Ellen - University of Amsterdam

B. Arts / Laws
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

At the University of Amsterdam (UvA) I took 5 subjects from the Masters in Public International Law. Five subjects at UvA was the equivalent to 4 subjects at UQ. The subjects I took were European Human Rights Law, International Refugee Law, International Responsibility, Victims of War and the UN: Law in Action and these courses were spread over 2 blocks, which meant I completed 2 courses before starting the next 3. Because the courses were from the Masters program I found them very challenging and the teachers did not guide you through the subject like a teacher at UQ would in an undergraduate program. A substantial amount of self-directed learning was necessary to pass the courses. Although I don’t want to scare future UvA exchange students, I have to mention that UvA lecturers have no problem with failing students. The good thing is that there is a re-sit for each course so if you fail the first time you have another opportunity to make it up.

Most of my courses only had one piece of assessment and counted for 100% of your grade. The best way to cope with the UvA teaching system is to do all the readings and preparation for the classes and to not assume that the exams will just be based upon what the teacher said in class.

I really enjoyed the small class sizes at UvA and the fact that the classes were made up of people from all over Europe – this gave the classes a very international atmosphere. The lecturers were also very knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects and took time to answer students’ questions.

Personal experience

The Hague in the Netherlands
The Hague in the Netherlands

Going on exchange and living in a different country pushed me out of my comfort zone. For me, going on exchange was very confronting as it was both my first time living by myself and my first time being away from my family for an extended period of time. Also, coming from sunny Brisbane, I had no idea how the cold, rainy and windy European weather would affect me. Even though getting used to the city was hard at the start, it all paid off because of the strong friendships I made during this time. Do not underestimate how deep a level of friendship you can make on exchange, even in as short a time as 6 months!

The spring/summer months in Amsterdam are absolutely amazing. The Dutch have this relaxed lifestyle where they all go and sit out on the terrace cafes and boat around the canals when there is a day of sun. Making friends with Dutch people turned out to be one of the highlights of my exchange as hanging out with them gave me a good insight into their culture and what it was truly like to live in Amsterdam outside of the ‘exchange bubble.’ I also decided to become a babysitter while I was in Amsterdam, so I got to know a Dutch family and learned a few more Dutch words. The Dutch speak English really well so unfortunately there is not much motivation for foreigners to learn Dutch while in Amsterdam.

One thing I really enjoyed during my exchange was the travel. Amsterdam is well-positioned in Europe to travel to many different countries cheaply and efficiently. During the Semester I took day-trips by train to cities around the Netherlands, such as Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Giethoorn, Zandvoort, and Utrecht. I also did a day-trip to Antwerp in Belgium and weekend trips to Brugges, Berlin and Edinburgh, and in summer, just before my final exam, I spent a week in Corfu, Greece.

Accommodation

Accommodation is near impossible to find in Amsterdam for the Dutch, let alone exchange students. I would not recommend that you look for housing yourself as you will most likely not be able to find anything affordable. You should apply through the UvA’s housing program. The UvA reserves housing for exchange students through housing corporations. When you apply to the UvA they link you up to one of two housing corporations: DUWO or DeKey. The housing corporations randomly put you in a student housing block according to how much you are willing to pay. It is mostly luck of the draw where you get to live as you are only given about 3 different options for housing. Basically, when you are choosing housing you want to live as close to the inner ring as possible as this will ensure you will be able to bike ride everywhere and you will be near all shops, cafes and bars. Also, I would not recommend living on the North side of Amsterdam as you have to take a ferry across to the city centre every day.

I lived in East Amsterdam (a 10-15 minute bike ride to the centre) and paid around 560 Euros per month but there were cheaper options also available. In my accommodation, I had my own bathroom and kitchen. But I also had friends who had cheaper accommodation with a shared kitchen and/or bathroom and in quite good locations too.

Budget

I spent an average of $1,500 a month (not including the 560 Euro a month rent) but I did a lot of travel around Europe and ate out 2-4 times a week. You could easily get by with a tighter budget as grocery shopping is a bit cheaper than in Brisbane and so is going out to bars. You can get a beer for 2-4 Euro at bars in Amsterdam.

Professional development and employability

Living abroad and studying in a different university definitely made me more independent and self-sufficient. You quickly learn that you need to be self-motivated and resilient to live so far away from home and also cope with a new university system.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was definitely the friendships I made in Amsterdam. You can’t beat having drinks on the canals at dusk and then biking through the city at night with friends. Amsterdam has so many hidden gems. It sounds cliché but it is the people and the place that makes exchange one of the best experiences of your life.

Top tips

  • Go for it.
  • There will be hard times when you are on exchange, like when you experience culture shock and homesickness but just know that it doesn’t last forever and you will soon find that living in another country is very enjoyable and it will all be worth it.
  • I also advise travelling as much as possible and seeing as much as you can!
  • Be open to new experiences and just enjoy your time. 
Ellen - University of Amsterdam