Stephanie - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

B Business Management/Commerce
Semester 1, 2019
An absolutely fabulous opportunity to immerse yourself in a different life and explore the world and yourself.

Academic experience

During my time at Vrije Universiteit (VU), I undertook 5 classes in order to match the equivalent UQ workload. VU are structured with three periods in each semester, and you are encouraged to take two in the first, two in the second and then one in the last. However, in order to maximise my travel time, I took on an additional course that spread between the first and second period so I would have no classes in my final period. I studied Auditing, Networks, Digital Innovation and Virtual Organisations, Hollywood Sciences and Dutch History. The first three courses I’ve mentioned were designed for Dutch students, so they were interesting, but more difficult to navigate in terms of making friends and understanding references. However, the last two were designed for exchange students and were more relaxed, helped me learn about different cultures and allowed me to meet other exchange students. It’s hard to select subjects based on the little information you are provided with on the VU website. However, as long as you apply early and keep in communication with the VU and UQ staff, they are more than happy to help you get your subjects swapped between periods. A great way to minimise this stress is to get more courses then you need approved at UQ before you go; so that if you do need to swap, you only have to talk to VU.

Personal experience

It’s a given that going on exchange gives you a wealth of independence and responsibility. However, less expected self-development for me was learning to do less with more (as your suitcase only fits so much!) and how to cook every meal in a toaster or pan (as I did not have an oven). One of the best things about being in Amsterdam was being able to ride my bike everywhere. Not only was I able to travel to Uni, the shops, or visit friends on my schedule but I was also able to explore all the nooks and crannies of Amsterdam and surrounds. One of my favourite things to do after a long day of classes was to ride my bike through the Amsterdam Bos (forest) and visit the farm animals, watch the rowers on the river or sit under a tree with my friends. 

As Australian’s we know overseas travel is often expensive and time intensive, so I made sure I took full advantage of living in Europe. My two best friends were also on exchange in Italy and Scotland, so I made sure I visited them, as well as several other European destinations. I would highly recommend travelling with multilingual friends you make on your exchange as they can enhance your travelling experience even further. For example, while in Spain, my Spanish speaking friend was able to ask locals for the best restaurants or get us into exclusive clubs.


For accommodation I lived ‘on campus’ at Uilenstede; which was actually a 10-minute bike ride from the main campus where I took my classes. I would highly recommend staying at Uilenstede for any incoming students. Not only is it the cheapest accommodation (510 euros a month), but your building is full of exchange students and is a part of a larger student accommodation campus equip with two Uni bars/ restaurants with heaps of events on (beer tastings, sports matches). It is also home to the VU main gym where you can join sporting teams, attend classes or customise your own workout on the equipment floor. It is also filled with open grass areas where you can chill with friends; or nearby at the Amsterdam Bos. I stayed on the 4th floor (so I could take the stairs if the lift was too slow) and had 13 room mates whom I shared a kitchen and small lounge area with. I loved having room mates, as you instantly become a big group of friends within the first week.


Amsterdam is an expensive city, but with a little bit of planning and consideration, I found it quite easy to stay within my budget. As mentioned above, my rent was 510 euros a month, which isn’t too bad for inner city living. Unlike Australia, there are lots of different supermarket chains you can shop at which vary in price points. By riding my bike an extra 5 minutes I was able to shop at a cheaper supermarket each week. A great way to save money is to have flat dinners with your room mates which can end up costing around $3 each for a huge meal (our favourite nights were Mexican). Public transport is very expensive in Amsterdam. I would recommend applying for a personal transport card before you go (as it takes a long time to process) and hiring/ buying a bike for the duration of your exchange. I hired a bike from Swapfiets for around 20 euros a month; this included free servicing if anything were to go wrong. I believe that to have a comfortable time away doing lots of activities and travel, try to budget at least $15,000.


The biggest challenge whilst on exchange was being on my own and accepting accountability for everything that I did. For anyone who lives out of home already, this would not be such a big challenge. Without my family around I had no immediate support network by my side which can be daunting in a foreign country, but not something that affected my experience too much as I was able to quickly make close friends who were there for me.

Professional Development

In terms of personal development, resilience, confidence and greater awareness are all traits I saw myself developing as a result of spending my time in a non-English speaking country. If you want something, you have to have to confidence to go and ask someone and face the possibility they have no idea what you’re talking about and yell at you like you are an annoying tourist … then you have to do it again and again and again. 

Knowing no one and having to throw yourself into new scenarios and network with people from all across the globe proved to be a challenge I believe will help me with my professional networking in the future. Having to adapt my conversation to talk with people of dissimilar backgrounds I believe is comparable to networking with professionals you don't know much about or are nervous to speak to. Experiencing this has given me the confidence and practise to take on these situations with ease.


The biggest highlight for me was having my friends from Brisbane visit me. On numerous occasions I was lucky enough to host my friends and I loved showing them around Amsterdam and how I had adapted my life overseas. Two of my friends visited during the national holiday of King’s Day to celebrate the King’s Birthday. Everybody dresses in orange and hops on canal boats and parties the night away. I also really enjoyed the Introduction weekend, hosted by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). Make sure to get involved with ESN events early as they are the best way to make friends early and all their events are always super fun and worth the small cost.

Top tips

1.    Budget well – the last thing you want is to be stressing about money or having to work while on your exchange. 
2.    Try to go to a non-English speaking country – For me, this added an extra element of challenge for my exchange and forced me to really step out of my comfort zone.
3.    Don’t go to the same place as your friends – Personally, I believe exchange is a huge opportunity to focus on yourself and to meet people from all walks of life. Having my best friends in different countries doing their exchange, it meant that we created our own exchange story but were able to share a chapter of each others.
4.    Get involved! And do it early! – VU has a great exchange program (ESN) and they give you heaps of opportunities to do a wide variety of fun activities and experiences. Stay up to date on their socials and make sure you maximise your Amsterdam involvement.