Freya: Last Post!

It’s been two weeks since I said my goodbyes to Amsterdam, and I’m already starting to feel all the experiences solidifying in my memories. And looking back, I can picture so many great times, but also quite a few times of stress and worry. There’s this idealised image of university exchanges that I think needs a couple of disclaimers added to it, and so that’s what I’m going to attempt to do here.  

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Going into the exchange, people painted the picture of international student life to be a whirlwind of new friends and new experiences. All the other exchange students you meet are coming into this new city with the same intentions as you: to experience life in a new city, and meet likeminded people of different nationalities. And because of this, it’s very easy to make new friends and make lots of plans with all your new friends. But over a six month period there are going to be ups and downs. There were quite a few times when I felt that I wasn’t making enough friends, or that I wasn’t spending enough time with the friends i was making. Or that I wasn’t going out and seeing the city as much as I should be. These concerns would be a great worry to me on days when university or life in general had me feeling extra stressed. When you have to turn down trips away or even just a night out because of university work, there’s a real feeling that you’re not only missing out on the experience, but also the opportunity to make or solidify these new friendships that are such a crucial part of the exchange experience. 

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But it’s important to remember that it is a university exchange, and so you will be expected to study. And, if you’re someone like me, you won’t want to to put in anything less than your best effort into your overseas studies. I thoroughly enjoyed most of my courses in Amsterdam, but they were hard. And I spent many days and nights working on my coursework while my friends were out partying or traveling. But the fact is most of the friends I made were in the same situation, it was just that their workloads are simply distributed differently. I had a very full on first half of the semester, during which I had a much higher courseload than the people I knew. And this was a burdensome source of stress, as I felt that I was going to end the semester not having ever being caught up in this fun and exciting whirlwind. But looking back now, my fears were unfounded. Whenever I was capable, I was out doing things. And on the days all my friends were stuck studying, I still had a whole city to explore and many more people to meet. And looking back I truly feel   like I made the most of my exchange, even though I didn’t make the most out of every day. Some days were spent mindlessly trudging through assignments, some were spent lazing about inside my room. But this was the case for many of my friends too. It is a long-term trip away, and so there are going tohave to be downtime days every so often.

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Out exploring Vienna with me, myself and I because no one else was free that week

So I think the important message I’d like to share on my reflections on my time in Amsterdam is to have fun, make the most of the time you have, but also don’t feel the need to force anything or compare your experiences with those of others. The image you may have of your time away may not pair up to reality, but as long as you are doing what’s best for you, the exchange as a whole will tremendous.

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Olivier: Last Post!

Hi all,

This is my final blog! I am back in Auckland for a week now, and I am still processing the entirety of my trip. I’ve done so much, seen so much, met so many people and yes, did a little bit of study as well at some points. It is difficult to summarise an entire trip, but what I am going to do here is outline some tips and advice that I would like to give to you, prospective travellers.

Should I go?

Was the trip worth it? Yes. This is the easiest question I have potentially ever answered. The experience, enjoyment and friendships that you make when going on a trip abroad is quite simply a once in a lifetime experience. Yes it does cost money, yes it can be hard at times to be away from your family and friends, but boy is it worth it. I’ve been to more countries over the last 7 months than most people will in their lifetimes. I’ve seen more sites, had more experiences and made more friends from other cultures than I would in 20 years living in New Zealand. Our age is the best time to go travelling – we are spritely enough to travel rough, young enough to enjoy living in hostels and have few burdens back home so we can spend all the money we have, knowing that hopefully a job will not be too far away when we get home. Some people would argue that it is better to just go travelling rather than be on exchange, but I would argue no. When you are on exchange, you get to tick off your degree, you have a base to go travelling if you wish, and most importantly, you get to meet locals properly and form a life and friendships with them that are more than just fleeting.

What was the toughest part?

Honestly, and this might sound a little corny, the toughest part was leaving Amsterdam, knowing I was going back to the cold and wet of Auckland. Now I am back here, things are a little easier as I have got back into a routine and met up with my friends and family, but life was so good over in Europe that I didn’t really want to go home. Culture shock was limited for me, although I am aware that this will not necessarily be the same everywhere around the world – the Netherlands is not that different to New Zealand really.

OK I’m convinced, where should I go?

This is probably the most important part of your decision – if you end up in a city which you don’t really love, the exchange probably won’t be nearly as much fun as otherwise. So research research research. Look up each city/country and determine what best suits your needs. Why are you going on exchange? For the prestige of the university? To get immersed completely in a certain culture? To go to a ‘fun’ university where there will be a great college lifestyle? To have a base to go travelling around the continent? These questions will determine what university you should apply for.

Any last words?

Go. Whatever reason you may be hesitant, just go. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you certainly will not regret your time. I miss Amsterdam already, it’s got a special place in my heart, and I will always look back at the last 7 months as some of the best times of my life.

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Olivier: Travel

One of the key reasons that I went on exchange was to travel around the world. I based myself in Amsterdam not only because I was very interested in Dutch culture and the university had an excellent reputation, but also because I thought it was a great place to base myself to go travelling around Europe.

Boy was this a good decision. I have just returned home and I am looking back on my travels. In seven months I went to 16 countries, took 23 flights and had an amazing time right around the world. I decided to travel via the USA on the way to Amsterdam and spent 31 days there in December before the January start. On the way home, I spent a few days in Iceland and a week in Canada. It was not more expensive to stop in these countries as a layover, so it is a perfect time to explore North America.

In Europe, there are cheap flights all over the continent. Often flights are as cheap as 100 euros return, and it is easy with the uni workload to go travelling for 4-5 day long weekends and get a feel for the continent. I went on 5 trips during my studies (about a trip once a fortnight) and travelled between and after my studies finished too. Personally, I found the workload less than in Auckland, and was able to travel with people from around the world. I feel that you will never get another chance to travel as much as I did when on exchange, so I am glad I made the most of my opportunity.

I leave you with a series of photos from my trips around the world as inspiration for your future trips overseas!

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Olivier: Food, Glorious Food

A Dutch food day timeline:

7am: Breakfast is chocolate sprinkles on bread – a classic Dutch sweet treat. The Dutch love sugar, can’t get enough of the stuff.

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10am: Morning tea – time for stroopwafels, the great Dutch treat which is famous worldwide. Best type is not the supermarket ones, but the ones that are made fresh and warm. Much less sweet but just amazing.

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12pm: Lunch. Time for some typical salty food – Frites! Basically these are chips, but they are always served with Dutch mayonnaise, never with tomato sauce. The Dutch are particularly proud of this mayonnaise, not my favourite – but boy you cannot tell them that! Alternatively, you can have curry sauce on the chips, which I do prefer.

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3pm: Time to have some poffertjies for afternoon tea, more sweet food! Not exactly the healthiest food, Dutch food, but this is certainly a favourite! Basically they are fluffy little pikelets coated in icing sugar – mmm. I feel my blood vessels just clogging up thinking about them.

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6pm: Dinner is a quick snack at FEBO – and I mean a quick snack. FEBO is a crazy form of fast food where instead of ordering burgers or frikandels (a type of sausage), the servers make the food in advance and put it in a little box where you can pick it up. Hot food within 30 seconds! Quality may not be high, but boy does it taste good.

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Accommodation Awards: Olivier

Welcome to Grote Bickersstraat: The most genuinely Amsterdam student accommodation around!

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Other housing blocks are closer to uni, or to the red light district. Others are cheaper, newer or more ‘party’ blocks. But nothing beats Grote Bickersstraat for the true ‘Dutch’ experience. Located on the old dockyards for the Dutch East Indies Company, the block is down a quiet little street with trees lining the paths and canals on either side! Bikes are everywhere, there is a little bar on the end of the road and you will feel like you are a true Amsterdamer!

Once you enter the block, you have to climb four sets of steep stairs to get to my room – but boy is it worth it! My room is enormous with a balcony and views out to Centraal train station. Next door to mine is the shared lounge/kitchen which I share with three lovely Masters students. On the other side of that is yet another balcony with views over the canals and to the parks beyond! This place is simply amazing!

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It is slightly more expensive than other blocks in the city, but it’s still very doable – around 400 euros a month (or $150 NZD a week approx.) which makes it cheaper than most Auckland flats! And with everyone biking everywhere, it only takes 10 minutes to get into uni, despite being a few kms away. Amsterdam looks after the exchange students really well, and provides accommodation at a much lower cost than it would be if you had to look for it yourself! Being from so far away also means that they take extra care of you – all the New Zealand students have got themselves great digs, and have had no trouble. But if you are coming to Amsterdam, try and get Grote Bickersstraat, it’s the best option!

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The Netherlands

Another gorgeous location to take part in an exchange. Lucky University of Auckland students have the option to study at one of three universities in the Netherlands: The University of Amsterdam (including Law), University of Groningen and Utrecht University (including Law).

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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 Dunster, 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 Wu, The University of Amsterdam

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“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 Bendek Rooney, The University of Amsterdam

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes…

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“Amsterdam has great public transport and cycling is very easy due to the flat land and bicycle lanes.” – Grace Bendek Rooney, The University of Amsterdam

“After initially being overwhelmed by the number of bikes in Amsterdam, I soon loved my daily cycle to class.” – Elizabeth Vincent, The University of Amsterdam

“Biking in Amsterdam was chaotic, scary, fun, and liberating once you learn how to ride like the Dutch.” – Sally Wu, 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 Marinovich, The University of Amsterdam

“I cycled to the University on cobblestoned streets lined with buildings older than my country, and engaged in interactive classes represented by a diverse range of nationalities.” – Jeroen De Vries, Utrecht University

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On orientation:

“The University of Amsterdam held an orientation day and dropped us all off to our separate accommodation. Mine was the furthest away from the city centre, but turned out to work the best for me. From there, the International Student Network (ISN) held an opening weekend where we were put into groups and taken through activities and parties for the first three days on exchange. This was definitely one of the highlights and I would highly recommend joining a student network if you do choose to go abroad. Most of the people in my group here I ended up staying in contact with for the rest of the semester, and even after returning to New Zealand’ – Chris Kolston, The University of Amsterdam

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“I was able to meet some students (Dutch and International) at the orientation and events run by the ISN (International Student Network) and in my classes. I was also able to meet local people and some professionals in the Tech industry by attending local Meetups by using meetup.com.” – Grace Bendek Rooney, The University of Amsterdam

“I did get involved with the international student network – there was a week of activities, day trips to pancake boats, parties… The friends that I met would be the ones I sat around with at informal dinner parties, with wine and cheese.” -Sally Wu, The University of Amsterdam

“The first week I was in Amsterdam I took part in the university’s exchange introduction (orientation) week. This was a fantastic week and I would highly recommend signing up for it. Along with a visit to the university’s 3 main locations we also went to the zoo, on a canal cruise, a pub crawl and a comedy club. This week was also great as I met several people in my courses and other Dutch students who shared their insider knowledge on living in Amsterdam.” –  Matthew Marinovich, The University of Amsterdam

On housing:

“I was staying in the Rode Kruislaan residence organised by the university which was about 25 minutes bike ride from central Amsterdam. It was simple accommodation and had around 150 students staying within the 5 apartment buildings. Right away I met my neighbours – a Swiss law student and a Dutch biology student. We cooked together – our favourite was Dutch savoury pancakes with bacon and Gouda cheese.” – Matthew Marinovich, The University of Amsterdam

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On courses:

“The university courses were challenging but interesting, and the calibre of students and professors were excellent. The work is predominately self-driven (in the law faculty at least), with less class time and more focus on individual preparation. Similar to our summer school, semesters are broken into two blocks of 6 weeks, with no study break before exams. Most courses at the law faculty are only taught in English, even for the Dutch students, which means that most classes are not just international students – which is great if you want to make local friends.” – Elizabeth Vincent, The University of Amsterdam

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“Nostalgia for my homeland took a back seat as I entered into my Social Science courses and I began to make connections and friendships within the array of international and Dutch students. These growing groups of friends become the backbone of my exchange, serving as a perfect tonic to 6000-word essay deadlines and days full of two-hour classes. We took advantage of the super-efficient national train service, making day trips to other cities, beaches, forests and islands throughout the Netherlands. Over the year, Amsterdam began to feel like a village – with most galleries, cafes, bars and music venues less than 20mins cycle away. I slowly began to learn basic supermarket and hospitality conversations in Dutch, however I never progressed much further (one of my regrets) as English was resorted to so quickly, in accordance with Dutch efficiency.” – Zoe Dunster, The University of Amsterdam

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“My psychology studies involved a lecture and several required readings per course each week. It felt similar to the amount of study I would put into an average course at Auckland. The courses were very interesting and I thought the Motivation course was in my top 5 favourite courses of my bachelors.” – Matthew Marinovich, The University of Amsterdam

“Although the study itself was structured differently (one semester is cut in half!), the university was welcoming towards exchange students, and in all of the courses I took, and the majority of the students were international. Amsterdam city in general is very international; I met people from USA, Spain, China, Sweden, Australia, and even Dunedin! Meeting people was the thing I was most worried about, but the thing that came the easiest while living in Amsterdam. Every other exchange student is in the same boat as you, so everyone is super friendly and wants to be your friend.” – Chris Kolston, The University of Amsterdam

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“The academic experience of studying in Utrecht was a memorable opportunity to observe how universities operate in a different country. I cycled to the University on cobblestoned streets lined with buildings older than my country, and engaged in interactive classes represented by a diverse range of nationalities. As a centre for international human rights law, I was able to hear from interesting guest speakers including the national director for Amnesty International. I also had the opportunity to visit the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague” – Jeroen De Vries, Utrecht University

On travel:

“The best thing is that, with these new friends, you can then travel around Europe! Amsterdam is quite central in Europe and there are often cheap flights to places like Stockholm, Barcelona, London, Berlin etc. The public transport around Europe also makes travelling very easy, so not much planning is required.” –  Chris Kolston, The University of Amsterdam

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“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 Bendek Rooney, The University of Amsterdam

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Top Tips:

“The high prices for living in the city became less daunting over time as I learnt the city shortcuts; owning a bike with a good lock saves a fortune on transport, get an OV-chipkaart for those trips to the airport, find Facebook groups/events for collectives that save food from shops before it goes in the bin, and definitely buy a museumkaart, which costs a bit but lasts a year and allows you to visit an extensive list of galleries and museums across the Netherlands for free! 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 Dunster, The University of Amsterdam

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“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 Vincent, The University of Amsterdam

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