Student Experiences

Meet our alumni
Semester in Amsterdam welcomes students from across the world with a rich variety of backgrounds. Learn about what our alumni have to say about living in the Netherlands and studying at VU Amsterdam.

Meet Ruben, our Student Blogger from Canada with dual Dutch-Canadian citizenship. Follow along in his Amsterdam adventures:

 

Meet Shannon, our student photographer/videographer from California. Check out her work on our Semester in Amsterdam YouTube Playlist.

 Adila

Age: 21
Hometown and country: Jakarta, Indonesia
Home University: University of Indonesia
Study programme: International Business Administration      

Campus Location
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.

First Impressions
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!

Study Load
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.

Making Friends
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.

Free Time
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.  

Student Feature Johanne

Age: 24
Hometown and country: Copenhagen, Denmark
Home university: Roskilde University
Study programme: Social Science

Application
I choose the Semester in Amsterdam programme because I wanted to combine living and studying in Amsterdam. And since my home university doesn't have exchange agreements with Dutch universities, I applied for the Semester in Amsterdam programme as a free mover.

Dutch Culture
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). And the Dutch people are some of the most friendly and straightforward people I have ever met. Very helpful, direct, and honest in the way they communicate. I'm so thankful the Semester in Amsterdam programme gave me the opportunity to discover this lovely city, live among the welcoming Dutch people, and meet a lot of international students. 

Campus Feel
VU Amsterdam feels more like a community compared to my home university. People spend a lot of time on campus doing group works and studying as well as eating, chilling, and exercising. There is a brand-new fitness center on campus which I used and the cafeteria offers a lot of different options, including organic and vegetarian.

Academic Structure
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, so I also think they expect a lot from their students. Some students might find the work load heavy, but the benefit is that you gain in-depth knowledge.

Tips
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 and chilling at Pllek, movies at the Eye and Tusinski, art-filled afternoons at Amsterdam's many museums, picnics in Vondel Park, and much more.

 

 

 



Cybele

Age: 19
Hometown and country: Beirut, Lebanon
Home University: American University of Beirut
Study Programme: Sociology and Anthropology

Application
I wanted a one year programme in Europe where an exchange wasn't necessary because exchange spaces with my home university are limited. After being accepted the processes that followed, such as the visa and accommodation processes, went very smoothly.

Course Distribution
Studying at VU Amsterdam has been a completely new experience. The three periods per semester system is totally different than back home but personally I like how courses are distributed throughout the semester. It gives you more time to focus on the courses while also having free time to use productively.    
 
Teaching Style        
Teachers at VU Amsterdam are more interactive than back home and allow more discussion about the subject matter. I think the way courses are held here is more efficient in helping students understand the topic and it keeps the class interesting. However I needed to get used to the fact that most of my grades are based on only one exam at the end of the period.      

Bike Culture
The city is wonderful! Everything is accessible by bike and traveling to different cities in the Netherlands is also very easy. I enjoy discovering hidden cafés that I have never been to before or finding concept stores that are interesting to browse in. I like how the Dutch bike everywhere no matter how old they are, it seems to keep them young and healthy.    
        
Personal Growth
My favorite aspect of this experience is how easy it is to meet people from all over the world. I am exposed to so many different perspectives and thoughts about world issues through discussions with diverse groups of people. This has widened and changed my point of view on many things, made me feel more mature, and made the experience exciting and life-changing.

Down Time      
Traveling is easy and fun. And with the university's flexible schedule it's really possible. When it's too cold to travel or discover the city by bike there's always somewhere on campus where you can meet someone new. I wasn't able to make a lot of Dutch friends at the beginning but with enough persistence I eventually learned how to keep in touch with the Dutch and their culture.

Sheena

Age: 21
Hometown and country: Singapore, Singapore
Home university: Macalester College
Study program: Psychology

Location
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!).

The City
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.

Social Program
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.

Dutch culture
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! 

Academic Differences
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.

Local Tip
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!

Eduardo

Name: Eduardo da Costa Siqueira
Age: 23
Hometown and country: Curitiba, Brazil
Home university: Federal University of Paraná
Study programme: Medicine

Amsterdam
The city is smaller than I expected but very beautiful. I like the cozy atmosphere and old buildings in the center.

Self Study
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 of studying abroad.

Dutch Quirks
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!

Arnav

Age: 20
Hometown and country: Irvington, New York, United States
Home university: Carnegie Mellon University 
Study programme: Information Systems

English-Taught Courses
I chose the Semester in Amsterdam programme because I wanted the experience of 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. Having the chance to live and study here has given me a totally different view of the city than if I were to have just visited. I really love the bike culture here 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 the greater emphasis on exams. Back at my home university there is a bigger emphasis on regular assignments and smaller exams. Having classes here where 100% of the grade is based on one exam took a bit of getting used to. Also here it seems the students are less stressed about getting a high grade and are more focused on learning which has been a nice change.

Hidden Gem
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!


Christina
Age: 21
Hometown and country: San Diego, California, United States
Home university: San Diego State University
Study programme: Marketing

Getting Around
Amsterdam is a relatively small city so it's easy to get around by bike, tram, or walking. The Dutch people also make it feel extra cozy by being extremely welcoming and kind to foreign students. But 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.

Some Advice:
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:  Cafe 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.








Heidy

Age: 20
Hometown and country: Los Angeles, California, USA
Home University: Bowdoin College, Maine
Study Programme: Neuroscience and Religion 

Adventure
I wanted to go somewhere no one else was going. This semester was the first year my university offered the opportunity to study in Amsterdam. I wanted to immerse myself in a country where I didn't speak the language; somewhere I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone.

Never a Boring Day
The city is so lively and far exceeded my expectations. There's so much to do and I find something new to see everyday. I have a lot more time on my hands since classes are once a week, which means I get to explore the Netherlands and Europe every weekend.

Favorite Thing About Dutch Culture?
Stroopwaffels, I'm not going to lie. I also really like how well dressed everyone is all the time. Everyone's just so classy.
     
Campus Feel 
Coming from a small liberal arts college, I'm happy with the class sizes at VU Amsterdam. For such a large institution, I expected classes to be more full but I've been pleasantly surprised. It's different not knowing everyone on campus but there's also a wonderful anonymity that comes with that.

Hidden Gems
There are lot of sweet spots in Amsterdam. I'm a big foodie, so I'm always on the lookout for good food. One of my favorites is "Pllek" in Amsterdam  Noord. It's constructed of recycled shipping containers. You can reach it via ferry from Central Station, so it's a great way to spend the afternoon.

Current Semester in Amsterdam student Maia works alongside her studies for a Dutch web development company, Frissr. Here's what Maia has to say about the experience:

Tech 020

Age: 21
Hometown and country: Wuhan, China
Home university: Hope College
Study programme: Computer Science and Philosophy

"During my first semester at VU Amsterdam I took a class with a group project in place of a final. 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 me to help build the website for the company's upcoming event TECH020. The event was jointly hosted by the 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 the university setting. The team I was part of was really helpful and also fun to work with. The event was also a big success, as well as the website. In the end I not only gained work experience but also new friends."

 

Current Semester in Amsterdam student Brendan is taking classes at VU Amsterdam while interning with Mediamatic, a Dutch biodesign company, on the side. Here's what Brendan has to say about the experience:

Brendan

Age: 21
Hometown and country: Fairfax, California, USA
Home university: Loyola University, Chicago
Study programme: 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, which is 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 re-purposing 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 that idea.

What's the vibe at Mediamatic like? Any perks?

Mediamatic has quite an international staff so English is the common language. I'm one of 8 interns. The other interns are Dutch, Spanish, and Australian. Working in a professional setting helps me 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 programme offers me just enough guidance to find my way without being 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
OhlroggeErik Ohlrogge
USA
Biology / Pre-med
eriko500@gmail.com
PetersenChristina Peterson
USA
Business-Marketing
christina.peterson1@yahoo.com
deSouzaLozanoMilena De Souza Lozano Monteiro
Brazil
Law
milenalozano2708@gmail.com
JahnsenKatherine Jahnsen
USA
Psychology
jahnsenkate@gmail.com


Student Ambassadors from Asia


SEMESTER in AMSTERDAM
HuCaroline Hu
China
Law
416207099@qq.com