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  • Hannah

6 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting University

As someone who is halfway done with their bachelor and also going through a midlife crisis (since I'm turning 20 in a few days), I think I am (kind of) qualified to tell you about a few things I wish I knew before starting to study here at the VU.

9 am classroom views

Get a personalised OV card

Fun fact: I once literally walked back home from uni (7.3 km) because I did not have my wallet with me and forgot to charge my OV card the day before. Not my finest moment, I know. The awesome thing is that with a personalised OV card, you have the great option to link your bank account to the card which then automatically loads money on it whenever you have a deficit. So unless you love hiking (or are just less forgetful than I am) I can only recommend ordering a personalised OV card as soon as you arrive in Amsterdam.


A more detailed post about this will be up in a bit, which is why I just want to talk about this briefly. Because of the housing situation in Amsterdam, always check if you have the option to live somewhere for longer than just a year. Oftentimes furnished (student) accommodations are limited to one-year stays which sounds like a long time at first but also results in you having to go through an enormous amount of stress to sort out your living situation every year in the middle of exam season. Especially to all of my fellow border countries (Germany, Belgium) guys, usually finding an unfurnished room in which you can stay longer than a year is a lot easier than looking for a furnished one. Just do not decide to move in on the hottest day of the summer, I already tried that.

Check grade references

Okay, this one might be rather obvious, but hear me out. As an international student, I was not familiar with the Dutch grade system at all. I learned pretty early on that everything below 5.5/6 means you failed and 10 is more a myth than anything else, but that was it. It took me more than a semester to finally check what the grades mean in the grading system I was familiar with, just to realise that an 8.5 is surprisingly not a bad grade at all. Also if you have a master with a specific grade average requirement in mind that is offered in a different country, knowing the grade equivalents can be quite useful.

Let someone read through your essays before handing them in

Now, if you are anything like me, procrastination is your best friend. So is switching between languages without realising and using very creative spelling when you are tired or under stress. I am really sorry for every professor who had/has to read the outcome of my very poor time management. What really helps me is asking a friend/family member/etc. to read through big essays before handing them in. This does not only allow you to avoid stupid mistakes, but also forces you to be done earlier, since the whole sending it to your friend, getting it back, and correcting it extravaganza takes time.

Do a Dutch course before coming to the Netherlands

Even as someone who grew up 30 minutes away from the Dutch border the fact that I was suddenly not able to understand the people around me was maybe the biggest ‘culture shock’ I experienced. I do not think it is necessary to get to C2 before coming here, but even after my first course, I felt like I was more at home already, which can do wonders for homesickness. In case you did not have the option to do a course beforehand, the NT2 centre of the VU offers great courses for a wide range of levels. For more information click here.

Every single day counts

One of my favourite hobbies is whining about the non-existence of an actual break during the term 3 to 6 period. (Choose your uni wisely, guys) Oftentimes, I would have an exam on Friday and an assignment due the following Monday. It is easy to just go from one period to another, but I learned that taking even one day off to recharge, meet with friends, catch up on sleep, attempt to correct your diet even if it is hopeless to do so, is so much more valuable than one might think.

My perfect day off: lying in a hammock and spending time with the puppy

I hope that this was useful to some of you who are planning on starting their studies in September; and to my fellow VU students: remember, we only have 129 days left until summer break starts.

Tot ziens,


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