honours) and I saved up all of my electives so that I could make the most of the interesting courses on offer at Vrije Universiteit. Whilst on exchange, I took the following courses: Introduction to Planetary Science, Behavioural Biology, Ancient Philosophy, Sustainability and Environmental Change and Introduction to Environmental Sciences. I found the methods of teaching and the content of the courses to be very interesting and well taught. I absolutely loved the Dutch system of having three study periods (two courses in the first two periods, one course in the last) with each period lasting six weeks long. The structure of the study periods meant that you could focus on a maximum of two courses at a time, which meant that there was ample opportunity to take in the topics in depth. I encountered no challenges with the level of difficulty of the course content or delivery, and found it easy to follow the prompts by the University regarding course registration.

Personal experience

I learned so much whilst I was on exchange. I learned to embrace solo travel as well as travelling with other people. I made many friends, both on exchange and on my travels during the semester. I was able to explore the city of Amsterdam in depth and get to know many of its different areas, as well as visit and learn about multiple other cities across the Netherlands, the rest of Europe and the UK. I learned how to connect with people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and developed a deep appreciation for the Dutch way of life and living. I have learned that travelling well is similar to living well: being open minded, being willing to learn and being adaptable. I also learned a lot about the importance of balance and balancing your time: between your host city and other countries, with exchange friends and with yourself, with lifestyle and with study. Exchange has taught me how much there is to learn and treasure about being abroad.

Accommodation

I lived off of the University campus but on a student accommodation campus nearby called Uilenstede, where I lived in an international building on a floor with fourteen international students. This accommodation was a ten minute bike ride from our University which meant that the commute to University was ideal. In our building were hundreds of other international students, meaning that there was always plenty of occasions to meet new people and make friends. On my floor, there was someone from nearly continent which I absolutely loved, as this meant that conversations were always a fascinating blend of different cultural insights, stories of shared experiences in Amsterdam and tales of travels to other places. For a fee, Vrije Universiteit reserves a place for exchange students at Uilenstede, something which I highly recommend doing as the housing situation in Amsterdam is otherwise quite competitive. What I loved about Uilenstede is that located on campus at the accommodation is also a gym, restaurants and cafes, a convenience store and a doctors clinic. Especially in the colder months, the gym came in very handy! If you are considering Vrije Universiteit I could not recommend campus Uilenstede enough both for its location and for the experiences you can have there.

Costs

Per month, the cost of accommodation was 400 euros with the option to pay upfront. The cost of groceries was comparable to Australian prices if not cheaper after the exchange rate. Day to day transport was very cheap after the initial purchase of a Dutch bike, with the whole of Amsterdam being reachable via bike. The bus, tram and metro network was slightly more costly but I found I only used it occasionally in the event of snow, pouring rain or extreme cold. Travel within Europe is very affordable once you are over there - I travelled out of the Netherlands once or twice a month, as well as visited other Dutch cities. Other costs included visiting museums, going on nights out and trying out various restaurants and cafes. I would suggest a budget of $15000 in total for a comfortable exchange inclusive of travel, and would suggest more if you are planning on travelling extensively either before or after exchange.

Challenge

Overall, I enjoyed every aspect of exchange and found the only thing remotely challenging to be adapting to the cold and dark winter months. Whilst I continued to ride my bike, hang out with friends across the city and travel, I found that my perspective had to shift in order to account for the fact that Europe in winter can feel like quite a different place to Europe in summer. This doesn't mean that you still can't be out and about enjoying things, you just have to dress according to the weather and keep in mind the shorter, darker and at times wetter days might change the amount of time you spend outside both in your host city and / or travelling to other countries.

Professional Development

The main skills and attributes I have developed during my exchange experience would definitely be my communication skills, adaptability and open mindedness.  Living in another culture teaches you the importance of adapting and learning, as well as shows you that there may be ways of doing things that maybe you had not considered before. Bringing home this open minded, adaptive mindset, as well as largely improved people skills has definitely been the most significant contribution that exchange has made to my professional and personal development whilst abroad.

Highlight

The main highlights were definitely spending time in and around Amsterdam with such special people and friends, as well as being able to travel easily to beautiful neighbouring countries. Some of my favourite highlights in Amsterdam included making friends at Vondelpark, hiring a boat to cruise along the canals, riding bikes along the Amstel river and to uni, walking through the forests in Autumn with the colourful leaves falling, frequently Jazz Cafe Alto for live jazz music, having long conversations with friends over dinner in the student accommodation and visiting the European Space Agency for a class excursion. My best travel highlight would have to be jumping on an hour long flight to have the weekend of a lifetime in the Swiss alps - it was so surreal to be somewhere so beautiful and yet so far away from Australia, knowing that when the weekend ended you were coming home to Amsterdam!

Top tips

I would highly recommend considering taking advantage of the unique electives on offer at Vrije Universities, especially taking courses that are not offered at UQ and also and look into which courses may include unique excursion opportunities!