INFORMATION NEEDED BEFOREHAND:
Application to UvA:
After being selected/nominated by the US to go on exchange, you will have to submit another application to UvA. This application contains basically the same the information as you application to the US to go on exchange.
Each academic semester is divided in three blocks (Semester 1 starting the 1st Monday in Sep and semester 2 starting the 1st Monday in Feb). The first and second block each consist of 8 weeks (7 weeks of classes followed by 1 week of exam and the third block consists of 4 weeks).
Generally the subjects we take when going on exchange only fall within block 1 and 2. Therefore, should you go on exchange in our second semester (their 1st semester) you will start with classes on the 1st Monday in September and will have class and exams continually for 16 weeks as there is no break between block 1 and 2. So your semester will be as follows:
Week 1 – 7: Block 1 classes
Week 8: Block 1 exams
Week 9 – 15: Block 2 classes
Week 16: Block 2 exams
Remember that 1 ECT (European credits) = 2 of our US academic credits
There classes are presented in very much the same way as our university structure things. There was no real adjustment for me in the way classes are presented, the pace we worked at or the difficulty level of the work.
The UvA is extremely helpful with your VISA application. This was however subject to quite a hefty payment (a bit more than the normal Schengen visa fee). There is however no other way to do it. And this is super easy. You submit the necessary documents to them online and within about 3 weeks your visa will be ready at the Cape Town office. Then you must make an appointment (you do this online on the Dutch Consulate website). If you are close to your deadline (awaiting visa approval and you need to fly soon – make your visa appointment so long. Because if you wait until you receive approval, the spots may be filled up and then you can only get an appointment at the Consulate within three weeks, because they are usually quite booked up. I would suggest, that when you have submitted all the documents for your visa application online and you received their confirmation of receipt mail, make an appointment on the consulate website for three weeks, four weeks and five weeks from this date. That way, if you have not yet received the mail that your visa is ready in Cape Town within three weeks, you can always cancel your appointment.
I would further suggest that if you’ve made two (or three appointments) and you have received the confirmation that your visa is ready in Cape Town in time for your earliest appointment date, just keep the second date as a back-up. If all went well on your first appointment date, you can always cancel the second appointment after the first one.
All you will need is your passport and four photo’s (two different sizes; and you may not smile on the photo). At your appointment you will submit these. They will send it to Pta and you can return to the consulate within a week and pick up your passport. You will note that your visa is only valid for the three months. You will receive your residence permit from the Dutch Immigration Services within the first month of your arrival in the Netherlands. This residence permit will be valid for another three months after the completion of your studies.
You will have to go for a TB scan before they issue you with your residence permit. The TB scan is organised by the university and is done free of charge They will inform you when this will take place. As soon as you are cleared, they will issue your residence permit to you. This will be available at their campus student services for collection.
Finding accommodation in Amsterdam is much like finding a place to stay in Stellenbosch – a nightmare and very expensive. The university offers you an opportunity to apply through accommodation with one of three housing corporations (De Key, Duwo and a third – I can’t remember the name). You can’t select which corporation you want to apply to nor can you select the location of your building (each corporation has numerous properties over Amsterdam).
So how does it work?
There are four different categories of accommodation, each with its own price range, eg:
- Large private room and private facilities (bathroom, kitchen) (€550 – €750)
- Small private with private facilities or large private room with shared facilities (€450 -550)
- Large shared room with shared facilities (€450 – €500)
- Larger communal room with shared facilities (€300 – €450)
PLEASE NOTE: these are just estimates and examples.
You then apply for your category of accommodation and they will place you on a first come, first serve basis. So when you see the application is open and you can apply – do so asap. You then apply for a room offer (this also costs quite a pretty penny – I believe around €500. This was only to apply so that they will send you an offer – a type of “administration fee” and it was non-refundable. It will only be refunded if they don’t manage to send you an offer at all). You will only receive one offer. If you chose to not accept it, you won’t receive a second and your admin fee will not be refunded.
This option is a bit of gamble – seeing that you don’t know what you will get. I however received very good accommodation and so did a lot of other people I had contact with. The accommodation comes with water, heating, electricity and uncapped internet. There was also a common room in my building (TV, games room, etc.) as well as a laundry (this was equipped with more than enough washing machines and dryers and all were free of charge). So I would definitely recommend this option.
Every student must attend a START appointment with the UvA. There you will receive all the necessary admin info. They will mail you a link where you can schedule your appointment. If you received a room offer from De Key and you are staying in their facilities, they will organise that appointment. They also organised a few extras – just another reason why it is a lot easier to receive accommodation from them.
Their process worked as follows: They have two arrival/registration dates. Should you arrive on one of these days, they will pick you up at the airport free of charge and take you to the appointment area. (I arrived a few days earlier, stayed with a friend and went to the appointment/registration day via public transport).
Upon arrival at the registration area, they will check your luggage into a safe location. You will then provide them with your passport, they will make a copy and hand you your rental agreement. This will be explained to you and you will sign it there. If you haven’t yet paid our deposit or 1st month’s rent, you will have to do so then.
You will then move from station to station completing the following:
- Registration at the municipality
- Opening a bank account
- Receiving a free sim card
- Receiving your student card
- Receiving the ISN program (more on this hereafter)
- Receiving your house key
This was a super easy process and it took care of a lot of admin. Hereafter a drive will drop you and your luggage off at your new home.
ISN or International Student Network:
The ISN is the International Student Network. They organise a week of welcoming activities as well as a weekly “borrel” (basically a “kuier”) at a local pub with loads of drinks specials. As well as numerous trips: weekend in Paris, roadtrip to Berlin, show at the Concertgebouw, trip to Cologne Christmas market, etc. All at a very affordable rate. (To give you an idea, the trip to Paris – all inclusive – was €100!!).
You will receive a mail asking whether you want to sign up for this orientation week. I will strongly recommend it.
Life in Amsterdam:
Amsterdam is a magical city and I fell in love with it immediately. There is so much freedom in the city and a wonderful feeling of acceptance of all. It was super easy to adapt and the city is extremely safe and clean. I had such a wonderful time living here.
Here are a few helpful tips as well as random information
Install the 9292 app for all bus, tram and metro schedules. You need to buy a blue, anonymous OV Chip card to load credit on for all your travels in the Netherlands You can buy this card at Central Station for €7. You can load credit on at any of the ticketing machines at Schipol, Centrail Station or the Metro Stations.
- Install NS Reisbeplanner for all local NS train schedules (leaving from anywhere in the Netherlands)
- Tram map: http://en.gvb.nl/reisinformatie/plattegronden/Documents/railkaart2014.pdf
- Metro map: http://www.gvb.nl/reisinformatie/plattegronden/Pages/Metrostations-kaart.aspx=
- www.iamsterdam.com basically contains all information you need.
Cool Facebook pages to like:
- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Amsterdam-without-a-penny-free-events/668897363205990 (cool events)
- https://www.facebook.com/expatshallowman?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser (The Amsterdam confessions of a shallow man – an expat living in Amsterdam. This also links to his blog)
Amsterdam – the city:
- Kalverstreet: the main shopping street (basically just filled with clothing stores).
- Dam square (located at the top of Kalverstreet): The Royal Palace is situated here (even though the royals don’t actually live there), as well as De Bijenkorf. A very pretty square.
- Rembrandtplein (located at the bottom of Kalverstreet):a popular square filled with bars, nightclubs and many tourists.
- Singel, Herengracht, Keizergracht, Prinsengracht: Your main canals forming halfmoons around the city centre.
- Leidseplein (located just on the outside of Prinsengracht: a popular square filled with bars, nightclubs and many tourists.
- Museumplein: Just passed Leidseplein. Here you will find: the Rijkmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijke Museum and the Concertgebouw.
ADAPTING TO AMSTERDAM CITY LIFE:
Before leaving South Africa I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that I will be moving to a different country. I wasn’t too worried about having to adapt in a different city or culture. (But this was only due to my schedule being extremely busy up until the point that I actually got in the plane, so I never really had time to give it any thought).
When I arrived at Amsterdam Central Station (a short little 17min train ride from Schipol airport) it struck me for the first time that I was now in a completely different city. A city that I had no idea even how big it was (I honestly didn’t do that much research – I was just pleased with the subjects the university had to offer). I had no idea how the public transport systems works. I had no idea what they layout of the city looked like. Basically it struck me that I was completely lost. And this made me nervous for about 2 seconds where after I felt the most amazing and intensely liberating feeling. To me this was one of the most wonderful experiences of my exchange programme.
If you are a personality type that like planning, knowing what’s going on and not too keen on the unknown and figuring things out, then perhaps do a bit more research than I did. Though my first blog post should sufficiently cover more than all the basics. To me however it was amazing to be lost and figure it out. More appealing to me was the anonymity I had in the city. Though believe it or not, I did randomly run into a few folks from back home (but this was probably on three occasions). I loved the fact that if you go about your day be it to campus, the shops or out at night to a bar the only people you will run into is the new friends that you have made. I mention this because the anonymity can easily be experienced as isolation – though I never did. I found it liberating and freeing and other might find it lonely. The loneliness however (should you be inclined to experience it) definitely shouldn’t deter you from going on exchange. Quite on the contrary actually: it should be your motivation!
The amount of personal growth I experienced in my just-more-than 5 months abroad and the amount that I have learned and discovered about myself is immeasurable. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. And a lot of it has to do with your attitude. Being lost, being alone, and being out-of-place and in the unknown was wonderful to me. I embraced it as much as possible. However, I must admit, that a city like Amsterdam made that extremely easy to do. It is such a beautiful and accepting city. One often has the idea of this morally corrupt society with its red light district, marijuana that is legal and their indifferent approach to religion. The city itself however is quite different. It is a respectable environment where peace and harmony is at the order of the day, crime in unheard (except of course bicycle theft) and even the smallest minority group feels welcome and accepted.
ADAPTING BACK IN SA:
From about two weeks prior to my departure from Amsterdam friends and relatives kept asking me how excited I was to head back to South Africa. The honest truth: not at all. Don’t get me wrong I surely did miss our great wines, good steak, beautiful sunny days, stunning vineyards and breath-taking mountains. Even more so I obviously missed all my loved one. But the things I missed in South Africa I missed to the point where it would be lovely to return to SA for a week holiday and then I’ll be ready to go back to the life I created for myself in Amsterdam. As for the people, I truly missed them a lot. But I didn’t necessarily miss being with them in South Africa. What I did miss was not being able to share all the experiences I had in Europe with them…there…in Europe.
With that being said, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love our country. I most certainly did return with even a more proudly South African feeling. I even felt love towards the first taxi that swerved in front of us on the N2 within 30mins of my return. I just don’t think I had quite enough of Europe. Going on exchange was my first time overseas, so that definitely contributes to why I loved it so much. But furthermore I just fell in love with the way of life of the Europeans. And I so enjoyed being an exchange student and having all these international friends. It is true that one can make international friends in Stellenbosch as well. But they are few and far between. And it isn’t such a globally diverse spectrum of students. Amsterdam is the most international city in the world. Beating out culturally diverse capitals like New York and London. There is currently 172 different nationalities living in Amsterdam. It is such a wonderful city to live. Amsterdam stole my heart and that made adapting to South Africa so much more challenging. However, South Africa and Cape Town especially will always be my one true love and it is wonderful being back which in itself is so culturally diverse yet so familiar and beautiful.