The below article is a response to José's article about moving to the Netherlands.
I admire your courage to study abroad in a country alien to you and your acumen for making a series of correct choices. Amsterdam is a plasma where ideas float and creativity breeds. VU Amsterdam encircles this by providing wonderful facilities and opportunities to its students, making their experience amazing.
To answer your questions,
1. How is VU workload? Do you have tips on how to manage it with personal affairs throughout the year?
- VU programmes are usually very easy-going. However, the workload depends on your programme and the duration of it. Usually a full time study at VU is very professionally oriented like a full time job. It is architectured to meet your personal- and career goals. An academic year at VU is divided into 6 periods. A period can either be of two months or of one month. In one period, you pursue one or two courses, depending on your program. A set of courses is predefined for you, however, you may choose more courses in any field you like. Hence, you can tailor your own study. The lectures and practicums of these courses populate your VUNet calendar. Therefore, you already know the incoming lectures and work sessions and you can plan months ahead in time for anything.
For Martina, who was also pursuing a Master's in Marketing, the workload was basically consistent of the group assignments and the academic papers needed for the lectures. Depending on the style of your group mates, you might meet to work on your projects often during the week, or work individually and meet less often. When it comes to the lecture materials, there were at least 2 papers to be read for each lecture, totalling to a minimum of 8 papers a week (assuming you have 2 courses and lectures twice a week). So it is always good to keep on track with those papers and make good summaries, so that you don't have to read them from scratch before the exams. Some weeks will be very busy and others not that much, so Martina’s tip to manage your personal affairs alongside is to make the most of the weeks that are less busy and try to get as much reading done as you can. This will save you a lot of energy for the busier times.
I am pursuing Bachelor's in Computer Science and from my periscope, the study is very well organized. I can choose what I want to study and when I want to study it. If I had a rough period and failed the exams, I can register for resits or retake the course next year. The assignments are usually done on groups to develop your interpersonal and time management skills and you can divide the workload. However, if there is some crisis or anomaly that you are undergoing, a discussion with professor usually settles the matter. As long as you attend the lectures and are at par with the assignments, you would never say hello to stress, so all the time is for you to have fun. :)
Photo: Study Group @ ground floor main building VU
2. How can I engage myself with the university? What kind of activities / projects / associations can I be part of?
Our university gives you a lot of opportunities to blend yourself with it. The extent to which you want to be engaged is up to you. The academic year opens with a week full of exciting socialising activities called the ‘Introduction Week’. VU’s ideas behind it is to bring students together, make them comfortable with the environment and introduce them to the city.
The VU main building is a very happening place. There are always new fairs / exhibitions / activities / give-aways right inside the main entrance of the building. Always a good idea to enter through the main entrance. Also a good idea to keep an eye on your VUNet Webmail and the VU fb page. VU extends its arms for creativity and comes up with projects like this very student blog itself. It sends out emails and publishes on fb if students are required for any special activity.
There also exist student associations within VU Amsterdam, like STORM, Subliem, etc. Such associations conduct activities weekly and it’s always a good idea to enroll in one of these associations. The student associations are made of up several committees and if you want to entitle yourself with some responsibilities and learn alongside, you can be a member of these committees. As a member, you will organise the events of the association. You may also be a board member of the association in which case, you earn some monetary compensation for your job. My study association often organises coding and gaming competitions and I am sure other associations also host competitive events. Recently, there was also an opportunity to be a member of the Student Council. To the best of my knowledge, as a member of this council, you are the voice of the students in the parliament of VU. As such you get some administrative and executive responsibilities.
How an icing on the cake would it be if you will live in one of the student housing facilities like the Uilenstede. VU conducts some get -together activities in Ulienstede pretty often. Moreover, there is always a party going on in Uilenstede. It is by far the most international and dynamic collection of buildings that I have ever seen in my life. You may be a member of the gym or the VU theatre and earn yourself some more socialising.
If you look out for bigger masses, you should be a member of various Amsterdam fb groups. These groups come out with a wide spectrum of activities ranging from drinks to debates, market fares to game parties. Some twisted Amsterdam stuff too, know what I mean. Same goes for the app ‘Meetup’ ;)
3. Since we are only allowed to work a few hours a week, how can I and other non-European students have professional experiences prior to graduating (and perhaps earn some money)? What would be these opportunities?
As an Indian, I am also a non-EU citizen and am still struggling to find a proper part time job. For non EU citizens, if you are a student, you are allowed to work only 10 hours a week. Further, only your employer can apply for your work permit. And mostly, all the part time job providers prefer employees who speak Dutch. These constraints make finding a job quite difficult. But even with this, VU has helped me. The courses in VU are assisted by Teaching Assistants (TA) whose job is to host the practicum sessions and grade the assignments. Recently, I was TA of one of the courses. Being a TA is quite a good job, you learn something from your own field, your get paid by the hour, and you do not have to travel between uni and workplace because uni is your workplace. If you feel you have good academic feat, then go through the courses of at VU, select those which you have studied before and mastered and consult their lecturers for being a TA.
But to gain some professional experience, you must do an internship. Several VU faculties harbour portals where it lists all the internships sorted by the study. Example: Economics and Business Internship Portal. VU happens to belocated in the largest business district of The Netherlands which offers a good reputation as a VU student. You could of course also look out for internships on other platforms like LinkedIn and facebook groups. Furthermore, the assignments of the courses are usually designed to provide you a professional experience. As mentioned before, you would work with a group of people on some real world problem.
From what I have observed, the job market in The Netherlands works a lot on networking. The more people you know and the more events you go to, the better chances you have to get a job. As such, be active on the job fairs that take place around the city, keep an eye on vacancy groups on facebook and be networked with your friends. Just to earn some money, you may also do jobs like baby / dog - sitting, food delivery or any restaurant jobs. Usually, I see a lot of Masters students posting ads online to participate in their research for some compensation. VU also organises job - related events where you can get your CV checked by experts and meet potential employers .
Photo: Amsterdam's business district Zuidas from main building VU
4. What is your golden tip for a foreign student who is about to start their full time master programme at Vrije University Amsterdam?
I asked the same question to VU rector magnificus Dr. Vinod Subramaniam. His answer was “Learn Dutch.” If you know Dutch, life can become much easier for you in The Netherlands. Not only is it easier to find a job, it also helps in understanding the way people think and live. From what I have seen, this gain also help you make more friendships. Oh and yeah, it would help you the most in the supermarkets. So that if you were a vegetarian, you don’t accidentally buy a pasta sauce with beef in it.
I hope my answers help you and we are excited to meet you in person.