Daniel - University of Amsterdam

B. Laws / Economics
Semester 2, 2015

Academic experience

I studied International Law, The Law of the Internal Market (Goods and Services), and EU Competition Law. I found through my courses that the quality of teaching at the University of Amsterdam was exceptional, for example, materials were meticulously organised; classes were smaller than at UQ; lecturers engaged with the class during lectures, and lecture content was delivered in an engaging manner. The staff at UvA pride themselves on thoroughly covering complex material in an easy to understand manner. The Dutch are known for their efficiency and organisation, and I found that all aspects of the courses, exchange program, and school administration were run incredibly well. 
The material does require some attention (ie. the academic standard is reasonably high), but if prospective students have any interest in international law and/or the law of the EU, I suggest that students will find it interesting, engaging and easy to follow. 
UvA ranks as one of the best law schools in continental Europe, and based on my experience I think it is easy to see why.

Personal experience

The UvA International Students Network is fantastic! The one-week orientation will introduce you to a whole network of friends and the allocated guides are a wealth of knowledge for exploring Amsterdam and the Netherlands (and Europe). The ISN keeps up weekly events, as well as weekend trips to other cities.
The Netherlands is a beautiful country and is small and very easy to explore--the towns are charming and the countryside is unique. 
Amsterdam itself is world famous, but despite this, you will find that it has a very 'small-town' or village feel to it. The city is easy to navigate, particularly on a bike (which must be the first thing that you purchase on arrival). Every street and canal is packed with interesting cafes, bars, and shopping. Amsterdam has a vibrant history, which is displayed in its many world-class museums and galleries (an annual pass covering entry to every museum and major gallery is available for around 50 Euro).
Travel to any number of other towns and cities is incredibly easy. The country is tiny (half the size of Tasmania), and within an hour or two on the highly efficient Dutch rail system, you can be in The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht, or Maastricht -- all of which are worth at least a one day visit.
Amsterdam Schipol airport is also one of the busiest in Europe, so budget flights for travel further afield in Europe is readily available.
English is practically a formal second language in the Netherlands. In my experience, there is no country in the continental European country in which English is spoken more proficiently. Nonetheless, Dutch is one of the most similar languages to English and, as a result, even without any formal training, you will quickly find that reading it is not particularly difficult. UvA also offers a two-hour a week course which will assist in speaking. Dutch folk are friendly and will happily tolerate you practising your Dutch on them, though be prepared to experience difficulty in mastering the gutteral 'ghh' sound!

Accommodation

I lived off campus, as my girlfriend travelled with me. I found a fantastic place in the beautiful Jordaan district, and it served as an excellent base for us.
However, the above comes with a word of warning: property law in the Netherlands (and Amsterdam specifically) is complicated and quirky. If you live off campus, research issues relating to registration thoroughly and discuss this with your landlord in advance of signing any sort of agreement.
If you are travelling on your own, the student accommodation is preferable. I visited friends who lived in the provided accommodation, and it was very good and very affordable.

Budget

For context, within Europe, the Netherlands is cheaper than the Scandinavian countries and the UK--and that's about it. It is, perhaps, slightly cheaper than Australia, and I would say that for budgeting, it is safe to use Australian prices as a reasonable benchmark when deciding your budget. 
Other than this, miscellaneous points for budgeting might be that:
- accommodation in the student housing is relatively inexpensive (roughly 400 Euro per month);
- owning a bike (available for about 100 Euro) is a must, and can make your travel expenses within the city practically 0;
- Intercity rail is expensive.

Professional development and employability

European Law is frequently referred to in more international areas of law—in particular, competition law and internal market law (or broadly, free trade law) have direct relevance in Australian legal practice. The courses are taught at the masters level and offer scope for in-depth research in particular subject areas, allowing you to focus on what might be relevant in your future career.

Lecture and seminar styles are different to those offered at UQ. At the very least, this should add breadth to your learning experiences while at university. Being courses that are normally offered within a one-year master program, the expectation from lecturers is that students will be working as professionals within 12 months of receiving the course. The focus is therefore on verbal communication of ideas and being able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of particular aspects of a subject area. The atmosphere more closely resembles a professional legal work environment than might be experienced at UQ.

Setting up in a different country is also an exciting experience which teaches practical skills. For instance, navigating the Dutch bureaucracy is a learning experience in itself!

Highlight

Without pinpointing a particular moment, I would say that absorbing life as a local, day-to-day in Amsterdam was the most rewarding experience for me. Beyond what it’s most famous for, Amsterdam is a fairytale city. Riding around the city on a bike, and heading across the IJ into the countryside is an unbeatable experience. The beauty of the city and the local vibe takes on different aspects in each of the seasons. Finding hidden cafes and espresso bars is a pastime that cannot be exhausted. Dutch and Belgian beers are amongst the best in the world and trying them with locals beside the canals at night is a must.

As an aside, if you are there in August, Lowlands Music Festival is amazing!

Top tips

If you have an opportunity to participate in exchange, you must take it. Prior to going on exchange, give thought to what you would like to study while on exchange, because choosing subjects that are relevant to the area of the world you do your exchange in will make the experience even richer. Once on exchange, take the time to get to know the city you live in and learn about the history and the culture of the place.

Daniel - University of Amsterdam