Meet Ruben, our Student Blogger from Canada with dual Dutch-Canadian citizenship. Follow along in his Amsterdam adventures:
Hometown and Country: Munich, Germany
Home University: University of Passau
Study Program: M.Sc. Business Administration
I had never been to Amsterdam before, but I had heard and read a lot of positive things. Some of my fellow students did their semester abroad in the Netherlands and highly recommended it. The Semester in Amsterdam program was, for me, a convenient way to realize my semester abroad.
Of course, the city itself is awesome. While spending the first two weeks mainly sightseeing, I got the tourist’s impression of Amsterdam. After the first two months, I started feeling like a local and got more and more insights into the real lifestyle of Amsterdam. I especially like the people here. I would characterize them as well-educated, open-minded, and international. Also, not to forget, the biking lifestyle is awesome.
Studying at Vrije Universiteit
Compared to my home university, studying at Vrije Universiteit is more focused on self-study. However, I like the balance between research and practice. But you should not underestimate the workload at the VU. The Dutch grading system is also difficult.
I really like the northern part of Amsterdam near the NDSM-Werf. I also like to go for runs in Vondelpark.
Hometown and Country: Los Gatos, California, USA
Home University: University of California, San Diego
Study Program: Computer Science
Semester in Amsterdam
The program at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam allows me to fulfill the strict requirements of my degree back home in a diverse and international environment while also providing an excellent location to explore the rest of Europe. The staff are supportive and friendly and have helped me to quickly resolve any issues that came up. The excursions and trips we have taken have all been a blast.
I had visited Amsterdam once before but only for a couple of days. I love the architecture and the incredible number of things that are always happening around the city. The city is gorgeous; I absolutely love being able to bike anywhere I need to go. There is a diverse range of events which are constantly being held all over the city and change every week.
Dutch culture really is unique. People are not overly talkative and are direct and to the point. It is not unusual to get called out immediately on your mistakes but not in a derogatory sense. The Dutch students I have met have been friendly and outgoing, and they are happy to explain whatever you want to know.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Class sizes are much smaller and much longer than my courses back home. The workload is quite a bit lighter, but the classes do move very fast given they only last seven weeks. Emphasis is placed more on the material and discussions than on the exams, although tests still count for the majority of your grade.
There's a bunch of cool bars and clubs around Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein that are fun to hop around. Near the VU, there is a great little sandwich shop called Dagelijks Lekker where everything on the menu is exactly €1.80. It's right next to market33, a nice upscale food court, and Caffe Belmondo which gives students 20% off of everything. De Amsterdamse Bos (the Amsterdam Forest) is beautiful and also has a couple of cool cafes hidden within its bounds.
Hometown and Country: Colombia and the USA
Home University: Universidad del Norte
Study programme: Minor in Sustainability
Why I chose Semester in Amsterdam
I chose Semester in Amsterdam at Vrije Universiteit because it was very easy for me to get into the minor program I was interested in.
I like their honesty and their love for nature and the outdoor life. Amsterdam has something for everyone.
Dutch classmates often times give constructive feedback and are not interested in competing, but in learning.
My Favorite Place:
I love to bike and run in the Amsterdam forest. Also, I like to walk through the middle polders in Amstelveen.
Hometown and Country: Jakarta, Indonesia
Home University: University of Indonesia
Study Program: International Business Administration
My home university recommended the Netherlands as a top destination for business students and VU Amsterdam offered the widest variety of courses. The university is also located in the heart of the city's business district, "Zuidas," which was a great combination with my studies.
Since this was my first time in Europe, everything was new for me. The city's beautiful architecture is evidence of its rich history. The bike culture is also a very attractive part of Dutch culture. Being able to reach everything by bike makes the city accessible and cozy. Although be warned: it takes some time to learn how to blend in with the other bikers and not stick out as a newbie!
Studying at VU Amsterdam is more difficult than at my home university because of the credit differences between Indonesia and The Netherlands. But the lecturers here are approachable and they explain the subject material well. I don't have to worry if I don't understand everything in lectures because the material is usually uploaded online.
Joining the Semester in Amsterdam programme is one of the most rewarding decisions I made. Studying at VU Amsterdam is a great way to meet international students because the university has a very diverse student body. The Buddy Program also helps me meet people. It organizes events which bring together international students and Dutch students. Finally, living at university accommodation with a shared kitchen also helps me learn about other cultures. My floor-mates and I sometimes have dinner together. It's a great way to taste dishes from around the world.
It's always interesting to just take a walk downtown, looking for new restaurants or cafés. Sometimes when I miss home I go to an Indonesian restaurant to taste my favorite dishes. Taking a walk to just enjoy the lovely canal views or explore the beautiful parks is always fun.
Home town and Country: Seoul, South Korea
Home University: Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University
Study Program: Computer Science
I wanted to take advantage of the startup culture of Amsterdam. The Semester in Amsterdam was best in doing so because the program enabled me to hand pick courses that I could create synergy with my passion towards start-ups.
Semester in Amsterdam staff
Another important reason I chose this program is because of the staff. This may be a strange reason, but I was really happy with how all the staff helped out with all the questions very promptly and in a very helpful way too. They were much more welcoming than any other program coordinators and thus made me choose Amsterdam (VU) over other cities.
The city is a sight to behold, especially in fall when the leaves have fallen and everything is red and brown. Also, the city is unique in that it gives a very different vibe at night compared to day. When the sun is up, there is a lot of modern architecture that blends in with the traditional row houses of Amsterdam, but at night, everything seems to turn a bit more old fashioned, but very scenic with the lights reflecting on the canals.
The program in general is very fast-paced but also exciting. Unlike my home university, VU Amsterdam has a very unique undergraduate curriculum in that it has many ‘practical’ courses that are less focused on theory and more on experiments or simulations. Seeing such curriculum, I was eager to enroll as a semester student to take advantage of the courses that I have never been exposed to.
If I want some quite me-time, I like to cycle to Amsterdamse Bos and just wander about in the park. You forget that you are in Amsterdam because all you see around you are just trees and nature. This park is also great with a couple of friends since you can have a simple picnic by the waterside.
Hometown and Country: Singapore, Singapore
Home University: Macalester College
Study Program: Psychology
I choose to come to Amsterdam because of how bustling I knew the city would be and its central location in Europe. I also knew that everyone would speak English and I could easily communicate (of course, I did end up picking up some Dutch!).
Amsterdam might be small, but there's always so much going on. I’ve walked into cheese shops with the goal of tasting everything, biked through several parks, and explored every nook and cranny of the Rijksmuseum. It’s busy and crowded and I love this about Amsterdam. There’s never a dull moment.
I love that there’s a social aspect to the program. I’ve gotten to see places and take part in activities that might not have been possible without the program (like going to the Anne Frank Huis). I also really enjoy having the resources and support that the program offers.
You’ve probably already heard this one, but I’m going to confirm it: Dutch people are super direct. I go to school in Minnesota and we’re known for having the most passive-aggressive people. So being here and having people just tell it to you straight is quite refreshing. I'm also a big fan of stroopwafels, cheese (preferably with truffle), and poffertjes! Lastly, I enjoy the bike culture so much. Getting around town has never been so easy!
The VU is much bigger than my school back home. I'm taking a couple lecture-based classes here with a lot of students, which is different than what I’m used to. The campus buildings are also a lot taller. I must always remember to account for the time it takes to ride the elevator all the way to the 15th floor otherwise I’ll be late for class.
I discovered an amazing cookie store in Amsterdam called 'Van Stapele Koekmakerij.' They only sell one kind of cookie, the shop is super small, and the line is generally long, but I promise you they are amazing cookies and a must try!
Hometown and Country: Copenhagen, Denmark
Home University: Roskilde University
Study Program: Social Science
I choose the Semester in Amsterdam program because I wanted to live and study in Amsterdam. Since my home university doesn't have exchange agreements with Dutch universities, I applied for the Semester in Amsterdam programme as a free mover.
Amsterdam is a really cozy, beautiful, and perfectly-sized city. Everything is within biking distance and the different neighbourhoods are fun to explore by bike (one exception is the city center, which I find too touristy and crowded). The Dutch people are some of the most friendly and straightforward people I have ever met. They are very helpful, direct, and honest in the way they communicate. I'm so thankful that the Semester in Amsterdam program gave me the opportunity to discover this lovely city, live among the welcoming Dutch people, and meet a lot of international students.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam feels more like a community compared to my home university. People spend a lot of time on campus doing group work and studying as well as eating, chilling, and exercising. There is a brand-new fitness center on campus which I used often and the cafeteria offers a lot of different options including organic and vegetarian.
When it comes to the lectures and how the semester is structured, this is also totally different from back home. The semester is divided into three periods and each period is quite packed with lectures, assignments, readings, presentations, and exams. The quality of the teaching is high, and the professors are engaged and committed. I also think professors expect a lot from their students. Some students might find the work load heavy, but the benefit is that you gain in-depth knowledge.
Don't leave your bike unlocked and unattended even for just a second! Bike theft is the most common crime in Amsterdam. Besides that, I only have good memories from my time in Amsterdam: a lot of good drinks at local breweries and nice bars, street food at the Foodhallen, Sunday jazz nights and chilling at Pllek, movies at the Eye and Tusinski, art-filled afternoons at Amsterdam's many museums, picnics in Vondel Park, and much much more.
Home town and Country: Prague, Czech Republic
Home University: Lake Forest College, Chicago, USA
Study Program: Neuroscience
Choosing Semester in Amsterdam
I knew I wanted a program that would allow me to take classes that would count toward my major. Vrije University Amsterdam provides a lot of diverse neuroscience courses. Moreover, I was able to take an honor’s class called New Anatomy at Vrije University Medical School. This was a great opportunity to explore my career options. Furthermore, Semester in Amsterdam staff organized many trips around the Netherlands as well as in Amsterdam which helped me to explore the Dutch culture.
Being part of the honor’s program at the Vrije Universiteit, I was the only non-Dutch student in the class which forced me to make connections, interact with Dutch students, and, thus, practice my Dutch language skills.
I think that the biggest difference is the class size. Here at VU Amsterdam my classes usually have anywhere from 50 to 70 students. Furthermore, the grading system in the Netherlands is very different from the system in the US as the final grade is often based only on one final exam.
Got Wheels, Will Travel
Amsterdam is a vibrant and diverse city and I am so pleased I got to live so close to the city center which allowed me to explore all of the perks that the city had to offer. My favorite part of Dutch culture is the love of biking – it is really liberating to be able to go anywhere and not rely on public transport or driving. Plus it is a great exercise!
Go-To Places (Rain Dependent!)
Amsterdam is a really diverse city. Thus every time I wander through the streets I discover a new and exciting place. Nevertheless, over the semester I have found two places where I often go to when I have time. When the weather permits, I like to bike to Amstel Park to see the traditional Dutch windmill surrounded by cows and horses right next to a canal. When it rains, I like to go to Museumplein (museum square) where I can discover all of the wonders that the museums have to offer.
Hometown and Country: Beirut, Lebanon
Home University: American University of Beirut
Study Program: Sociology and Anthropology
I wanted to participate in a a one year program in Europe. Participating in an exchange program was not possible because placements with my home university were limited. After being accepted, the application process went very smoothly.
Name: Eduardo da Costa Siqueira
Hometown and Country: Curitiba, Brazil
Home University: Federal University of Paraná
Study Program: Medicine
The city is smaller than I expected but very beautiful. I like the cozy atmosphere and old buildings in the center.
In general, I spend less time attending lectures and more time working at home on assignments and essays. These assignments can take a lot of time, but I think I learn more this way than by only attending lectures. Plus the self-study hours make it easy to choose a new study spot each week and visit a lot of different cafés.
New cultural awareness
I didn’t know much about Dutch culture before coming to Amsterdam. In fact, I actually didn’t know much about Europe, since all I really knew was what I heard from people and the media. Being exposed to many different cultures and noticing differences and similarities which I didn’t expect is one of the best parts about studying abroad.
I find Dutch politics, especially popular support for the monarchy, very interesting. Some noticeable differences are the frankness of the people and the fact that they always start events and meetings right on time, not even 2 minutes late!
Hometown and Country: Irvington, New York, United States
Home University: Carnegie Mellon University
Study Program: Information Systems
I chose the Semester in Amsterdam Program because I wanted to experience living in a country where English is not the native language while still being able to take classes in English. I also wanted to live in Amsterdam because of its reputation for being an intercultural melting pot. So many languages are spoken here, but Dutch people speak English remarkably well. I had no trouble getting around and orienting myself.
Integrating into Dutch Life
During my time here, I've completely fallen in love with Amsterdam. Living in Amsterdam has given me a completely different perspective from that of a tourist. I really love the bike culture, and I will definitely miss the freedom that comes along with it. I've found the Dutch people to be incredibly friendly, and the attitudes here towards various social issues are very refreshing.
Different Education System
The most obvious difference would be that there is a larger emphasis on exams. Back at my home university, assessment is given in the form of regular assignments and smaller exams. Having classes where 100% of the grade is based on the final exam took a bit of getting used to. Also, Dutch students are less concerned with getting a high grade and more focused on the learning process. This has been a nice change.
Easily my favorite place in Amsterdam is De School, a café/gym/nightclub in a former technical school. Most people know it for its nightclub element, but it also has all sorts of really cool cultural events like art exhibitions and concerts. Also, its café has some really tasty ramen!
Hometown and Country: San Diego, California, United States
Home University: San Diego State University
Study Program: Marketing
Amsterdam is a relatively small city, so it's easy to get around by bike, tram, or by foot. The Dutch people also make it feel extra cozy by being extremely welcoming and kind to foreign students. Yet Amsterdam still has all the benefits associated with living in a big city. There is always something to do. There are dozens of markets, hundreds of museums, and thousands of restaurants and cafés. It is really easy to travel by train to the surrounding cities in the Netherlands. I would recommend visiting Rotterdam and The Hague. If you want to get away for the weekend, then Schiphol Airport is easy to get to from anywhere in the city!
Studying at VU Amsterdam
Studying at VU Amsterdam involves more active discussion and less busy work. In my classes, the final exam was usually worth the vast majority of my grade which is different than back home, but I felt that professors prepared me well. Dutch culture in general is a straightforward and direct type of culture which translates to students being expected to clearly communicate, hold themselves accountable for their work, and be on time.
Travel: If you plan to travel around Europe when you study abroad, make sure you save some weekends to experience Amsterdam!
Food: Try Dutch food! Bitterballen, poffertjes, stroopwaffels, and cheese are LIFE.
Good study cafés: Coffee & Coconuts, Back to Black, and Volkshotel
Music: I highly recommend attending a show at Paradiso! Hands down one of the city's most architecturally unique concert halls.
Hometown and Country: Uniondale, USA
Home University: Ithaca College
Study Program: Physical Therapy Major; Dance minor
Feeling at Home
I really like it here in Amsterdam! The culture seems so inclusive, and I don’t feel like a complete foreigner/tourist walking around the city center or when I am biking to find a cafe.
It’s only been 2 months and I already forgot what it's like not to ride a bike everywhere!
Studying is definitely different here. I have a lot more free time and less classes, so this gives me opportunities to sit and go over my notes. Classes are also very different. I’m used to a more intimate setting with class sizes varying from 12 to 22 students. My course at the VU have class sizes of 40+.
My favorite studying place has to be Coffee & Coconuts! The music is calming, they have really great coffee, comfy couches, and a really good breakfast menu.
Hometown and Country: Wuhan, China
Home University: Hope College
Study Program: Computer Science and Philosophy
"During my first semester at VU Amsterdam, I took a class in which I participated in a group project in place of a final exam. Since I was new to the university, I thought it would be a good idea to team up with Dutch students. One of my Dutch group members also worked on website development and I asked her how to get a job like hers. She told me about Frissr and I contacted the company. Soon after being invited for a visit I was asked to help build the website for the company's upcoming event TECH020. The event was hosted in collaboration with VU Amsterdam's international office.
What followed was a big learning experience both as a programmer and also personally. This was the first time I had a job outside of a university setting. The team I was part of was really helpful and also fun to work with. The event was a big success and so was the website. In the end, I not only gained work experience but also new friends."
Hometown and Country: Fairfax, California, USA
Home University: Loyola University, Chicago
Study Program: Environmental Science; Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture
Tell us about your internship. What is your role, and how did you arrange it?
I first visited Amsterdam when I was 10. I loved the city and knew I wanted to return to study here. But I also wanted to complement my courses with practical experience. So, while applying to the Semester in Amsterdam program, I started researching internship opportunities. After learning about Mediamatic I contacted the company to express my interest in getting involved. Mediamatic invited me to apply for a formal internship and this application process ran tangent to my application process for the Semester in Amsterdam program. Fortunately, I was accepted for both.
My internship is in the field of mycological studies, the study of fungi. Since starting my internship I've helped Mediamatic construct a new sustainable brewing facility attached to a clean lab space. I designed the brewery's exhaust hood and helped with glass cutting and welding. I'm now experimenting in the lab to find the proper formula for reusing the brewery's waste to inoculate mushroom spawn that can be used to fill insulation panels. This idea would bridge the gap between sustainable architecture and building materials by repurposing waste products which would thereby increase the sustainability of brewing facilities and production.
What do you hope to gain from your internship?
Transferable knowledge, ideally. Chicago has a lot of craft and micro breweries and I'm in contact with some of them about the feasibility of applying Mediamatric's idea of using mushroom spawn for insulation back home. I hope to learn the proper chemical balance of this process for wider use in food systems in general.
My internship is also a fantastic networking opportunity. I'm trying to make as many connections now as possible. I'm on track to do a five-year program at my home university and graduate with a masters in business, but since coming to Amsterdam I've realized that international students can study for a lot less in Europe, so I'm staying open to the idea.
What's the vibe at Mediamatic like? Any perks?
Mediamatic has quite an international staff, so English is the common language. I am one of eight interns. The other interns are Dutch, Spanish, and Australian. Working in a professional setting helps me to easily connect with people of different age groups and nationalities, all of whom share recommendations for things to see and do in Amsterdam.
My internship pays a monthly stipend. Plus I can eat for free at its fancy restaurant situated right on the canals. I eat a lot of oysters.
What are your impressions of Amsterdam, Dutch culture, and the Semester in Amsterdam program?
It's easy to quickly involve yourself in multiple things here. The city is welcoming and people are friendly, so I've really enjoyed putting myself out there and meeting people. I was even offered a DJ set at a local hip hop bar after talking to the staff.
I've gotten more out of seeking stuff on my own as opposed to being tied to a group, but I do appreciate living with international students. At the university accommodation there are people from 7 different nationalities on my side of the floor alone.
The Semester in Amsterdam Program offers me just enough guidance to find my way without feeling restrictive. The introduction schedule and advising staff helped me settle in easily, and now I'm enjoying my free time to explore and make the most of my time here.
Have a question for our alumni? Curious about everyday life in Amsterdam from VU Amsterdam to the food, music, or events going on throughout the city? Want to know how much homework you can expect each night, or how the Dutch educational system differs from your own? Ask one of our Semester in Amsterdam VU Ambassadors! They would love to answer your questions by sharing their personal experiences of living and studying at VU Amsterdam.
Student Ambassadors from the Americas
|SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM
||SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM
Fall 2016: Biology / Pre-med
Fall 2016: Business-Marketing
|Milena De Souza Lozano Monteiro
Fall 2016: Law
Fall 2016: Psychology
Student Ambassadors from Europe
|SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM||SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM|
Spring 2017: Social Sciences
Fall 2017: Business Administration
Student Ambassadors from Asia
|SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM
Fall 2016: Law