My O-Week Experience: Olivier

Wednesday: Arrival from France. Decided to do a bit of travel before my studies in Amsterdam so have been on the go for 2 months – I stink, my clothes stink. I’ve slept on far too many couches. I get my room key, my SIM card, my bank account, appointments with a million people. Sensory overload. It’s cold. Not as cold as France, but definitely in the negatives. Talk to a girl from Canada who said most winters it gets to -45 degrees where she lives. Woow. Arrive at my new flat – I’m on the 4th floor, only narrow stairs. I haul my 25kgs up the stairs and collapse onto my bed. Look out onto the canal directly below and over to the churches in the distance. I’m home.

Thursday: This place is absolutely gorgeous. The water, the bikes, the old buildings – I’m going to like it here – though the smells everywhere will take a while to get used to. We start our O-Week proper: there are something like 500 international students here. My O-Week group has Turks, Norwegians, Danes, Finnish, Latvians, Brits, French, Canadians, Americans… Awesome to meet people from a completely different upbringing, but again my brain struggles to take everything in. Our group leader is a very cool lad called Jos who shows us the ins and outs of the city.


Friday: Beer, stroopwaffels and cheese sandwiches for brunch – a true Dutch start to the day. We cruise through the canals on my first boating experience in the Northern Hemisphere. A quick lesson in Dutch – their ‘g’s are like French rolled ‘r’s. Really rasps in the back of your throat. Speed dating – the only person who doesn’t know where New Zealand is, is a girl from San Francisco – “New Zealand’s near Kenya right? Do you guys speak French there?” The evening involves a trip to our new student haunt: “Coco’s” – a large ‘Australian’ pub where they serve ‘a range of New Zealand and Australian beers’. This actually means they serve Fosters, a drink hardly sold in Australia. No New Zealand beers are sold.

Saturday: The last day of O-week. I’m tired already, but we’re up again early for a hearty brunch and then a trip to ice skating. I am terrible at ice skating, I fall over, all the Europeans laugh at me. I laugh at myself, I look ridiculous. We’re off to Waterlooplein – the market where people buy secondhand bikes. The general rule is you don’t ask where the bikes are from, they sell it to you at a lower price. People call this the ‘Amsterdam market’. Your bike may get stolen, but then you get to buy cheap 2nd hand bikes. Everyone is very relaxed about this. My bike is black, a little bit rusty but goes straight, looks solid and doesn’t creak too much. My bike is better than most people’s. Disaster – our O-week group leader gets sick so can’t host the pre-drinks before the big final party. I offer to host in my room despite not having met my flatmates yet – luckily all goes well. The big final party starts at 12.30am and goes until 6am – they party late here. Somehow I manage to make it to the end, wander home and sleep all day Sunday. Welcome to Amsterdam.


The Netherlands

University of Auckland students have the opportunity to study at four universities in the Netherlands: Tilburg University (Law only), The University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen and Utrecht University.


Let’s hear what our students have to say!

A land without hills; a flat landscape interconnected by fearless cyclists, UNESCO status canal rings, Albert Heijn supermarkets – with their mélange of delights (and sometimes free coffee), places to buy coffee and the less-than-discrete coffee shops, markets selling artisanal produce alongside mass-produced tourist knickknacks, free ferries that deliver you to the north side of the city, and topped off with relentless bike thieves that cunningly whisk locked bikes away during the day or night… I arrived in Amsterdam in anticipation, not knowing what to expect from this foreign city with such a big international reputation.

– Zoe, The University of Amsterdam


Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. At night, the tall, narrow buildings are reflected in the canals and watch you as you walk by. There are little lights dotting the edge of the canal bridges. It reminded me of Cinderella.

– Sally, The University of Amsterdam


Studying abroad is a great opportunity for so many reasons, I am very glad that I chose Amsterdam as the place to go to. First, the city is full of life, there are so many interesting and unique parts to it; it is hard to explore the maze of canals in a few short months. Amsterdam is not the most affordable student city but student accommodation definitely lowers the price and you can generally find good deals in most supermarkets and can find affordable yet delicious eat out options. The variety of cultures within the city is reflected in its wide range of food, drinks, clothing and entertainment options, there are always an endless stream of experiences to be found.

– Grace, The University of Amsterdam

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes…


After initially being overwhelmed by the number of bikes in Amsterdam, I soon loved my daily cycle to class.

– Elizabeth, The University of Amsterdam


Biking in Amsterdam was chaotic, scary, fun, and liberating once you learn how to ride like the Dutch. 

– Sally, The University of Amsterdam


Two pieces of advice I would give to anyone going on exchange to Amsterdam would be: watch out for bicycles when walking around the city and buy a bike as soon as possible and to go exploring.

– Matthew, The University of Amsterdam




Due to the location of Amsterdam in Europe, it is remarkably easy to travel to and from. Trains run regularly and you can usually find relatively affordable flight options too. During my time there I visited a number of different cities and towns in Germany, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.  I had a fantastic time on exchange and if you are presented the opportunity to go, you should leap at it.

– Grace, The University of Amsterdam



I left my Amsterdam home with teary eyes, but grateful that I had been able to see the city in the colours of every season, that I had also learnt more about the way Anthropology is taught and made relevant to the Netherlands and Europe and that I, miraculously, never got my bike tyre caught in the tram tracks, or fell in any canals.

–  Zoe, The University of Amsterdam


Amsterdam has a wide array of fantastic cultural activities (museums, galleries, libraries). Buy a museumkaart and visit one of the many museums – from the Cheese Museum, the Cow Museum to the Anne Frank House or the huge state museum (Rijksmuseum). There are fresh produce markets on every week with food, tulips and crafts on offer. It is very easy to eat too many stroopwaffels and your weight in cheese (Dutch people take cheese seriously!) The population in Amsterdam is generally quite young, so great new cafes, bars and restaurants open frequently. I would recommend Amsterdam as an exchange destination to anyone. The people are friendly, the food is excellent, the university is top-quality and travelling is easy.”

– Elizabeth, The University of Amsterdam


What I’m Packing: Freya

So lately I have been hitting up all the travel blogs and all my traveler friends to boil down the ultimate packing list. It will have to see me through the cold, cold Northern Europe winter, and then seven months of unplanned adventure. The main advice to come out of this research is to pack light and pack smart. Only take clothes that are versatile and easy wearing. Only pack items with high utility value.  Seeing as I won’t be heading off until January 29, I still have a month and a half to scrutinize and inevitably alter my packing list. So instead of giving you a well researched packing list that I probably won’t end up sticking to myself, here are five key essentials that no limitation on space and common sense can stop me from bringing…


Bullet Journal and Notebook

For those who don’t know about the bullet journal, it’s essentially a DIY life planner that works great for people who constantly find themselves making lists and jotting notes etc. down on loose paper. You start with a blank notebook, and following the guidance of the adaptable bullet journal system (Google it), you can plan out your months, weeks, days, along with any events, thoughts, goals, plans, lists and ideas that may enter your brain. I already have a series of pages dedicated to the locations I intend to visit, where I am noting down the advice the internet and real-life friends are giving me. I also use it to track money, which will be an absolute necessity when travelling. The blogs also tell me to bring a notebook to keep a travel diary, so I’m bringing a second notebook along too.

Laptop and Unlocked Cellphone

Pretty reasonable travel essential. Technology has revolutionized the way we see the world. There are so many necessary apps and websites that I can’t imagine getting by a year without, for both study and exploration. My year away is ideally about going out and experiencing new things, meeting new people and seeing all that the world has to offer. And, while it’s fun to imagine this as guided by spontaneous adventure, how I travel, where I go and what I do will inevitably be the product of extensive online research.

Diana Mini Camera

So hipster. But so much fun. Every now and again I’ll bring an analogue camera along to an outing and take some quick, sporadic snaps. It takes a few months to finish a roll of film, which means that when I eventually get the film developed, it has a beautifully random and candid assortment of memories. I have a small collection of film cameras, out of which the Diana made the final cut because it is small, light, basic and durable. What’s more, the exposure sometimes is a little off, which distorts the images in various ways. Often the colours come out much richer or hazier than they actually were. So, while my phone will be put to work in full tourist mode while I’m away, the Diana will make the trip as well.

Merino Everything

The main thing I’m nervous about travelling to the Netherlands is the cold. Amsterdam will be at its coldest when I arrive, and I want to be prepared. Because I am sticking to the mantra of packing light, my lovely winter coat and thick, warm jumpers aren’t going to be around to keep me toasty. Instead I’m opting for wool and merino, which are effective at keeping in the warmth while also being light and breathable. With this in mind I am making the most of the winter clothing sales on right now and stocking up on merino layers of every description. I was also able to score some epic deals courtesy of my friend’s staff discount at Macpac, so now there is nothing from stopping me from exploring the city in negative degrees.

Statement Tops

The main rule of travel fashion is stay basic, compact, and stay away from wacky everyday pieces, as you soon get tired of wearing them. Unfortunately, my personal fashion style tends to stray in the opposite direction. My wardrobe is filled with large statement tops, all of which have acquired some sort of sentimental story (#hoarder). While I’m fully aware that these are not the type of items I see on any travel blogger’s Ultimate Packing List, I can’t imagine going a year without them. So rules be damned, at least some of them are coming with me. Sometimes you just gotta find out what you’ll regret for yourself.


What I’m Packing: Olivier

I left Auckland for 7 months on Sunday afternoon – off to the USA en route to Amsterdam! Fitting 7 months into a suitcase is a difficult exercise, but I ended up having a suitcase weighing less than 18 kgs due to taking only the following essentials (in my mind anyway!)


  • Warm clothes – including but not limited to the beanie, the scarf, the woollen socks, the thermal top and the puffer jacket. Don’t worry too much about the fact that the puffer jacket looks uncool overseas – it’s super warm and it’s better to buy nice stuff when you arrive overseas!
  • Electronic essentials including the laptop, the headphones and the kindle. I seriously can’t stress how awesome a kindle is – I just downloaded 7 books on it for around $30 in total and that should last me for the whole trip.
  • Sports shoes – great way to keep fit and meet locals.
  • Swiss Army Knife – excellent for travelling, doubles as cutlery and often helps me out of a jam. Just remember to put it in your suitcase, not your carry on or else there could be interesting results.
  • Tie – always handy to have just in case you need it for a formal occasion.
  • Loved items – my wolf Chasseuse was given to me by my girlfriend and she travels with me everywhere I go – look out for her later in my blog! (alternatively look out for her in my blog about travelling through the USA –