Ellen - Universiteit Utrecht

B. Biomedical Science
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

Over at UCU I studied 4 courses: 

- Embryonic Development, Genes and Disease
- Immunology and Infectious Diseases
- Intro to Modern History
- History and Philosophy of Science

Because of the way my degree program is set up, I was able to study two 3rd year science courses and two 1st year electives, which made the course load a bit easier for me. The UCU academic system is very different to UQ in that there are only around 30 people in each course and lectures are compulsory and not recorded, meaning that they're more like UQ's tutorials than lectures. Because the classes were so small, you really got to know your lecturers and it was really easy to ask them for help if I ever needed it. However, I found that this also put a bit more pressure on me to perform well because everything was so personalised and there was no anonymity in your assessments like there is at UQ. At first I felt a bit thrown in the deep end because the lecturers liked to randomly call on students to answer questions, and because they knew all of our names they could easily do this to particular people. Also, our attendance and participation formed part of our final grade for each course which motivated me to stay on top of everything throughout the semester. Personally, I like UQ's system better as it gives you much more freedom and independence in choosing your own timetable and study methods, as UCU felt very similar to a high school system. 

I have heard that the workload at some other host universities is much easier than at UQ and their exchange is a breeze - this wasn't the case at UCU! The work was probably as hard, if not harder, than at UQ and they really expected a high standard of work, especially in the third year science subjects.

Personal experience

I developed some great friendships at UCU with people from all over the world. The whole university only has about 800 students and most of them live on campus, meaning that you pretty get to know everyone or at least meet most of them at some point. The thing that I loved most was that they had heaps and heaps of different student run committees that were always putting on different events and parties, and that most people on campus went to these. I went to countless open mic nights at the bar, band performances out on the grass, soccer matches, dance shows and yoga classes - there really is something for everyone there! 

If you're heading over to UCU, make sure not to miss a single minute of Intro Week - they really make sure that everyone feels welcome and current UCU students show you around Utrecht and help you get your basics like phones/bank accounts etc. sorted. They also put on heaps of events like ice skating, different themed parties every night, movie nights, bike rides and a scavenger hunt. Intro Week really made me feel at home and helped me meet a heap of other students and was the start of some great friendships. 

The city of Utrecht is absolutely beautiful - it's probably one of the most beautiful places that I've ever been to in Europe. In the centre of town there is a huge gothic cathedral and bell tower, and canals running all through the cobblestone streets. There's also heaps of cute cafes, restaurants, bars and boutique shops. I was lucky enough to see both snow in January and the flowers bloom and the trees turn green in Spring, which really brought the city to life and had everyone out having picnics in the parks. Unfortunately I didn't learn much Dutch at all - UCU is fully English speaking and everyone in the Netherlands speaks perfect English which makes it a bit hard. 


Everyone at UCU has to live on campus - you are automatically allocated a unit there upon enrolment, which makes things really easy because it can be really hard to find other student accomodation in Utrecht. Each unit is fully furnished with a kitchen, lounge room, dining room, laundry and between 6 and 13 bedrooms. There is also a dining hall on campus which is where I ate most of my meals, because it was just so convenient and a good way to meet up with friends. My unit had one other exchange student and 4 first year UCU students in it, which was good because it gave me a chance to become friends with actual UCU students rather than just exchange students. The academic and residential buildings are all on the one small campus, meaning that my bedroom was a 30 second walk away from all of my classrooms, the dining hall and the campus bar and gym. 


My main expenses were:

- Flight = $1,600 AUD
- Insurance = $400 AUD
- Accomodation + dining hall credit = 4,100 euro for the semester (~22 weeks)
- WHS visa = 53 euro
- Bike = 120 euro

I didn't spend that much on entertainment - alcohol in the Netherlands is very very cheap compared to Australia and the Netherlands puts on a heap of free music festivals throughout the year which were awesome to go to. I even went to a few concerts in Amsterdam which were only around 25 euro a ticket. 

In terms of transport, I bought a bike in Intro Week and used that everywhere I went so I didn't have to pay for local transport. The Netherlands has a really good (but kind of expensive) train network so we caught trains if we ever wanted to go intercity. It cost around 10 euro each way to get to Amsterdam, which was only about 20 minutes away by train. 

During semester I travelled to Italy, Paris, Belgium and England. I used Flix bus, Eurolines and Megabus for a lot of these trips as tickets are pretty cheap - I think it was around 30 euro return to get to Belgium. RyanAir and EasyJet were always good and cheap to get to places further away, and they fly out of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven which are easy to get to from Utrecht via train. I spent around 6 weeks traveling around the UK and Spain after my semester ended. 

All up I think I spent around $20,000 for a 6 month trip. It's still possible to do it with less than this, but it can make it quite hard to travel on a whim and just go away with your friends for a weekend as you need to be watching absolutely every dollar you spend.

Professional development and employability

During exchange I learned how to survive when you're thrown in the deep end! It can be quite scary at first not knowing anybody, not being able to speak the language and even getting confused by crossing the road (the bikes in the Netherlands are crazy) - but this experience really taught my how to just take all of this in my stride and get on with having a great time.


The highlight of my experience was probably King's Day - a public holiday in the Netherlands where the whole country stops to celebrate. Every town puts on huge street parties throughout the day, and there's live music, markets, performers and food stalls spread throughout the streets. Restaurants, bars and cafes all set up stalls outside and people wander through the streets all day listening to music and eating great food. It was amazing to see absolutely everybody young and old dressed up in orange and just having a great time!

Top tips

  • Firstly, if you're coming to the Netherlands, you have to buy a bike! You won't be able to get around without one. I'd recommend buying one off a student Facebook site for your city rather than a second hand bike shop - you'll get it much cheaper that way.
  • Secondly, leave some room in your budget! The worst possible thing is to realise you're running out of money and not be able to do everything you want to. I definitely under-budgeted before going and because of that I had to cut a few places out of my travel at the end of the semester. 
  • Lastly, UCU is quite different to a normal university in that it is so small and everyone lives on campus. The class structure is definitely not for everybody and there are a limited number of subjects to choose from compared to UQ. There can also be a lot of drama going on campus, which is always bound to happen when people live so close together. If this doesn't sound like it's for you, I would recommend going to the University of Utrecht rather than UCU. The University of Utrecht is kind of like the big sister uni to UCU and is more similar to UQ as it has large lectures and students live in off-campus student accommodation. 
Ellen - Universiteit Utrecht