Amsterdam is a wonderful place. I remember when I received the admission letter for studying International Business and Management at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and could not hold back my smile. I just came back from traveling 18 months in Australia and New Zealand and was very excited to start studying. I had many questions such as what will I experience, who will I meet, when will I move there, and how will I manage my student life? I somehow knew that everything will work out just fine.
One of the best experiences was to live together with other international students right next to my university in a student apartment building managed by Woonstichting De Key in the city district Amsterdam Zuidoost. Other than that, I did not like much the area and therefore often took the metro to Amsterdam Centraal, which takes less than 15 minutes. Once there, one has access to public transport to the entire city. Amsterdam is broken up in seven city districts (Amsterdam city districts, n.d.) and twelve major neighborhoods including the Centrum (Neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, n.d.). After a while one starts to have a feeling for the kind of places one likes or does not resonate with. I have many favorite places but highly recommend Amsterdam Roest in Oostelijke Eilanden, Artis Royal Zoo in De Plantage, Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp, Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark in Oud-Zuid, De Hallen in Oud-West, Westergasfabriek in Westerpark, IJ-Hallen and Pllek in NDSM, and De Negen Straatjes, Jordaan, and Rembrandtplein in Centrum. This is a very limited list without counting the many great bars, cafes, clubs, or countless social networking events Amsterdam has to offer, but it is a good start to explore the city.
With almost 100.000 students of its population (around 800.000), Amsterdam can easily be called a student city. In fact, wherever you go, you will mostly meet students and so the usual opening question is: where and what are you studying? You can also learn the basics of Dutch, which will impress most Dutch people who are only used to English speakers. However, you will be completely fine with English in Amsterdam. Everyone, whether young or old, can speak English. One of the reason is that their television shows and movies are mostly aired in English language, which will make it also easy for you to speak about last night’s television show among your Dutch friends. Another reason is that there are many tourists who create a constant English speaking environment. The typical tourist season is between July and August when the weather is the best. If your family plans a weekend trip to visit you during that time, make sure they book everything very much in advance.
Being an international student, I made a lot of international friends but I also sought the balance and tried to stick around Dutch people as well. It takes a lot of time to build a relationship with the Dutch but once they understand that you have sincere interest in connecting, they will accept you and make you their friends. That’s when you’ll experience the Dutch culture, which is a very interesting one. The more equal to the others you are, the more you are accepted. You can see that even in the architecture, every street and house looks almost the same – compare that with your own culture. I am very ambitious – like most people are who are born and raised in Germany as one is literally raised to achieve. Interestingly, different cultures have different values and the Dutch values are rather socially oriented. Social life plays a huge role, thus the hype around the world gezelligheid, which clumsy translates to sociability. You will understand what I mean when you go out for a drink with your Dutch friends.
To get around Amsterdam I always used an OV-chipkaart, which is a reloadable card for the public transport system. If you live in a student building, ask around whether they have a spare one for you from previous exchange students; otherwise get one from the machines at the metro stations. For the occasional sunny days and to get an overall feeling for the city, buying or hiring a bike is a must-do but be aware of the omnipresence bike thieves in Amsterdam. I am probably one of the few people in Amsterdam who did not experience a bike theft – but that’s probably because of a gigantic security chain that weighted more than my bike. Seriously, if you buy a bike also get the biggest security chain you can find.
Things to do
Erasmus is great, one meets students from all around the world who are studying different subjects and eventually becomes life-long friends by experiencing a new city together. If you are a social person you will love Erasmus and if not, it will be a perfect opportunity to improve your social skills. I am very lucky as an average student experiences just one Erasmus exchange semester, but I experienced eight as I was a full time international student. It sounds great and it is but I also learned the negative sides, which is to say goodbye to all the great people who went back to their home university after their Erasmus semester ended.
During the first few weeks of my studies I took part in the ISN Introduction Week with other Erasmus exchange students. Every international student in Amsterdam knows about ISN; some because of the many cultural events they organize and some because of their legendary parties at inspiring places such as Panama Amsterdam. Having been one time an ISN Introduction Week Coach myself (Become a Coach, 2017), I can attest that ISN puts a lot of effort in making your stay in Amsterdam unforgettable, so follow their event calendar (Calendar, n.d.).
During your studies it is important to do some sort of sport to mantain your overall fitness level. No, going to parties and dancing until the next morning is not a sport. So what can you do? Almost everything. I tried out rowing at Roeicentrum Berlagebrug, golfing at Golfbaan de Hoge Dijk, climbing at De Klimmuur Amsterdam, ice skating at Jaap Eden IJsbaan, and fencing at SchermCentrum Amsterdam (SCA). Try out as much as possible, that way you will meet a lot of interesting people and later be able to connect better with people who have made any of the sports their hobbies.
For the ones who also want to engage in intellectual activities, I’ll recommend one of the seven Toasmasters clubs, the Amsterdam Center of Entrepreneurship, or the many superb events organized at Eventbrite.com or Meetup.com. There are also various book markets and English book stores. Next to the campus of the University of Amsterdam lies the Boekenmarkt Oudemanhuispoort; have fun finding your next book there. The Spui is another great place for book-lovers. It offers a weekly book market on Fridays and the American Book Center with a grand variety for every taste. Be prepared to spend half a day wondering what to buy (and hopefully also read).
Amsterdam is fairly expensive for an European city of that size. Living expenses are less than in London, equal to Munich, Paris, and Stockholm, and more than Berlin or Stuttgart. That is my personal perception when comparing the following price criteria: rent (including electricity), grocery, transportation, restaurants, leisure activities, clothing, and tuition fee. In numbers, Amsterdam cost me around 1.000 Euros per month, whereas I only payed around 600 Euros per month while I was studying in Berlin. The 400 Euros difference is a lot of money for a student who is living and studying on a budget and wants to travel and explore Europe. In my next blog posts I will cover the other cities I studied and lived in and will also give suggestions on how to travel through Europe while being an international student.
Amsterdam city districts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2017, from http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/local/official-matters/amsterdam-city-districts
Become a Coach. (2017, April 08). Retrieved April 13, 2017, from http://isn-amsterdam.nl/become-coach-0
Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2017, from http://isn-amsterdam.nl/calendar
Claudio Marseglia. (March 17, 2017). Amsterdam.
Neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2017, from http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/areas/amsterdam-neighbourhoods