Fiona - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

B Psychological Science
Semester 2, 2018
The best part of exchange is meeting lots of people and really living in a different country.

Academic experience

I used all my saved general electives from my psychology program during my exchange semester. This meant that I wasn't actually studying psychology in Amsterdam. Instead, I did one of the VU's 'minor programs' called 'Global Food Security'. This was great because it meant I got to learn things completely different to my usual area of study. I was really happy with the way the minor program worked, because all of the 5 subjects focused on a different component of an overall subject (food security). Doing a minor also made enrolment and timetabling very easy because there were no clashes. It also meant that you were with the same classmates the entire semester, which makes it easier to make friends. 
The semester is structured differently to UQ which I quite enjoyed. There were 3 periods within the one semester, meaning you don't have to focus on so many subjects at once. For me, the final period was one large qualitative research group project, which was totally unlike anything I've done at UQ. It gave me a different skill set and academic experience (and it meant not having a final exam in my last week of exchange!)

Personal experience

The best part of exchange is meeting lots of people and really living in a different country. Because of the number of people I met, I really learnt more about myself and the type of friends I enjoy having. Having international friends also gives you perspective on many different things. 
Being in Europe also meant I had many opportunities to travel to various countries. Having my first winter Christmas and seeing the traditions of various countries was great.

Accommodation

The VU arranges various accommodations that you can choose between. You should definitely utilise this, because finding accommodation on your own in Amsterdam is near impossible, not to mention expensive. 
Of the options they give, none are on campus, however 'Uilenstede' is a student campus of it's own which is only a 10 minute bike ride to uni. I lived here in a flat of 14 people, all of which were exchange students from across the world (but mainly Europe). I couldn't recommend Uilenstede enough. Initially I feared sharing a kitchen with so many people, but this is the best way to make friends. These are the people that you will spend the most time with!
The only downfall of living with other exchange student's is that you don't get to live with Dutch students- so it can feel like you're missing out on the culture of the country you actually chose!

Costs

Overall I'd say the cost of living in Amsterdam is quite similar to Brisbane. The rent at Uilenstede is very reasonable. The food that I bought from supermarkets was quite similarly priced to Brisbane. However, public transport was surely more expensive than Brisbane. Try to use flixbus and your bike where possible! Buying a bike will cost 50-80 euros and you can easily resell it at the end to make back your money.

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me personally was the weather, and if that's the only thing I have to complain about then it must have been a pretty good semester!  By January it rained a lot and the wind could make it feel colder than it really was. Learning how to dress properly and indoor heating made it all ok though.

Professional Development

In terms of personal development, exchange let me become much more confident with my decisions. Because so many opportunities come to you whilst on exchange, many decisions must be made. I learnt that no matter which choice you make, it’s a good one.

Highlight

The freedom that comes with cycling around the city, exploring nearby parks and enjoying Amsterdam’s nightlife.

Top tips

-    Don’t buy a bike from the bike boys- you can easily find one on marketplace websites for much cheaper
-    Set up a bank account in the Netherlands and use transferwise to send money to get the best exchange rate
-    Make sure to see more of the Netherlands than just Amsterdam